Intro. [Recording date: January 11, 2024.]
Russ Roberts: Today is January 11th, 2024, and before introducing today's guest, I want to remind listeners to vote for your favorite episodes of 2023. The last day of voting is February 1st, so please go to econtalk.org and at the very top of the page you'll see a very thin banner and a place to click and vote.
And, now for today's guest, political scientist and public opinion expert, Dahlia Scheindlin. She is the author of The Crooked Timber of Democracy in Israel, which forms the backdrop for our conversation today. Dahlia, welcome to EconTalk.
Dahlia Scheindlin: Thank you for having me on the show.
Russ Roberts: In the aftermath of October 7th, we're living in a very charged time. Today--meaning literally today, Thursday, January 11th--Israel stands accused of genocide before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The war in Gaza continues. Almost 200 Israeli soldiers have died as have tens of thousands of Gazans.
I want to start with the mood of the country that we both live in. What do you feel is the mood right now and how has that changed since October 6th, the day before this all started?
Dahlia Scheindlin: I'm happy that you opened with that question, and I'd like to start not by delving into numbers exactly--although public opinion is my expertise and I can talk about that. But, I just think it's not the same country.
Certainly from October 7th onward, I would say the first three weeks to one month were characterized by a sense of complete, dazed shock. Israelis were shocked on so many levels that they didn't really know how to cope with it. I realized that that whole phase, many of us spoke in half-sentences, and people were just trying to cope with understanding what had happened. Understanding both the attack itself, the nature of the attack, which in certain ways was different from other kinds of attacks. Israel is a place that has experienced terror attacks--by which I mean politically motivated attacks on civilians--over the course of many decades. But, there was something very different about these. It's what I--I haven't invented this term, but they were like intimate violence. People marched into civilian homes to slaughter them. And that was something that Israelis hadn't experienced before. It was so huge and so unpredictable for the average civilian that people were just coping with the attack.
But then, at the very same time, they were coping with the shocking realization that Israel itself hadn't anticipated or prevented the attack. And, there is an ongoing sense--I think the most common thing you hear in Israel today--is: How could you?
In fact, you opened by talking about how today we are listening to the International Court of Justice hearings on South Africa's accusations of genocide. But there was something equally important yesterday, which is that the Defense Minister visited communities in the south and he talked to a woman whose grandchildren were killed, her son-in-law was killed, if I'm getting it correctly. And, she was so speechless when she saw him. But then, she started out in a whisper and she said, 'How could you? How could you? Where were you? Why was there not even one phone call?' And, this went on and on for quite a while, and it was all broadcast on the news, and the Defense Minister watched her kind of helplessly.
And I think that that epitomizes in many ways how the country is feeling. But particularly, I would say, in the first phase, the shock, the speechlessness really characterized how Israelis were feeling.
In the phases since then, everything is equally sort of dizzying. There's multi-directional sources of events every single day that Israelis have to figure out what they think about them. The war, the accusations against Israel, the ongoing trauma because soldiers are dying, families are still losing family members. And, I think Israelis are reliving October 7th all the time: a). because the media is listening to many, many stories of personal trauma and what people personally experienced. And, because new evidence is coming to light as we get new investigative reporting about what happened that day, new bits of documentation or testimony, new stories that weren't heard.
And so, we are both reliving the original trauma; coping with the double trauma of the attack and the sense of being abandoned--is the word that Israelis most commonly used by their own authorities--and the ongoing war; and the sense that the world is against Israel. And so, all of these things are just simply creating a very complex, difficult environment.
And having said that--I promise to get into the numbers at some point--and I'll just give one quick observation, which is that the Israel Democracy Institute has been doing ongoing surveys, special surveys related to the war and their regular ongoing Israel Voice Index surveys. And they found, interestingly that there was an interesting uptick in the sense of optimism in the first--I think that they first polled maybe after about two weeks. And, a rise specifically among Arab citizens of Israel in the sense of identification with the state of Israel and its problems, but in general. And, I interpreted that as a 'rally-'round-the-flag' effect. It's pretty common in other countries during wartime.
But, those numbers have begun to decline once again. So, these are not huge shifts. We're talking about around the 40% range of people who say they're optimistic about the future of democracy and security, which is roughly where it was before the war. But, it seems like the initial sense of rallying together--which I think was mostly Israelis reflecting their spirit, their encouragement that civil society, other people were rallying so much and they were taking comfort in one another--that is starting to fade as people really are digging in for the long and depressing sense of how this war has no end in sight and Israel's troubles are ongoing.
Russ Roberts: Yeah. The best way I heard it described is: On New Year's Day, people said it wasn't January 1st, it was October 87th. Which kind of captures--I think I got the day right--captures the despair here, mixed with quite a bit of unity, quite a bit of occasional optimism.
As a newcomer, I've never experienced anything like the way the country pulled together compared to, say, October 6th when it felt like it was falling apart. And, the fact that the wars won't end--and this is the nature of war. I try to console myself by thinking about the blitz in World War II in London. They didn't know it was going to end in 1945. They didn't know who was going to win. So, I wake up every morning stupidly looking for good news, like: War Over. So, it's a challenging time.
Russ Roberts: Let's talk about public opinion in some subgroups. Many of my listeners, of our listeners don't know a lot about Israeli society.
There are two million Arab citizens of the state of Israel. Your book chronicles very powerfully how their situation has changed over the 75 years of the history of the country. It's very different at the beginning in how they were treated, and still there are many things that need work, certainly. But it is a surprise to many people to learn that there are Arab citizens within the pre-1967 borders of Israel who vote, get healthcare, go to university, and so on. That population in the 2021 war with Gaza--with Hamas and Gaza--to the shock and horror of many Israelis often joined in from within Israel's borders in what are so-called mixed cities--cities where Arabs and Israelis live side by side--and were very supportive of Hamas' response.
This time it seems different. What do we know about that? The numbers I've seen--they're not recent--that as many as 70% of the Arab-Israelis, Arab citizens of the Israeli state, support something--you can put into your own words that are more accurate. So first, give us some feel for how Arab citizens of Israel are responding to the war and why you think it's different.
Dahlia Scheindlin: Yeah. First of all, let me clarify that when we talk about the two million, that includes--usually the Central Bureau of Statistics includes Palestinians who are residents of East Jerusalem who are not full citizens. So, we need to take that into account. There's about 250,000 of those.
The other thing is that many of those people, many of those citizens identify as Palestinian citizens of Israel. Not all of them. Polls vary. My polls show that between 35 and 40%, roughly, sometimes going up and down, identify first of all as Palestinian citizens of Israel or some combination: Palestinian-Israeli, Palestinian-Arab, and others would choose Arab or Arab-Israeli as their primary identity. That doesn't necessarily block out the other identities. People have multiple identities.
Russ Roberts: To be clear, these are non-Jews who are either Muslim or Christian, or typically here and their families were here for the last 75 years and well before.
Dahlia Scheindlin: Yes. Exactly. And, they are citizens of--again, other than the permanent residents of East Jerusalem who are not the citizens, most of them are citizens of Israel. It includes, as you pointed out, Muslims, Christians. The vast majority are Muslim. Also Druze, Bedouin.
I think the other thing I would point out just in response, quick response, to what you mentioned about May 2021. First of all, it was an unprecedented situation. As far as anybody really remembers from the beginning of statehood, there hasn't really been--I'm talking about from 1948 onward--there hasn't really been a case of citizens, civilians, rioting and implementing violence against one another between Arab or Palestinian citizens and Jewish Israelis. And that was what shocked many people so much.
But, I also want to point out that I think it would be a little bit misleading to characterize the demonstrations of some--we're talking about small portions of any people who go out and demonstrate or riot--as support for Hamas.
I think that they wouldn't put it like that. I think those demonstrations initially began as solidarity with home evacuations in the Sheikh Jarrah area of Jerusalem, which was actually part of the initial tensions that led to the beginning of that defensive wall--the Guardians of the Wall--operation. And then, it spread to, again, demonstrations that some of them became something like riots and clashes. Partly, I think they would say in solidarity with the damage being done to the people of Gaza. I don't think very many of them would characterize it as support for Hamas per se. That's how I hear their communications about it. So, I do think it's important to clarify.
And so, when we talk about why the response is so different this time: I think that from my conversations, and certainly from polling, we see that most Palestinian or Arab citizens of Israel were frankly horrified by what Hamas did in terms of the brutality, the atrocities, the attacks on civilians. They were as shocked as anybody else. And many of them lost people, as well. A number of the victims--dozens of the victims--were Arab citizens of Israel who were either killed on the spot, sometimes in very brutal ways, or kidnapped. And so, there's an equal sense of being dazed and confused, so to speak, within that community. And, at the same time, at the very same time, within hours, horror of what's happening to civilians in Gaza as a result of Israel's war, in response.
And so, I think that they are undergoing equally kind of confusing emotions around everything, trying to process these what seemed to be zero-sum or what is often felt to be zero-sum interpretations of what's happening or zero-sum positions.
Now, I don't think it has to be zero-sum, but many of us feel like we're being put in that position: Choose a side.
And, typically in some ways this isn't that different from what the Arab citizens of Israel have been through for most of history. They're always being caught in between the political sort of tectonic plates of the Israel-Arab conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the occupation.
Many of them, of course, have family in the West Bank and Gaza, in East Jerusalem, because those are families who were broken up during 1948. By most estimates, about 80% of Gazans are refugees from 1948 Israel. And so, they kind of can't be forced into one side or another demographically or emotionally.
And so, I think all of those things are playing into what's happened.
At the very same time, I don't want to underestimate the fact that the police, under the Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir and the Police Chief, took a very strict line; and very early on said they will not tolerate demonstrations against the war. They actually physically blocked--unlegally blocked--demonstrations in a couple of Arab communities in the very first weeks. And, there were quite a number of arrests. We have reports of about two hundred--a few hundred--people I would say being arrested for things like Facebook posts that were interpreted as somehow expressing either solidarity with Gaza and interpreted therefore as supporting Hamas on some level. Some of these may be, have, more genuine substantive charges behind them. Some of them seem pretty spurious. We have reports of people who were arrested or investigated for posts they wrote before October 7th.
And so, I think that we can't underestimate the fact that there's a lot of fear that if people were to go out, demonstrate, express their opinion, that they could face a very heavy-handed police response. And, all of those things play into the attitudes, I think, in that community.
I want to mention one last thing. There have been--early on, even on October 7th itself, that very evening--there was a convening, initiated by civil society leaders, particularly those who are involved in shared society initiatives, which basically just means Jewish-Arab cooperation in Israel. We have many such groups. NGOs [non-governmental agencies], nonprofit organizations, lots of people who deal with joint education and bilingual activities and peace activities and common social causes. And, they all got together even starting October 7th to talk about how to prevent a resurgence of violence through coexistence-related activities and de-escalation activities. And all of the groups, like, started filling in an Excel form saying: This is what we think we can do to help prevent escalation.
So, my reading is that all of those things have contributed to the fact that we haven't seen that kind of unrest or violence among Israeli civilians.
Russ Roberts: Let's turn to Gaza. And, I just want to say to listeners, I appreciate your coming on this journey with me to think about how we should think about this. And a lot of you have told me you appreciate that we're exploring this. It's an area you don't know much about. And, as I've said, we will have a wide array of voices on this topic.
But, I want to make one thing clear--and this also goes for my Substack writing, which I encourage you to subscribe to--Listening to the Sirens--we'll put a link to it. But I want to make something clear: I don't believe in collective punishment. I think it's deeply immoral.
And, people who are claiming that Israel's response to October 7th in Gaza is justified because Hamas was elected by the people there, I find that unacceptable.
And, some people have challenged me: 'Why?' 'They voted for them.' I said, 'Well, expressing an opinion at the ballot box should not be a death sentence,' for starters. They didn't certainly anticipate in 2005--excuse me, 2006 when the election occurred--that this October 7th was in the plans. Yes, Hamas has a very ugly charter. Yes, many people I'm sure sympathize with it or agreed with it at the time. But I just don't think that's the way the world should work. And, we'll get, I assume, into some of the ethics of the military response.
But, I want to make it clear that I do not think that Gazan public opinion justifies, say, being killed.
Now, having said that, what do you think--two questions, Dahlia. What do we know about Gazan public opinion before October 7th in the recent past as opposed to 2006 in an election? And, how reliable do you think polling results are in a place where you're in an authoritarian state--where people get killed, often, for not agreeing with the regime? It's not a smart thing to do if you want to stay alive.
So, I always take those results with a grain of salt, when we hear about how many people supported October 7th or sympathize with Hamas. Do you think those results are meaningful and how do you interpret them and what do you think we know about it?
Dahlia Scheindlin: Yeah. Thank you for that question. Also very good.
I want to also point out something about the 2006 elections. I've also heard many times this argument that people voted for Hamas, so they're all responsible for this. But, 2006 was a long time ago. Okay. That's 18 years ago--
Russ Roberts: Or dead--
Dahlia Scheindlin: And, we have to remember that Gaza has a particularly young demographic. About 70% of Gaza's population is below 30. I'm not sure if I have the exact figures of people below 18, but let's just say it's a vast swath of society in Gaza who did not vote for Hamas because there haven't been elections since then. Not something I justify. I would like to have elections in any country every four years.
Back to your question about public opinion. What we know about public opinion--let's talk first about the trends and then I'll try to address the issue of credibility.
There is extensive public opinion among Palestinians. I should also say that I myself work very closely on what's called the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Survey or the Palestine-Israel Pulse, together with my colleagues at the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research run by Dr. Khalil Shikaki. We've been working together on these Joint Survey Projects since about 2016. And, I've been using the work of the Joint Survey Project long before that because it's very useful. And, that Joint Project began in the year 2000. So, there's lots of data to look at.
And, what I do think we know pretty clearly--actually from the Arab Barometer survey, not the Joint Survey--is that just before October 6th--sorry, on October 6th, the Arab Barometer completed its final stage of data collection for its work among the Palestinians. And they published the analysis shortly--about two weeks after, I would say-- October 7th happened.
And, Hamas was not doing well. It's not surprising that Hamas was not doing well because Hamas has been leading a society which is living under authoritarian rule with no progress towards Palestinian statehood or liberation from Israeli control, dominance, occupation--you can choose your terminology--but Israel has vast control over life.
In Gaza as well, something to point out also, is that Israelis always say that Israel left Gaza in 2005. Israel withdrew its settlements.
But the fact is, is that Israel retains vast forms of control from the outside of Gaza in ways that we know about.
For example, controlling all of the crossings between Gaza and anywhere else other than the crossing with Egypt, which is in any case coordinated with Egypt. And Egypt joined in with this largely hermetically-closed situation.
So, all of the land crossings, sea crossings, electromagnetic fields, airspace. But also in ways that you can't see. Israel controls the population registry. Israel decides who gets to travel. Israel gives very, very limited and restricted permits for people who can or can't get in and out, which is pretty much very few. All permits are an exception. And that includes keeping Palestinians away from the West Bank, which is one of the most severe policies Israel has implemented.
So, these are technical bureaucratic things that don't make headlines. But they have so much control over the way life is actually lived that from the Palestinian perspective, they're living under Israeli occupation. Whatever Israel says about having withdrawn settlements. Which it did do. I mean, nobody's denying that, either.
And, Hamas has not made any progress on changing that. And, Hamas rules with a strict authoritarian and theocratic form of rule. And the economic situation is very difficult because of Israel's restrictions, which Israel says are related to the security needs, for the last--pretty much since Hamas took over in 2007 in Gaza, Israel has implemented a fairly hermetic kind of closure.
And of course, because of Hamas misuse of what funds it does get. And, it has gotten lots of money from the Qatari government as far as we know. We knew this over the years, but certainly since October 7th, more Israeli investigative reporting and international investigative reporting has proved, again, that the Israeli government tolerated and probably encouraged Qatar to send those kinds of funds to Hamas. And, Hamas used them largely for the purposes of building this vast underground network and building itself up militarily to implement exactly the kinds of policies we're seeing now.
So, very few actors come out of this looking good. And as a result, the Palestinian population in Gaza in particular was angry at Hamas and their indicators were going down. And, what they were blaming them for was this whole range of things: You know, No opportunities, very poor economic prospects, and no progress towards ending the occupation and achieving Palestinian liberation, nor towards a more free society.
After October 7th what we saw is a vast sense in survey research--and we'll talk about how credible it is--but a very widespread sense of rallying, like people rally during wartime.
And, the rallying expressed itself in numerous indicators in surveys. Including over 70% of Palestinians in general showing that they thought Hamas was correct to attack. Basically supported what happened or supported Hamas in general or had a positive view of Hamas.
Now, those are difficult numbers to see when you know what happened on October 7th. And, how do I explain them? First of all, I would never want to excuse them. I don't think that's my role as a public opinion researcher.
But, I will say that what I thought about is the fact that 85% of Palestinians in the latest PSR [Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research] survey--that's the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research--had not seen the video evidence of atrocities that were committed on October 7th. And the way the survey questions are asked is the way people talk about this, which is it's basically a military operation.
Now, I don't--it's hard to know whether people are brainwashed or simply not opening the right news channels, but I think we as Israelis should understand exactly how you can kind of shut out the news that you don't want to see. Because the truth is that most Israelis aren't really watching the devastation of Gaza as well.
And, I think this is the reality: is that most Palestinians see what happened, or most Palestinians who answered those surveys in that way, see what happened as a resurgent military response and an attack on Israel that was designed to shake everybody's complacency, put Gaza's suffering back on the map. And, it gave them a sense of pride that all of a sudden Hamas had managed to strike back at an enemy they feel has been tormenting them for all these years. So, it's not a pleasant picture, but it is a reality of how people behave and think in conflict.
There is another aspect to this, which is that it's not a free society. And, as we know about any polling in free society, part of the problem is that: a). people feel intimidated, as you pointed out, to say the wrong thing. However, I'm less concerned about that because I've been tracking Palestinian public opinion for so many years, and I see that the fact that we have fluctuations, you can follow trends, that there are rational trends over time responding to either negotiations or conflict, shows that people do respond honestly. But, we also have to think about what it means to live in a non-free society in terms of the range of ideas they have at their disposal.
Okay? So if everybody in your society and all your news channels and newspapers and dinner table conversations and leaders are talking about what a great military operation this was and mention nothing about atrocities, that's sort of the range of ideas you have in your head about what happened.
Again, I don't want to justify it, but I do think we have to understand what's behind these kinds of numbers.
I should say one more thing. We often see during wars with Israel--during the many wars that Hamas and Israel have waged--that public opinion supporting Hamas goes up and then usually a few months after the war, it goes back down as people sink back into the depressing reality in which Hamas rules their lives.
Russ Roberts: Yeah. I think it's a fascinating--I noted that as well, that the respondents often say they have not seen footage of that video, and there could be a lot of reasons for that. But, I'm going to start with maybe they haven't seen it either because they have limited access to it, or, as you say, which I think is the more interesting idea, they'd rather not see it.
Some people have suggested--you know, we have footage; it's very unpleasant to watch--of crowds celebrating the desecration of either a corpse or a raped woman in the streets of Gaza City. We don't know exactly what the situation was. But, again, that there were five hundred or a thousand ugly people in a moment of barbarism does not justify anything in particular in my mind. But, I can imagine there are a lot of people who would just rather not see that. I don't like to see it. I don't assume that people who feel oppressed would want to celebrate it necessarily. And maybe they didn't watch it, and maybe they do think it's mostly military. In which case I could very easily imagine they would feel differently. Part of the reason I'm sympathetic to that, there are a lot of things I don't like to look at that make my side look bad. So, I do understand that, as you pointed out.
But, I want to talk a little bit more about Israel's role, and I want you to give a fuller critique. You know--I'm a new Zionist to some extent, so I tend to consume media that makes me feel good about it versus the other side. But, I have to say, I have been surprised--and you can correct me if you think I'm wrong--I was pretty willing to accept the idea that Gaza was something close to an open-air prison--the phrase that a lot of critics of Israel use. Because of the blockade, because of surveillance, because of monitoring of crossing and goods coming in both by land and sea.
I have to say I have gone a little bit more in the other direction. And what has moved me--and again, I want you to push back if you think I'm wrong--two things have surprised me. One is the amount of weapons that are sitting in Gaza. I'm sure there are many photo ops that we watched that were staged or made to look a certain way or maybe were exaggerated. But, it's pretty clear, just the fact that there's still rockets being fired into civilian areas of Israel many weeks into the war, that they managed to get a lot of weaponry. Some of which they built. But, it's shocking to me how many guns, rockets, and so on that they have.
And, the second is that: we screened a documentary here at Shalem College. It was a very poignant moment. The documentarian, I can't remember where he's from. I think he was British. And, it basically chronicled how horrible life is in Gaza. And it is horrible, in much of Gaza.
The screening was accompanied by an anonymous--meaning hidden identity--Palestinian who didn't want us to take photos of him, because he was here and he didn't want people back in Gaza to know that he was at an Israeli college. There[?] was an incredibly poignant thing: This would not have happened in Gaza. There would not be a movie screened in Gaza of Israeli suffering, say, of October 7th.
But still, life in Gaza is awful. Electricity is uncertain. Economic opportunity for those, a huge portion of young people is minimal. I'm sure education is not good. And, they're very, very poor. For many, many reasons.
But, there are a lot of Gaza that's really nice that has emerged after this atrocity that I was totally unaware of. Most of it corruption, I assume, from Hamas and its friends. But, parts of Gaza were--I was surprised at how relatively nice they are. Do you think that's accurate? And, if so, along with the weaponry, does that change any of your priors on how effective the Israeli blockade was?
Dahlia Scheindlin: Well, it certainly changed my prior attitudes of how effective the blockade was. Listen, I should say: I've been critical of the blockade pretty much since it started. But even I thought, 'Well, I understand there's a security need for it. And, I think what happened for me on October 7th--among many questions that I had to ask myself about my prior views--but one of them was a more severe criticism of the blockade. Maybe there's a security justification, but we should be limiting the damage that it does to civilians and human rights.
Now, I think after October 7th, one of the first questions I asked--and I researched this because I wrote a whole article trying to answer the question--is: What in the world did it do for us on a security level? And, I don't disagree with the fact that Hamas is essentially armed to the teeth. Where did it get those weapons? Well, from what I understood, some of them are homemade as we know. Some of them are locally manufactured. Most of them--I think that the consensus of the Israeli experts I spoke to from the security establishment--were smuggled in probably through the Rafah area, through Egypt--
Russ Roberts: That's in Egypt--
Dahlia Scheindlin: Yes. However, some of them indicated to me--some of the people I spoke to hinted, more than hinted--that they were probably also being smuggled across Israeli crossings. Maybe less and possibly even by sea.
And so, what we see is that the Israeli policies managed to embitter the lives of civilians in Gaza for 16 years before October 7th, but without much security benefit. Hamas was able to smuggle in all these weapons--or build them--even though Israel was severely restricting the kinds of materials that they called 'dual use'. So, materials that Palestinians would say 'We need concrete to build homes,' and Israelis said, 'No, you're going to use them for tunnels or weapons,' and so Israel restricted those very severely.
And still Hamas managed to arm itself to the teeth through these various means, and wage war together with Israel four or five times depending on how you count each operation before October 7th.
And, in between those operations, rocket fire on people in the south.
And so, I don't exactly know what the security justification was.
And in fact, there are some critical--you know, people from--I think the ones who were formerly of the defense establishment speak much more freely. And one of them said that from the earliest stages of this policy, he was critical of it because he said it didn't really have sufficient security benefit. And, even from inside the system that people in the army at the highest levels kind of were aware that the security value of the closure policy was not significant enough. Because, rockets can go over a wall or a fence and of course over an underground barrier; and that it wasn't able to really stop the actual forms of armament.
That leaves us with a lot of questions, among the many, many questions Israelis are asking of their authorities and their policies.
So, on your question of: What does it mean that there is some wealth in Gaza? I don't know how there are some people with villas. Of course, there are some rich people in every society, whether it's because they're at the top of the pyramid and whether they are siphoning off money, or maybe because they've been historically wealthy families. We all know that wealth is transmitted over generations, and that's no different when you're in an occupied undemocratic society than when you're in a free-market capitalist heaven like the United States. I mean, wealth is transferred over generations, and that could be another reason.
It doesn't justify--I don't think it has any connection to the fact that there's 45% unemployment in Gaza and over 60% among young people.
And so, the vast majority of Gazans--I haven't seen a breakdown, but I'm imagining that if there are people who have fancy villas--and I have no doubt that there are; I've seen the pictures, as well--that they represent the tiniest little sliver of the top brass, whether it's Hamas-connected people or whoever else. It just doesn't represent the experience of most Gazans.
And, wealth is also one thing, but even those people who have villas are still living in a very restricted environment under Israel's form of blockade. And again, the security justification for that has been severely called into question by what happened on October 7th.
Russ Roberts: I mean, it's a fascinating question for me as an economist that--I think a lot of economists, and pro-Israel economists especially, have a natural tendency to hope that after 2005 when Israel withdrew, that Gaza would become the next, quote, "Singapore, Hong Kong," fill-in-the-blank. That's very difficult. You can't import things. It's difficult when you don't have a port. It's difficult when you don't have a airport.
Dahlia Scheindlin: Or export. Import or export.
Russ Roberts: Either one.
Dahlia Scheindlin: Import or export.
Russ Roberts: But, I'm struck by the irony that if we didn't get much for it, maybe we should let them bring in lots of stuff and maybe there'd at least be a chance they could be attracted to some economically productive things rather than just destructive things.
But, of course, there will be a lot of things like that discussed when we turn to the day after, whenever that might be.
Russ Roberts: Let's talk about your views, if you could share them. You're on the left in Israeli politics. How would you describe your views of the conflict on October 6th and if they've changed at all? Especially in what you would see as the desired endpoint. What was your desired endpoint before this and has it changed?
Dahlia Scheindlin: Yeah. I smiled when you said that I'm on the left in Israeli politics. Of course I am, but I also always bristle just a little bit at labels only because I know that when people hear them, they tend to assume a very precise set of views. And, I'd like to think that I do--
Russ Roberts: I apologize, actually--
Dahlia Scheindlin: No. No. It's not you. It's not you--
Russ Roberts: I apologize because I hate it when people give me a label. Because, I always want to say, 'But that's not quite what I am.' And, like you say, and especially here in Israel, left and right are very different than in the United States.
Dahlia Scheindlin: Yes. We should put[?edit?] that out.
Russ Roberts: We'll start over. We're not going to edit it out but--
Dahlia Scheindlin: No, no, no. I don't think we should start over. I think that it's a legitimate description. I just would like to clarify that I would like to hope that I don't fall into predetermined positions on everything because I have positions that are generally viewed as left-wing in Israel.
And, we should say that those focus--I know this both from my personal experience living here, but also from my survey research over the last 25 years--that when you say you are left, center, or right-wing in Israel, first and foremost, you are referring to your attitudes on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or Israeli-Arab issues or Israeli-Jewish identity issues in Israel. Those are, first and foremost, the way people understand the terms left, right, and center here.
And, anything to do with economic policy or the size of the state or tax rate is so marginal as to be actually irrelevant to the concept of left, right, and center. Almost. There are slight differences, but they are not necessarily in the direction you would expect over time. And, the differences between the parties would be a whole divergent, tangential conversation to try to understand what we mean when we talk about left, right, and center.
The only other factor you should take into account when understanding left, right, and center in Israel is religion. How religious you are and your perception of whether there should be separation of religion and state is another major determinant of whether you consider yourself to be left, right, and center. I have some disagreements with colleagues of mine over whether it's the Number One determinant. And of course, it very much overlaps with attitudes towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's mostly a largely religious people--not only, but largely religious people--who think that Israel, by definition should include all of the land from the river to the sea. And, if they had their way, probably even land beyond the Jordan River: well into Jordan, as promised by the Bible.
So, and then, people who are on the center and the left don't have that kind of biblical basis for looking at the geographic spread of where the land of Israel should be, and say, 'We need a pragmatic understanding of what the state should be according to international law and ways that we can govern,' and specifically to preserve a Jewish majority within more narrow boundaries.
So, these are the kinds of things that determine whether you're left, right, or center.
So, in that divide, my views of the conflict for most of my life, I have to say, have been that a political and diplomatic resolution to the conflict is a better way of containing the reality that we have an ongoing historic--over a century old--conflict between two people who both claim a right of national self-determination pretty much in the same land.
Now, I think the first major divide is people who think that we need to resolve this militarily and that one side simply needs to defeat the other completely through some sort of military means, whether it's destroying or controlling through military means. But, that's one general approach.
And my approach has been the other side. No, I think we would do better to have a political resolution in order to determine by agreement how the people should live. And, the other side of that is that I do believe that if Jews have a right to self-determination--which I do think they have--that Palestinians also have a right to self-determination.
That's part of the organizing principle of the 20th century. And, you know, it started in the early parts of the 20th century emerging out of currents in the late 19th century that people have a right to determine their future. They don't always have to seek self-determination in the form of independent statehood. There are communities that have decided that they want to live as a national minority, or they can have some other form of autonomous entity.
But if they are a national group who seek sovereignty in an independent state and they have a reasonable claim to land, territory of people and government and the ability to have foreign relations--which is pretty much the accepted definition of a state--that they should have statehood. And Palestinians, I think, have an indisputable claim to self-determination in this region.
So, the question is: How do we reconcile these two claims?
Well, for much of my own life, I thought the best and neatest kind of political means of containing those two seemingly contradictory national claims--that they both wanted to have national self-determination in the form of a state in the same land--through a simple division of the land. Right? Just divide the land in two. It's a small land, but you divide it into slightly smaller halves and each side gets about half or whatever it is. And that should be the end of the story.
Over the years I came to be critical of my own views. It wasn't, of course, just my view. This became the general global paradigm, I should say, for how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A). It was never a half-half split. If you look at the history of Mandate Palestine, the territory that was controlled as a British-run mandate up until 1947 when the British decided to end the mandate--which then formally ended on 1948--of that whole historic region, the modern state of Israel has sovereignty over more than 70% of it. So, it's not a half-half split.
But nevertheless, many people like me still thought that the Palestinian state should exist in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem with the final exact location of the borders to be determined by negotiations. And, the two sides kind of put up a wall, separate--each side has to work out their own form of statehood. And end of story.
What happened was that around 2010, 2011, 2012, I started to realize that it was no longer feasible. That, Israeli citizens had spread out in the form of what we call settlement activity so deeply into the West Bank--which was the kind of biggest chunk of the future Palestinian state--that it became impossible to imagine uprooting so many of them. And, they were spread out much more than just these clusters of settlements close to Israel's, what we call 'the green line,' or close to sovereign Israel.
And so, first I started to think that it was unfeasible. I also was looking at Jerusalem because the idea of a two-state solution involved splitting Jerusalem: essentially putting up a boundary between the parts of Jerusalem that would be Palestinian and would belong to a Palestinian state and the parts of Jerusalem that would belong to Israel. I started to realize that that was unfeasible from a municipal perspective; undesirable from an economic and social perspective.
And so, I started to think that this really can't happen anymore. For a long time, people talked about the closing window for reaching a two-state solution due to settlement spread and these kinds of things. And I started to think what a shame. But then over time, I stopped thinking what a shame, and I started to think, 'You know, if I really consider myself to be a liberal--right? I believe in individual rights--but I also believe the universality of human worth and the universal application of human rights and the ability of people to live in pluralist societies based--on the shared basis--of human rights; and that actually isn't really a set of values that is manifested in the idea of ethno-national segregation and partition. And, I started to think that actually it would be better if the two sides are not ripped apart artificially. Not that it's possible anyway. And, that we still need two states because the two sides still have national self-determination claims.
And, that's how I came to identify more with the idea of two states in a confederated approach, which means that they are really two states expressing the national self-determination claims of both sides with general territorial boundaries. And, a boundary between them: but, a boundary that is more open, more porous, that is designed to give access to people to be able to travel and even live as permanent residents on the other side if they accept the sovereignty of the other side. And, that is a mechanism that allows you to have settlements if they accept the sovereignty of a Palestinian state, but they want to stay on land they consider part of their history. Settlers can be there. Palestinians who accept the sovereignty and law of Israel can live there. They cooperate on economy and other shared needs like climate, environment, health, security in ways that both sides are equal. And both sides are states, but they do share what are very clearly common needs on an equal basis.
And so, that's what I've been supporting up until now. And, in fact after October 7th, I think that I support it even more, which, for reasons that I can explain.
Russ Roberts: Yeah. It's an idea: We're cousins with the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza as well as the ones who live here within the boundaries of sovereign Israel, as you called it. We go back as cousins for a very, very, very long time. We used to live among each other. There used to be vibrant Jewish communities in Arab lands.
We've talked on the program how after the establishment of the state, most Jews fled Arab countries and came here so that those populations are very close to zero in the Arab countries. But, things change, and maybe we could go back to a more tolerant world.
It reminds me a little bit of what I think a lot of people imagine for Europe: that there's a European identity. So, France and Germany fought a lot of horrible wars. They hate each other's guts. They murdered through military means--killed millions of each other's citizens. But, now they somewhat--maybe for a long time, maybe forever--consider themselves as somewhat European with a primary identity as French or German, but also European. And, they have a confederacy--bad word. They have a confederation. Sorry.
Dahlia Scheindlin: Confederation. We prefer confederation.
Russ Roberts: Yeah. Much better word. A confederation with, as you say, freedom to travel, economic freedom across borders, and so on. That's a very beautiful idea for this part of the world. And, for you, October 7th hasn't changed that. It's only reinforced it. So, explain why.
Dahlia Scheindlin: It's only reinforced it. It's only reinforced it. When you say that we used to have a situation in which we lived together, we still have a situation in which we live together. Twenty percent of the residents of Israel are Palestinians or Arabs. It's far from a perfect relationship, and the struggles for equality have been long and difficult. But I think that it's indisputably--the empirical reality is that we had Arab-Jewish violence and very limited rioting over the course of not even two weeks--once in our entire national history of 75 years. And, Gaza, which is the most isolated, shut down, hermetically sealed part of this land where you had the greatest implementation of partition and separation is where we saw the most savage violence coming to threaten Israelis. I find it even more urgent in a way to reach some sort of a mechanism that allows just the level of openness that's needed.
It's not a call for a one-state solution. I don't think either society is willing to give up on its political or national identity. I think we still need, again, those national self-determination claims. And, we do have geographic regions that are mostly Palestinian or mostly Jewish.
But, I think it becomes almost indisputable that when people have more access to each other, not necessarily because of coexistence programs--even though I like them. But, I think that what we really have to accept is that we are interdependent. We have shared needs. Where we have professional economic and social needs from one another, we manage to make it work. Just go to any hospital in Israel today. I'm not just talking about people who clean the floors. I'm talking about nurses, doctors, and heads of hospital units who are Palestinian citizens of Israel--or Arab, however they define themselves--and I don't think anybody minds being treated by them except for these very random and rare individual fringe cases that make the news because they're the exceptions.
Russ Roberts: Yeah, it's a powerful thing to remember--
Dahlia Scheindlin: I think the urgency is greater than ever.
Russ Roberts: So, here's my unease with that, or with the practicality of it; and you can respond to it. There appears to be a strong theocratic, religious element to October 7th that it wasn't just what we might call resistance or a military operation against an oppressive--an occupying state, depending on how you view the Gaza situation, but rather a call that's religiously based: that they like to kill Jews. They did amend their charter. It's important to point out. I think it's important--might not be important to point out. But, the original Hamas charter was explicitly antisemitic, anti-Jew, and wasn't just about being against Jews in Israel but Jews in the world. They amended it in--the original charter was 1988 or was that the amendment? Do you know?
Dahlia Scheindlin: It was formed in 1987. I don't know when the charter was made. It was formed in 1987--
Russ Roberts: So, the charter's probably 1988. The amended I think in 2015. They took out some of the most offensive things--
Dahlia Scheindlin: 2017. Yes.
Russ Roberts: Which is interesting--
Dahlia Scheindlin: Yeah. And, they also began to talk about having a state within the 67 areas.
Russ Roberts: Yeah. So, the question is--it's going to require, I think some cultural and social change. It might take 10 years, 40 years. It might not be possible. How concerned are you about that religious element? Radical Islam, to be blunt about it.
Dahlia Scheindlin: Yes. To be blunt about it, I'm very concerned about radical Islam, fundamentalist Islam. Any interpretation of Islam that encourages violence, particularly against civilians. Guess what? I'm equally concerned about it in Israeli society. I'd like to point out that four of the five parties currently sitting in the governing coalition are specifically religious parties. Two of them are ultra-Orthodox, two of them are ultra-nationalist religious parties. They call themselves religious Zionism. They actually ran together. So, you could say it's in a way, three out of four parties, but they've broken up ever since the government was established, so it's four out of five parties. Four out of five parties in the governing coalition in Israel are devoted religious parties that place the word of God, Torah, Jewish law, Jewish scripture above anything else. Above even Israeli civil law. How do we know that? Because they tried to undermine the judiciary without so much as a care in the world.
In other words, the aim of fulfilling Israel's own messianic missions, for example, of annexing the West Bank, was so important that they wanted to sacrifice Israel's judicial independence and undermine its judicial institutions in order to have full freedom for the government to do that.
And, I spent this morning--on Thursday, 11th of January--watching the International Court of Justice hearings in which the major accusations against Israel were not only what Israel is doing, but the stated intentions of some of its leaders; and much was made of the fact that the Prime Minister himself has drawn on the Bible to encourage Israelis to think about wiping out the seed of Amalek--Israel's biblical enemy--drawing on religious texts and showing soldiers dancing around in Gaza citing these biblical phrases calling for the destruction of the other.
I am worried about religious fundamentalism in any political system that claims that it has a liberal democratic outlook or civilian state secular authorities. And of course, Hamas never claimed that. But Israel does claim it.
And so, yeah, I think that if we're ever going to have something like two states that live in a more open confederated association, they will have to have some basic shared concepts of human rights, which is a completely secular prospect. It says that everybody of all faith and confessions[?] from any background, any culture shares certain inalienable human rights. And, they will have to have some sort of an institution to guarantee that, especially if there are people living on the other side as permanent residents.
So, I don't think it's something we can implement tomorrow, but I do think we had better start charting a course to get there, because otherwise we're going to be locked into these cycles of non-decision, ongoing military control, ongoing resentment and hostility. And that feeds extremism on both sides.
I want to point out something else. I don't think you can erase all religious fundamentalism. I don't think you can erase all political extremism. And I don't think you can erase all violence. Nowhere in human society, anywhere on the globe, have we managed to do that. The problem is we are exacerbating it: we're fueling it, all of us in this region. And, I think that the aim should not be to promise that I can provide perfection with this approach. The aim is to say: Let's remove all factors that are likely to fuel more extremism, make people who wouldn't otherwise have been so hostile or violent into the kind of people who join in those violent efforts.
Russ Roberts: Yeah, I certainly agree there's some ugly extremist views here in Israel. My presumption--and maybe it's yours, maybe it's not--is that those voices will not be part of the next government, but politics is hard to predict. And, I think some of them is the more extreme statements that you quoted about Amalek and others were--in the heat of war many times focused on Hamas but of course in practice, maybe that doesn't make a difference.
Russ Roberts: I think there's a more fundamental question which Israel faces. And, that's the question of what's Jewish about a Jewish state. I'm a classical liberal in outlook--meaning I want a smaller state probably than you do--and I want individual liberty, which I think we probably mostly agree on. But, I strongly believe in a separation in church and state, both as a former American resident and certainly as a citizen of a state that, I think the power of the ultra-Orthodox here has been bad for Judaism. That's the irony of all this. It is soured and offended, rightly so. Their use of the political system has soured many non-religious Jews who might be interested in Jewish tradition in whatever flavor they see fit to pursue it, and it should be their choice as to how they pursue it.
But of course, it's easy to say that. I think the challenge is--what is Jewish about the Jewish state is a tough question. I'm curious what your thoughts are.
Dahlia Scheindlin: Yeah. Well, this gives me an opportunity briefly to mention the book, The Crooked Timber of Democracy in Israel: Promise Unfulfilled. Many people while I was working on this book, which is basically a history of democracy in Israel--that's how I thought about it while I was writing it. And, I went back to the pre-state era, early Zionism through to the present and the massive--what I see as an assault on democratic values and institutions and the backlash against it.
And, some people said to me while I was writing it, 'Is it really that complicated? The only problem with democracy in Israel is that Israel wants to be a Jewish state and that can't be democratic.' And, it's true that over the course of the entire history, much of the policies that contradicted or challenged democratic values had to do with either creating and preserving a Jewish majority or ensuring Jewish privilege or kind of superior status in Israeli society.
Having said that, by the very end of all of this thinking I did about the nature of democracy--and looking at other countries as well--I think that you can have an identity even if you're a democracy. I think there are not really very many countries in the world whose identity is purely a civic national identity. I think--we're talking about America, Canada, Australia. But, most countries are nation states, and there's a way to implement an identity that is much more inclusive of democratic values, of equality of all citizens, of the inclusion of pluralism and other cultures. And, the way I see it, Israel can be a Jewish state if you define Judaism in ways that do not discriminate against citizens other than in that very symbolism.
So, for example, you can have a Jewish calendar that recognizes the rhythm of life according to the Jewish holidays and Saturday being the rest day, and that doesn't really stop anybody else--the other cultures that are native to this region, Muslims and Christians--from having holidays that are also included in a national calendar. Those kinds of things leave it at the symbolic level and they're not exclusive.
Okay: we can have a national language. The other great example is the dispute--and I think unfortunate result of that dispute--over the attempt of recent governments, and it was even before this government, to make sure that Jews feel privileged in Israel by passing a law called the Nation State Law in 2018, which was under a different government. It was not a government that included the particular extremist, ultra-nationalist parties that we were talking about earlier. But, it still managed to pass this law that placed the Hebrew language at a higher level than the Arabic language, even though Arabic is of course native to the region.
So, why do we have to do it in an exclusive way? There's no need for it. You can have Hebrew as an official language and have Arabic as an official language.
So, I think there are ways that Israel can express a Jewish character and feel like a state that reflects the national homeland of the Jewish people, but is inclusive and does not discriminate and guarantees equality for all citizens. And, it will never be perfect. That's the nature of human society. It will be an ongoing dialogue. But, for that reason, we need democratic institutions to allow and encourage that kind of ongoing dialogue where people can make their claims about how to advance those values.
Russ Roberts: Yeah. What I meant to ask you before--and I don't think I did, although my memory in wartime is really--it's bad enough I'm 69 years old--
Dahlia Scheindlin: Well, maybe I misinterpreted your question.
Russ Roberts: What?
Dahlia Scheindlin: Or maybe I misinterpreted your question.
Russ Roberts: No, no, no. The question is the percentage question, right? So, there are extremists here. I think they're relatively small. They can grow. Their demography is very strong and powerful. But, again, I worry about that theocratic influence in our cousins. I hope that's small--I like to believe it's small. But, that comes back to the polling question. And, maybe we know something about that. I don't know. In terms of sympathy for radical Islam.
Dahlia Scheindlin: What we know is that Hamas' support tends to range from about well as low as 12 to as high as in the mid- or low 30s, I would say. And so, one way of judging support for radical Islam is to judge support for Hamas. But, I would also say that there are other reasons why Palestinians support Hamas. They're not exclusive, right? You can be both radical Islamist and support Hamas for other reasons.
But, one of the other major reasons is people's absolute resentment and hostility towards Fatah. And, that's largely because Fatah has also governed. And, for those who don't know, this is the political party that has been the dominant party in Palestinian politics over history and currently controls the Palestinian Authority which governs the West Bank, at least in terms of local affairs. Let's just point out that the Israeli Army and authorities generally have control over the entire region. But, Fatah has become a party that is synonymous with corruption and authoritarianism as well. And, as the dominant party anybody who feels like they want to support a party in opposition to Fatah has become a supporter of Hamas, even if they weren't necessarily radical Islamist.
But, we do know from the survey research that the breakdown is pretty clearly overlapping. If you are a political Islamist, you probably support Hamas; and more secular people support Fatah.
In terms of what's the support for radical fundamentalist religious-oriented politics in Israel, we could look at support for the religious Zionism party, which is those two parties that I mentioned were running together in the 2022 elections, and what they received was 10.83% of the vote. But, we also have 15 mandates that went to ultra-orthodox parties, which we don't even think of necessarily because we're so used to them being key members of governing coalitions as they have been for most of the last four decades. And so, they also have disproportionate power. Altogether, that's probably about 12% of the vote. And, that's not even to mention people who may be religious and share some of the values, but voted for different parties.
So, all of these are still minorities, but I do think we can't really underestimate that sometimes they have what feels like disproportionate political influence.
Russ Roberts: Let's close with the question of optimism and pessimism. A lot of people on October 6th were worried about the future of this country. It was being torn apart. Felt like we're on the verge of a civil war. And, I would add, by the way, that we're not the only country that's having big issues like this. You mentioned countries like the United States, other long-time democracies, much longer track records than ours, they're having trouble with their national narratives as well. So, it's a difficult time. But, this country has rallied remarkably. At least a lot of the schisms were mended instantly on October 7th. They will reappear almost certainly the day after. Are you optimistic or pessimistic going forward after the war is over, whatever that means?
Dahlia Scheindlin: Well, I can say that whenever people ask me to end on a note of hope after October 7th, I say it's not my job. I can't invent stuff that's not there.
However, I think there are two levels of what you're asking. If it comes to Israeli society only, to the extent that we can distinguish--and increasingly, I have a harder time talking about just Israel without talking about the Palestinians. But, let's say for the sake of the moment: When it comes to Israeli society, I do think I have some optimism because I think that a). over the course of this year, we saw an unprecedented national lesson in constitutionalism and democracy and liberal values that we'd never had to this depth before. It was really remarkable. I think that most countries have not experienced--certainly, I don't think very many countries have experienced a 39-week-long enduring protest of hundreds of thousands of people every single week, sometimes more than once a week. That in itself was really remarkable. But, it was also accompanied by incredible civic initiatives, completely--often voluntary. Mostly voluntary--although lots of money was raised in the process also from Israeli civilians just to debate and understand and learn what democracy really means.
And so, I think for the first time, we were opening up some of those most troubling questions--and contradictions, which I certainly explore in the book--about why we're in this situation of having such an argument over the role of the judiciary and the constitutional arrangement of Israel. So, that gave me a sense of optimism before October 7th.
After October 7th, I think the optimism came from, again, civil society; and many of the same figures, of course, who had been the leaders and the prominent members and organizational anchors of the protests over the course of the year were the ones who instantly transformed themselves into a civic mobilization effort to help gather donations and distribute them around the country. It was an incredible feat of efficiency when the state was frankly absent.
You know, in the days after October 7th, not only were people traumatized and suffering, they felt abandoned. Tens of thousands of people had to leave their homes, didn't have anywhere to go, didn't have a roof over their head or food. Restaurants around the country shut down and began cooking--for the people who were displaced--of their own initiative. Hotels opened their doors of their own initiative. Civil society NGOs [non-governmental organizations] suddenly rallied to raise money and help these people.
So, I think that all of that stuff gives me hope that we have a newfound sense of solidarity. Of course, the political disputes will reappear, but I'd like to think we'll have a little more good will going forward.
I'm not nearly as optimistic when it comes to the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what will happen the next day. And, I can't separate them because I don't think Israel can ever fulfill its promise to itself of being a democracy--certainly not liberal democracy--as long as it is preventing the self-determination, freedom of another people.
Russ Roberts: My guest today has been Dahlia Scheindlin. Dahlia, thanks for being part of EconTalk.
Dahlia Scheindlin: Thank you so much for having me and for this in-depth and rich conversation.