Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 10 Episode 17
Aired on November 12, 2023
Main segment: 2023 Israel–Hamas war
Other segments: Update to 2023 New Zealand Bird of the Year Election
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[Cheers and applause]
John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight!” I’m John Oliver. Thank you so much for joining us. It has been a busy week! Elections on Tuesday saw big wins for Democrats. Ohio voted to enshrine abortion rights in its state constitution. And, the sag strike finally ended, meaning movies will be back in production. Although to be honest, I’m not even sure I even need movies anymore, since this 17-minute video was released of what I can only describe as a hamster Gatsby living its best life.
John: It’s a complete masterpiece! And it goes on for 16 more minutes! I mean “Barbenheimer” was fine, I liked it fine, but be honest — it’s just not as good as that. And I really hope you enjoyed watching it. I really do. Because we’re going to dive straight in with our main story tonight, which concerns the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. A sentence which is a terrible way to start a comedy show, and a great way to end a first date. And look, before we even begin, I know a lot of the conversation surrounding this has been extremely heated. You may have seen friends or coworkers posting hot takes that’ve shocked you. Suddenly that guy who offered you coke at a wedding is writing thesis-long Instagram stories on the two-state solution, Kathy from work’s posting something that’s antisemitic in a way you really hope she doesn’t realize, and it’s all shoved in between your favorite influencer showing hole, while also calling for a free Palestine. The internet is a wild place. Things are, understandably, very tense right now, and it seems like everyone is finding themselves making mistakes, and I do mean everyone.
Meanwhile, k-mart has had to pull one its Christmas items off the shelf because of its unfortunate wording. The shopping giant selling ham Christmas calico bags with the slogan “merry ham-mas.”
Which appears to be too similar to the terrorist group Hamas.
John: Yeah, that is too similar! It’d be like naming your child John Blaine gacy, it’s too close for comfort. But spare a thought for Australian k-mart there, how were they supposed to know that Hamas was going to launch a terrorist attack so close to the ham-mas season! Celebrate and have heard of before. It feels like ham-mas starts a little earlier every year, doesn’t it? One day it’s ham-oween, the next, your neighbor’s hanging ham-mas lights. And celebrities have also found out the hard way that it’s easy to get things wrong. A few weeks ago, Justin Bieber posted “praying for Israel” over a picture of a devastated city that he apparently didn’t realize was actually Gaza. He then deleted the post and re-posted the same prayers over a blank background. Which, as we now know, thankfully solved everything. There was also a statement issued by a group of celebrities calling for the immediate return of Israeli hostages, which TMZ covered like this.
Anyone involved it seems in the Hollywood industry all put their names to a letter to President Biden. It really does feel like it’s everyone. It’s Chris Rock, it’s Gwyneth Paltrow, it’s Adam Sandler.
Let me ask you something. Who doesn’t want to get the hostages out?
Bradley cooper. I mean, you’re right.
It’s a non-statement. I mean, of course, everyone wants to get the hostages out.
I just think it’s beyond ridiculous. Like if we play that out for a second. Joe Biden‘s going to get this open letter, and be like what? “Oh my god, The Rock signed this.” [Laughter] We have to get the hostages out. Like, are you kidding me?
John: Yeah, as much as I hate to agree with paparazzi sportscenter, they’re right about that. The Rock probably isn’t going to solve the conflict in the Middle East. It’s one of those things so obvious it shouldn’t need saying, like pie tastes good, or rainbows are pretty, or Yoshi is amazing in the sack. Look at that tongue. End of discussion. But even as Harvey Levin leveled some fair critiques on the utter futility of celebrity, he couldn’t help taking a pretty strong stance of his own.
The statement of a ceasefire is that you are going — right, to allow Hamas to come back in and try to exterminate the Jews in Israel and end Israel.
Presumably, the ceasefire means that Hamas should not be attacking either.
Wait, wait, wait. That’s exactly what the ceasefire means.
Right, and Hamas attacked in the first place. This was a terrorist attack, and the idea that there’s going to be a ceasefire now invites Hamas just to do it again.
John: Yeah, TMZ is now hashing out its preferred solutions for what’s happening in the Middle East. Raising many questions, including: what exactly is TMZ now? It used to be “ESPN for b-listers leaving the airport” and stories like “this celebrity died and not even their family knows yet,” and now it’s doing geopolitics. Pick a lane, guys! It’s either “Josh Gad spills ice cream on his dog” or “Ariel Sharon’s impact on U.S. foreign policy.” You can’t have both!
The point is, there are strong opinions everywhere — and in some cases, they’ve undeniably been informed by bigotry. Anti-semitic and Islamophobic incidents have spiked in the U.S. since in the past month. It’s not been an easy time to wear a yarmulke or a hijab in America over the month — and I say that knowing it’s not necessarily been easy on our best days. So there are a thousand different reasons why this is hard to talk about, but it does feel important to try. As you undoubtedly know, on October 7th, Hamas-led militants launched an unprecedented and brutal attack against Israel, killing over 1,000 people — mostly civilians, including women and children in their homes — in what ended up being the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. Over 200 hostages were taken, including a nine-month-old baby, most of whom have not been returned. It was hideous and it was sickening. In response, Israel launched what’s now become a monthlong siege of Gaza, cutting off nearly all water, food, electricity, and fuel to the territory. In just the first six days of the war, it dropped 6,000 bombs on a strip of land just 25 miles long, and at most 7 miles wide. That’s nearly as many as the record number that the U.S. dropped on Afghanistan in a single year. As of this taping, more than 11,000 people had been killed, including at least 4,000 children. There is almost no piece of footage that I could show you of Gaza that is not horrifying or heartbreaking. But we did find one piece of footage where a child very aptly sums up what things are like there.
How have the past few days been, Abdulaziz?
It’s okay, we can cut it out. Tell me how have the past few days been, Abdulaziz? Explain to us.
You mean about the war?
Yes. How has it been with the war?
John: yeah, of course, it feels like shit! There’s no other way to put it. And I’m glad he didn’t even try. I also appreciate him asking for clarification when the reporter started over. “Sorry, just to be clear, you’re asking what it’s like to live through this war, right? Okay, got it! My answer remains — like shit! Next question, please.” And I’ve got to say, it is hard to see a kid like that, and then hear glib pronouncements like this one, from representative Brian Mast of Florida.
I would encourage the other side to not so lightly throw around the idea of innocent Palestinian civilians, as is frequently said. I don’t think we would so lightly throw around the term “innocent nazi civilians” during World War II. There’s not this far stretch to say there are very few innocent Palestinian civilians.
John: Okay, that’s not only disgusting, it is also, evidently the sort of thing you’re allowed to get away with saying on the House floor with zero repercussions because that’s apparently where the conversation is right now. But just so we’re very clear, there are absolutely innocent Palestinian civilians, in the same way, there are Floridians who aren’t braindead bigots with a penis for a head. A region’s worst does not represent them all. And look, we don’t have time to talk about the history of the Middle East tonight. And I know you’re thinking: but John are you sure about that? Aren’t you school?” Well, fun fact, I’m not! It just seems like that, I’m actually technically a comedy show, I just hide it better than most. So I’m not going to get into the thousands of years of generational traumas informing the response to this, including the Holocaust, and the Nakba, or mass violent displacement of Palestinians, before and after Israel’s founding. I’m also not going to do a historical blow-by-blow of how Palestinians came to live in Gaza and the West Bank right now. You can google that for yourselves — or even bing it! That’s completely fine, too! Though I will say — I wouldn’t ask Jeeves about this. He has some unexpectedly pretty nasty views on this. Instead, I’d like to zero in on one of the biggest misconceptions you may’ve been hearing over the last few weeks. Specifically, the tendency to collapse leaders and citizens when discussing this. To assume that Netanyahu speaks for all Israelis, or that Hamas speaks for all Palestinians. Because that is emphatically not the case. So tonight, let’s look at Hamas and Netanyahu — how they came to be in power, whose interests they do and don’t represent, and what role they’ve played in bringing us to this current conflict. And let’s start with Hamas. It’s been around since 1987 and has governed Gaza for the last 17 years. It was founded, in part, in opposition to where Palestinian politics was heading at the time, with the dominant political party, Fatah, embracing a peace process with Israel, a process by the way the Palestinians had high hopes for when it started. But Hamas branded itself as the party of resistance to Israel and undermined the peace process with a long series of attacks and suicide bombings. And as prospects for peace collapsed, Hamas seems to be vindicated in its messaging and you can see the philosophy continuing through today. This senior Hamas official, Ghazi Hamad, recently doubled down on the massacre of October 7, by saying “We must teach Israel a lesson, and we will do it twice, and three times.” And for many commentators, all the citizens of Gaza are implicated in that sort of rhetoric, thanks to one key fact you hear all the time.
The people of Gaza, the Palestinians elected Hamas people, Hamas fighters, Hamas terrorists to their board of governors.
The people in Gaza elected Hamas. It’s a terrorist organization, that is their government.
How do you say Hamas doesn’t represent the Palestinian people when they voted Hamas in to represent them?
John: Okay, so very quickly, that’s Tucker Carlson’s replacement at Fox, Jesse Watters. He’s a lot like Tucker, except less charismatic, way dumber, and with somehow even more of an “I’ve killed someone during a fraternity hazing accident” vibe. Which is really saying something. Because look, it’s true that Gazans did, at one point, elect Hamas. But, if you think that makes them all complicit in war crimes their government commits, then boy do I have bad news for you about decades of U.S. foreign policy. And also, there are some huge asterisks on “Gazans electing Hamas.” First, that election happened in 2006, and there hasn’t been one since. And given that children make up roughly half of Gaza’s population, that means most Gazans weren’t even born when the last election took place. What’s more, Hamas didn’t win a majority. It only won with a bare plurality of the votes. And it did so by running against Fatah, which was widely reviled for incompetence and corruption at the time. Those were the key issues in that election. Also, Hamas went out of its way to present itself as more moderate back then. In fact, here’s the same Hamas official who recently justified the October 7 attacks — shortly before that 2006 election.
We are a moderate organization, really. We are not radical organization, and we are not extremist or fundamentalist. No, we are an open-minded organization. We believe in democracy and the freedom and political pluralization.
John: Yeah, Hamas really tried to rebrand itself. Kind of like Domino’s did when they ran ads admitting that “the sauce tastes like ketchup,” “the crust tastes like cardboard,” and they promised to “work days, nights, and weekends” to get better. But, unfortunately, like Domino’s, Hamas is a terrible organization that in no way kept its promises. Because in the years following, that tone of open-minded freedom clearly fell away. Not only has there not been another election, most people in Gaza don’t believe they have the freedom to speak openly. One poll found that, under Hamas rule, 68% believed that the right to participate in a peaceful protest was not protected, or was protected only to a limited extent. And human rights groups have said that Hamas forces have carried out a brutal campaign of abductions, torture, and unlawful killings against Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel, and have attacked members and supporters of Fatah, their main political rival. And the truth is, many Gazans will say they don’t want Hamas in charge. Polls show if true peace were achievable, many Palestinians would embrace it. In fact, one conducted right before October 7 found 73% favoring a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And it’s notable that in July, despite all the restrictions on dissent in Gaza, there were actually people on the streets chanting slogans including, “Fuck off, Hamas” and “We want to live.” And look, even if all Palestinians in Gaza did support Hamas — which they don’t — the relentless bombings of civilians therewould still be abhorrent. Collective punishment is a war crime. But the fact is, there is much more criticism of Hamas in Gaza than Americans in general, and these dipshits in particular, are willing to admit. Palestinians in Gaza are not a monolith. And nor, importantly, are Israelis. Because now, let’s talk about Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who has been prime minister of Israel for a combined 16 years. Here in the U.S., discussion of the current conflict sometimes conflates the current Israeli government with Israel as a whole, as if the two are entirely representative of each other. You’ll hear, “We need to support Bibi and Israel” or “This is not a time to criticize Netanyahu.” But that is not the case within Israel. Criticism of Netanyahu there is fierce. One poll found that 76% of Israelis want him gone, and many blame him for the security lapses that led to the October 7th attack. And immediately after that attack, videos went viral of Netanyahu ministers visiting hospitals where some of the victims were recuperating, and being yelled at. Just watch this one minister essentially get chased out of the hospital, first by a family member, and then by somebody who worked there.
You are responsible for this., get out of here. You are hindering this nation from finding the way to move forward. You’re disturbing us.
You’ve been a really good girl, haven’t you?!
All of you ruined this country, you ruined it. Now get out of here, it’s our turn now to take control. Left wing, right wing, one united nation, without you. You ruined everything. Get out of here.
John: That’s pretty intense. I don’t know much about medicine, but after seeing that, I’m going to assume the Hippocratic oath actually goes, “First do no harm,” and second “If unwelcome government officials are upsetting people in your hospital, kick them the fuck out.” Because he’s clapping at her there like you do when you’re trying to get a bird out of your house. And while that anger at Netanyahu has certainly intensified since October 7, it’s also been there for a long time. Before the attack, Israel saw nearly 40 weeks of protests, including hundreds of thousands of Israelis marching in the streets, in opposition to his plan that would effectively end the independence of the judiciary and endanger civil rights. And look, Netanyahu has always been a hard-liner. He’s forged his entire political persona around an extreme version of “safety through strength.” Which has included active opposition to the peace process at crucial points. When former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to the Oslo peace accords, which attempted to set a framework for an eventual resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu was fiercely against it. Infamously speaking at a rally where protestors chanted “In blood and fire, we will expel Rabin,” and held aloft depictions of him in a nazi uniform. Soon after that, Rabin was killed by a far-right Israeli extremist, and Rabin’s widow blamed Netanyahu for stoking the flames that led to that. And in the wake of that assassination, Netanyahu’s political career seemed dead. And it wasn’t until a series of bus bombings by Hamas in Israel — as part of their own efforts to derail the peace accords — that Netanyahu was first elected prime minister. And his message, “I’m the only one who can keep you safe” has been consistent ever since. Here he is in the run-up to Israel’s 2014 election, making that point again.
I feel the Jewish nation is under threat, and I’m prepared to mitigate that danger. It’s what the state of Israel expects from me, and it’s what I’ll do.
John: That’s a big claim that hasn’t just dated very well. Honestly, I haven’t seen a politician’s words age so poorly since Hillary Clinton tweeted “Happy birthday to this future president.” So he has always been hard-right. But it’s worth taking a minute to underscore just how extreme his current government is. Because the truth is, Netanyahu has been struggling to hold office in the last half-decade. Voters there actually endured five elections in just four years, because neither Netanyahu nor anyone else could form a stable majority. He only made it back into power last year, by forming a coalition with those on the furthest right wing of Israeli politics — leading to the most right-wing government in the country’s history. His cabinet is stocked with extremists. Take Itamar Ben-Gvir. He’s been convicted on at least eight charges, including supporting a terrorist organization and incitement to racism. He was once considered so fringe, the Israeli army rejected him from mandatory service. But he’s now Netanyahu’s minister of national security. Meanwhile, his current finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, has said, “Is there a Palestinian history or culture? There is none. There is no such thing as a Palestinian people.” He’s also advocated for “victory through settlement,” very basically seizing land in the West Bank, and driving Palestinians from their homes to the point where, quote, “I abort their hopes of establishing a state.” Settlements are widely understood to be against international law, yet Smotrich wants a massive expansion of them, and Netanyahu gave him a special role in charge of settlement affairs. But perhaps the most surprising way Netanyahu has jeopardized Israel’s safety is that, for years, he deliberately used Hamas as a way to undermine the Palestinian Authority, a rival to Hamas, which administers parts of the West Bank and has much more legitimacy on the world stage. Experts say the idea was basically divide and conquer — if Palestinian leadership remains split, and one of the main parties at the table has a terrorism label on it, it’s going to be much easier for Netanyahu to refuse to engage with them, and say he has “no partner for peace.” Here’s Smotrich explaining that strategy out loud in 2015.
The Palestinian Authority is a burden and Hamas is a terrorist organization that no one will recognize, and no one will give it status in the ICC. No one will let them lead a decision in the security council. The main pitch we are playing now is international delegitimization. Hamas at this point, in my opinion, will be an asset.
John: “Hamas is an asset.” If you’re calling the group that has repeatedly killed your people an asset, it shows pretty clearly that what you care about isn’t safety, but total control. And for years, Netanyahu’s government was actually allowing suitcases of cash to be delivered to Hamas, something by the way that earned suitcases of cash the title “most morally disreputable way to transfer money” for the nine hundredth year in a row. When the scandal broke, Netanyahu insisted that that money was for humanitarian aid. Which still doesn’t explain why it had to be delivered in luggage in the back of a fucking car. The point is, Netanyahu took the risk of betting that he could control Hamas, and use them to his own ends. And he was horribly wrong about that, to the point that his ministers are now getting screamed out of hospitals. So, to recap so far: Palestinians and Israelis have both been relentlessly let down by their leaders, and the result has been a decades-long cycle of extremism, violence, retaliation, and more extremism. And Palestinians have been on the receiving end of that extremism twice over — subject to the inadequacies and cruelties of a Hamas government and the punishing isolation and daily misery of an Israeli one. Because Israel’s approach to Gaza has been truly punishing — fencing people in, limiting exits, and trapping them inside of what has been called an open-air prison by many human rights organizations. Life under a blockade there has been hard for a long time, even when there aren’t bombs flying.
The United Nations says just 10% of Gaza’s two million people have access to safe drinking water.
My children get sick because of the water. They suffer from vomiting, and diarrhea.
All the streets are full of trashes, all of garbage. All the people, they have no work. They have no employment.
When people here run out of electricity here, they only get three hours a day. They can either buy a small battery to try to operate lights, or they just go outside and light fires.
This life has given Imad, like many Gazans, a sense of having little to lose.
John: Right, and can’t blame them for feeling that way. Once you’ve lost clean water, sanitary space, job prospects, and most electricity, there’s not really much left to lose but hope. And it is worth noting that there is one more major player in all this that I haven’t mentioned, and it’s us. And I don’t just mean the British, who are absolutely responsible for some of this. I’m talking about America. Because this country has emphatically picked a side. In recent years, we’ve given Israel $3.8 billion a year in military aid. And you can make geopolitical arguments for why that is or isn’t a valid thing to do. But it means we are heavily implicated in everything you’ve just seen. Just listen to Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian whose ten-year-old daughter was killed by an Israeli border guard in 2007.
My daughter has been killed with an American rubber bullet, unfortunately, from an American m16, unfortunately, from an American jeep, an American uniform, and the soldier had trained in America. So everything is American.
John: Right. “Everything is American.” And I know that’s hard to hear. But the fact is, “Made in America” is something that we understandably love to brag about when it’s slapped on things we’re proud of, but unfortunately it’s not just tractors, truck nuts and Toby Keith songs. Sometimes it’s stuff that’s killing people. And so, having explained at least some of how we got here, now might be the time to talk about where we are. As of right now, Hamas is still holding all but four of the hostages that it has taken, and firing rockets toward Israel every day. Israel is bombing relentlessly, and again, thousands in Gaza have been killed so far — which honestly shouldn’t be a total shock if even earlier an IDF spokesperson said out loud ‘The emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy.’ And there have been some maddening efforts to downplay the suffering in Gaza — like when Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. said this, last weekend.
There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. In coordination with the U.S. and the U.N., we allowed the number of trucks entering Gaza now with food and medicines to reach almost 100 trucks every day.
You’ve said this before, that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. That’s kind of an amazing statement because there were humanitarian problems there before the war. And now, obviously, it has gotten bad.
But, Dana — okay, so…
Take their numbers aside. It has gotten to the crisis point.
Yes, but I’m not — no, I’m not saying that the life in Gaza is great.
John: Oh, okay. “I’m not saying it’s great” is a severe understatement there. That’s something you say when you’re describing the band at a wedding, or a sandwich from Panera bread. But it’s not how you describe life in the middle of a fucking war zone. Because those on the ground in Gaza will tell you it’s absolutely a humanitarian crisis. Just this woman who works with Doctors Without Borders.
It is the worst humanitarian catastrophe I have experienced in my lifetime. You know, there’s an acronym in the Gaza Strip right now. You know, I’m a pediatric intensive care doctor, I see a lot of suffering in my career. There is an acronym that is unique to the Gaza Strip, and it’s called WCNSF, Wounded child, no surviving family. Children — and it is used not infrequently in the last three weeks. Wounded child, no surviving family should not exist as an acronym.
John: She’s right. And, personally, I’m going to take my cues about what constitutes a humanitarian crisis from the humanitarians. And I really don’t have it in me to show you footage of people in agony tonight. But I do want you to see some kids in Gaza who’ve been displaced, speak about what they’ve been going through.
We can’t sleep sometimes.
Because… those things… fear. Because of fear.
We fear for our lives.
I would start trembling. My hands would tremble and start to hurt.
I hope things calm down. A truce, and that no one else would get hurt.
I hope the fighting stops and we can go home, to our houses, and sleep, and chill out.
I would really like that.
John: Yeah, I’d really like them to be able to chill the fuck out, too. Because kids should never be losing sleep due to fear of war, they should only be losing sleep for completely normal kid reasons, like tummy aches from eating too much candy or — apparently, for Australian kids — staying up excited all night because it’s Christmas eve and you can’t wait to see if Santa brought you a brand new bag for all of your holiday ham for some deeply weird reason. It should be impossible to watch those kids and not feel shattered. There is a natural human impulse to protect children. To grab a toddler you don’t know if you see them running into traffic. And if that impulse is broken or disincentivized by a government, there is absolutely a humanitarian crisis. No matter what any asshole has to say about it. And look, I don’t have a solution for peace in the Middle East. And even if I did — which again, I don’t — this would be the worst voice in which to relay that message. But it does seem to me, personally, that a ceasefire has to be the first step. That’s something that people have been calling for all over the world, but it’s something that world leaders have been reluctant to say. Just watch Justin Trudeau almost say it, and then correct himself.
We need to see a cease — uh, we need to see a humanitarian pause so we can flow — we need to see a ceasing of the levels of violence that we’re seeing.
John: Wow. He stopped himself mid-word there. He literally ordered a ceasefire on the word “ceasefire.” My only regret is that he didn’t just keep that word salad, or word poutine, going, “We need a ceasing of the violence, a stopping of the explosions — sort of a halting of the booms, if you will? A halt-boom! Would be great right now.” And it’s not just Trudeau. Joe Biden has said there’s no possibility of a ceasefire. Which is a hell of a thing to hear from perhaps the only world leader whose pressure could actually make one possible. And listen, there are those, like noted mid-east peace expert Harvey Levin, who will say, not wrongly, that there are real dangers to a ceasefire — that Hamas might regroup once the bombing stops. Although, that’s arguably going to be a danger whenever it stops. So why not stop right now? Continuing down this path only creates more extremists, which is the last thing that anyone needs. And I don’t want to say anything that denies the pain of those in Israel, who’ve lost loved ones to a truly barbarous act, or who are waiting anxiously for the return of hostages. Although, you should know, some hostages’ families are also utterly furious at the military tactics Netanyahu’s employing right now.
We have to engage in negotiations. We have to do it now. They say the only solution is to destroy — to flatten Gaza. They never mention the hostages, never.
John: Right. And you can see how infuriating that would be. And I know that for many Israelis, there is an understandable sense of fear and precarity right now, amid the specter of Hamas attacks and rockets flying overhead. But it’s worth also acknowledging the overwhelming sense of precarity among Palestinians, living under a blockade, and a barrage of Israeli rockets. And it has to be possible to feel the pain in one community without denying it in another. It has to be. That is, perhaps, the most necessary precondition for peace. Because real peace here will clearly be difficult. It’s going to be struggled toward, as part of a larger pursuit of justice, which will in turn require an honest and uncomfortable reckoning with all the decisions that brought us to this point. And I know hope is scarce right now, but I did see something this week which gave me a seed of hope. It involved this Israeli man, Rami Elhanan, who lost his 14-year-old daughter to a Hamas suicide bombing 26 years ago. He actually co-directs a group called “The Parents Circle,” with that Palestinian man that I showed you earlier, where parents who’ve lost children to this conflict get together to work toward peace. Elhanan was asked if recent events had changed his worldview at all, and his response is worth listening to.
You know, we are in a circle of blood for– for the last 75 years. And this is just another round. Nobody expected the viciousness and the cruelty of this round, but it was expected. You cannot put two million people in a box, close the cover and, expect nothing will happen. It will not stop unless we talk. You cannot annihilate Hamas. You cannot ignore six million people, Palestinians, living here in the holy land. And you cannot expect them to go away. They will not go away. We will not go away. We are doomed to live here together, and we have to choose whether to share this land or to share the graveyard under it.
John: Exactly. And it is inspiring that — despite what that man went through — he’s still committed to achieving peace through talking. And it shows that any conversation around this has to begin with empathy or we’re just fucked. And obviously, we don’t know how all this ends. But there are a few things we do know. We know that dehumanizing people leads to violence. We know that violence leads to even more brutality and destruction. And we know that, crucially, breaking that cycle is unfortunately going to require leadership significantly different than the ones currently in place.
John: Moving on. Finally tonight, a quick update about New Zealand. You may remember last week, we waded into their highly competitive “Bird of the Century” contest, run by the conservation organization Forest & Bird. Basically, every year New Zealanders vote for their favorite bird and ultimately elect a new bird king. It’s just excellent. And we announced ourselves as the official campaign managers of this bird, the puteketeke. And I’ll never tire of saying it out loud. Puteketeke. It’s the bird name equivalent of rubbing your gums with cocaine, or filling your mouth with pop rocks and chugging a coke. And look at the plumage! It has the grace of a swan and the hair of an emo guy fieri. To campaign for it, we put up ads in New Zealand, Paris, Mumbai, Tokyo, and London. We flew a banner over ipanema beach in brazil, and, naturally, put up a billboard in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. And it seems, our promotion worked, because there was such a huge influx of votes this week that, according to Forest & Bird, their voting verification system got overloaded and temporarily crashed. They’re actually having to delay the announcement of the winner until Wednesday. So while we don’t yet know who won, I do want to take a moment to address the response to our campaign in New Zealand. Because it wasn’t all positive.
John Oliver, the Late Night host, and former bird himself —
come on! It’s the news!
Has made his pick for Forest & Bird’s Bird of the Century competition known to the world. All of John Oliver’s work, including this lord of the wings poster in Wellington, may not convince Kiwis.
You wouldn’t vote for it, still?
Not on the basis of that photo.
And he’s not the only one. Kiwi campaigner Erin Riley calling it foul play.
B-grade American celebrity coming out and essentially hijacking bird of the century. I don’t even think he likes birds.
John: hey, hey, hey! Okay, now I’m insulted. Not because of the B-grade American celebrity part, that’s honestly generous. But how dare you say I don’t like birds! I love them! I just don’t like your bird. Because it looks like Donkey Kong’s hairy testicle. It looks like a rat carrying a toothpick. But she wasn’t the only New Zealander who got a little testy with us. There was also this woman.
You want to take the piss out of our very important election, then I send 14 emails to everyone on your team to try and get you to come and defend yourself on another bird debate and you said “no.” Um, wow.
That’s a stool for you, John Oliver, if you want to put your money where your mouth is about your bird. Empty chair.
Do you have a bird?
Yeah, kereru. It’s the best bird.
John: Okay, okay, let me address that. Of course, I said “no” to that debate. I don’t even know how to argue with someone that wrong. This is the best bird? Please, it’s a fucking pigeon in a tank top. Debate over. I’m not getting on a plane to destroy you like that. And look, some bird campaigners did accept our interference with grace, like supporters of the titipounamu, who posted this image saying “That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight, losing a bird competition.” But others came out swinging. Supporters of the kakariki karaka designed this retaliatory billboard, saying “Dear John, don’t disrupt the pecking order” and put them up all over the place. And I really respect that kind of aggression. But the kakariki karaka has no business being in this competition. “Bird of the Century” is a contest for real birds, not bright-green cat toys. Even this professional basketball team got involved, posting this video of a billboard they put up alongside their mascot and bird of the year pick, the kea. And if you missed it, that billboard says, “The only bird worse than the puteketeke is zazu.” And I’ll admit, I’ll admit, that’s pretty good. But here’s the thing, the jokes on you, you photoshopped my face onto cartoon Zazu. I’m not that one. I’m not the fun one. I’m the terrifying one, that puts pride rock smack dab in the middle of the uncanny valley. Then there was the campaign for the southern dotterel which posted this photo of it walking in on me in bed with a puteketeke. Again, very good. And I love all the tiny details, from the post-bird-sex cigarette that I’m holding in my hand. To the choice of the dotterel photo. Because that’s exactly the expression a dotterel would make if it walked in on its spouse cheating on it. But amid all the blowback, there was one accusation I cannot let pass. And it comes from that campaigner for the Kiwi you saw earlier, who told a news outlet, he doesn’t even like New Zealand, to be honest. Anytime we feature on his show it’s so he can laugh at us. We’re the butt of his jokes and he’s doing it again. And look, I am doing it again. Yeah, I am. But it’s not because I don’t like you. It’s because I fucking love you. New Zealand, you are so good at not just talking shit but taking it, with remarkable good humor. I talk about you so much because you’re the most fascinating country on earth. You hold bird contests, you sometimes throw dildos at your politicians, you let your people submit images like this for your national flag — you’re an endless well of joy. Honestly, I’d talk about you every week if it weren’t for all the other crazy shit going on in the world. I would rename this show “New Zealand Tonight with John Oliver” and it would be an immediate improvement. And for the record, all of your birds are great, and it would be an honor to lose to any of them when results are announced on Wednesday. And the reason it’s so easy for me to say that is, we’re not going to lose, are we? We’re going to win. And we’re going to win by a lot. And when we do that, the puteketeke will be your bird of the century, and there’s nothing any of you can do to stop that right now. Maybe good luck next century, New Zealand.
That’s our show, thank you so much for watching. We’ll see you next week. Goodnight!
[Cheers and applause]