Israel’s 9/11 | Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO) | Transcript

James Kirchick and Matt Duss join Bill Maher to discuss the Israel-Hamas war and its reverberations in American media and academia.
Israel's 9/11 | Real Time with Bill Maher

Original air date: October 13, 2023

James Kirchick and Matt Duss join Bill Maher to discuss the Israel-Hamas war and its reverberations in American media and academia.

(AUDIENCE APPLAUDING) All right, here’s our panel. He is a former foreign policy–


Oh, thank you. Foreign policy advisor to Senator Bernie Sanders, who is now the executive vice president of the Center for International Policy, Matt Duss. Welcome to the show, Matt.


And he’s a columnist for Tablet magazine and author of Secret City, The Hidden History of Gay Washington. James Kirchick is back with us, Jamie.


Um… So, um, difficult week, difficult to talk about it, but we must. Um, as often is the case, this show is at variance with some of the conventional wisdom and what we see in the media a lot. Um, mostly what I saw this week was one, a shocking amount of support, like even at the moment… (CHUCKLES) …of the rampage, or right after when they’re still counting the bodies. That was shocking to me. Uh, but even at its best I feel– feel like most of the people who you would read in the media, the attitude is sort of like, “Well, you know, this is very complicated. I didn’t really study it, I don’t really know the facts, so I’m just gonna go with a kind of they’re both guilty equally and a moral equivalency,” which I would like to take issue with tonight. I think the Israelis have always had the moral high ground and I think they still do.


But, we’ll get to that. But, the… I’d also like to say to my friends in Israel, there’s a siege that’s now been going on for six days. No food, no water, no medicine is getting in. The head of the Red Cross in the Mid East said today, “This is not acceptable. We need a safe humanitarian space.” I agree. Uh, you know, don’t lose the moral high ground. I mean, I hate the word “proportionate” when it comes to killing. It’s ho– It’s horrible, but it’s sort of like the best we can do.

JAMES KIRCHICK: What does that mean, “proportionate”?

BILL: Well, I– I just don’t kn– I don’t know, but if Israel is gonna kill babies now for the next, I don’t know how long, they’re just gonna– the world’s just gonna be able to say, “You just do it in a different way.” I’m just saying to Israel, don’t do what we did after 9/11. Don’t do a Vietnam. Don’t do an Afghanistan. Of course, you should retaliate. Of course, you have every right. But this could go to a place that is very bad for Israel.

MATT: I mean, I think your reference to 9/11 is apt because we’re in a moment right now of grief and trauma. Um, Israelis, absolutely. Um, and that’s not a moment to make great policy. And I say that with great respect. Um, they clearly have to respond. They have every right to respond. The Israeli government has every right and responsibility to defend its people. What we saw, uh, last weekend was absolutely shocking and barbaric. Um, there are no two sides to that. Um, we have to condemn that unequivocally. There is no justification. I–


I will say that– That doesn’t– That does not mean we can’t have a conversation about the deeper context here. We have to have that conversation. That does not justify in any way what happened. You said there’s a siege on Gaza. That’s right. There has also been a blockade, uh, since 2007. Um, that is part of this context. Again, not a justification, never a justification, um–

BILL: Well, a blockade from a land they gave back.

JAMES: Yeah.

BILL: They gave back.  Gaza is not occupied.

MATT: Well, they withdrew their forces and settlements from within Gaza.

BILL: Okay, but the reason there’s a blockade is to stop shit like this from happening.

MATT: No, I agree with that.


BILL: That’s the whole point.  I think– And– They gave it back. They said, “You know what? Make your life your own.”

JAMES: This conflict right now could end right this second if Hamas were to put down its weapons and surrender unconditionally.


JAMES: I know, it would never happen. But that’s– But that’s the reality. And this has always been the– it’s always been the reality of this conflict.


JAMES: If the Arabs were to put down their weapons– And this goes back to the 1930s, before the creation of the state of Israel. If the Arabs put down their weapons, there would be peace. If the Jews put down their weapons, there’d be no more Jews in the Middle East.


BILL: Yeah. Well, that’s– And that’s the thing I wanna– I wanna get. I mentioned this, about… Like, it bothers me, the moral equivalency that goes on in the American media. I don’t think Israelis would ever purposely kill babies. I think they have killed babies. That’s collateral damage, which is another horrible thing, but that’s part of war.

MATT: Well, purposefully or reckless?

BILL: I think when– I think that there’s a very big difference between rejoicing…


BILL: …when you kill civilians, and the Israelis’ regret  when they kill civilians.


MATT: I’m not gonna take issue with that, but let me add– let me add one thing about the context here. Um, it is very important to understand that the Israeli strategy up until last weekend had been to bolster Hamas’ control of Gaza. There was a report that came out of Benjamin Netanyahu talking to a meeting of the Likud party in 2019…

BILL: Yes.

MATT: …saying, and I quote, “Our strategy– Anyone who wants to prevent the creation…

BILL: I saw that.

MATT: …of a Palestinian state has to bolster Hamas and give them money. This is how we keep the Palestinians divided, and therefore, there will never be a Palestinian state.” This is not someone who is interested in peace with the Palestinians. I’m sorry. And this policy goes back to the 1970s.

BILL: Well, that’s coming after 75 years of being attacked.

MATT: Again, the question here is–

BILL: So, it’s not coming in a vacuum…

MATT: I– I totally agree.


MATT: I would say there is–

BILL: Let’s– Let’s…

MATT: Again, part of the challenge of talking about this issue– And again, I just want to say I appreciate being here to talk about this and I– You know, to have a really respectful discussion here ’cause I’ll just say it again, what happened last weekend is beyond shocking. But I think we can disagree about the history. We can disagree about who did what and who’s to blame at different times. But ultimately, these two people are gonna have to share this land, and the question is, how we get to that point?

BILL: Right. And we will talk about the history, I just wanna finish with the values first because it’s just amazing to me that the American Left, so much of it, throws their lot in with people whose values… (SCOFFS) …I hope they don’t share, but let’s go through them ’cause values and customs make a difference, okay? And the people of Gaza– By the way, if the Israelis did get rid of Hamas, they’d be doing a giant favor to the people of Gaza who hate Hamas too.


BILL: But, uh, let’s just go through the lists. Because the Israelis rep– look like us in most ways, values-wise. Maybe we’re not doing it the right way. I don’t know. “Religious tolerance.” That doesn’t exist in Gaza. You’re either Muslim or an infidel, and you’d better be a Muslim. “Female freedom, free and fair elections, free speech, gay rights.” I see these “Queers for Palestine.”

JAMES: Did you hear their sister organization, “Blacks for the KKK”?



BILL: It’s like…

JAMES: By the way, I’m a gay man. I’ve lived in Berlin. This is a level of masochism that even I cannot comprehend.



BILL: I mean…


MATT: You know what? I’m gonna just–

BILL: Uh, can I just finish my list? Uh, “Pedophilia.” I’ll put that under, “Don’t ask.” Child brides and so forth. “Equality of the sexes,” I’ll categorize that under, “Don’t make me fucking laugh.” Qua– Uh– The fact that, you know, these people think that this is where they should be aligned with, that these are the values that you support?

JAMES: I think this past week has been a real important moment for moral reckoning on the American Left because there is a small, and I’m gonna emphasize that, a very small but growing and extremely loud faction on the American Left that has revealed itself…

BILL: I don’t know how small anymore.

JAMES: …to be– Okay, well, I don’t mean–

BILL: It was all over. It was–

MATT: Well, we just had a conversation about the algorithm, right? And I think you have a few groups. You have some college groups. You have some activist groups.

BILL: It’s college.

MATT: Okay. And again, I– You know, having gone to college, I thank God every day that social media didn’t exist,  uh, when I was there.


MATT: Um, but I will just say, you know, my friend– my friend, uh, Dan Drezner from Tufts University wrote, you know, I think recently, um, he just posted it again. He’s like, “College is where you go to say stupid things.” That is not to defend what they said. I think these things were gross and reckless. And I’ll note that a number of groups that have signed some of these statements have been pulling theirselves off it. I don’t want to over-represent this as part of the Political Left. I absolutely accept the responsibility, as someone who is on the Left and wants to build a responsible and effective Left, of calling this out. Um, but I don’t think we should over-represent these feelings on the Left because they are not a majority. They are not close to a majority.

JAMES: I think we need to–


BILL: I hope not. They’re a lot bigger than they used to be.

MATT: Well, we hear a lot more about ’em because, as you heard, there is an interest in promoting this.

JAMES: I think we need to shut down Harvard University until we figure out what the hell’s going on.



BILL: You’re s– You’re saying they’re not sending us– they’re not sending us their best?

JAMES: They’re not sending us their best, no.


MATT: I do wanna say something pretty serious here, though. While I will maintain and agree with James here that this is a small minority, um, I have heard from colleagues, Jewish colleagues on the Left, and my friend Michelle Goldberg wrote a piece in The New York Times. My friend Josh Leifer wrote a piece in Dissent. And I’ve been struck by personal conversations here too from Jewish colleagues, on the Left who I consider allies, very close friends, and they have been shocked. And I take that very, very seriously. Because, again, as someone who wants to build a serious and effective Left, if Jews do not feel that the Left is a home for them, we will not have a serious and effective Left.


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