Normally I would wait until a regularly scheduled release date to publish this conversation with Robert Wright, the proprietor of the Nonzero Newsletter, author of many books, and host of the Nonzero podcast. But we spend the episode discussing Israel, Hamas, and the Gaza War, and the situation on the ground is changing every day. So rather than wait another week, I decided to release it today as a free bonus episode. Tomorrow, subscribers will receive my conversation with John McWhorter, Tyler Austin Harper, and Daniel Bessner, with a public release of that episode on Friday.
Glenn received the following email from a reader. He requested that I post it here as a comment, with the writer's permission.
I know I had promised not to bother you anymore, but after listening to your conversation with Robert Wright and after learning of the backlash generated by your signing of a letter in support of a ceasefire and academic freedom, I feel compelled to write back to you once more and say thank you. Thank you for your courage, thank you for your humanity, please, don’t listen to your critics, you did the right thing.
It is interesting to see how similar the behavior of both the left and the right is. If you look at the current situation, one can make a clear parallel between the anti-racist and pro-Zionist ideologies. In both cases you start with a perpetually victimized population, the descendant of slaves, and the descendants of survivors of the Holocaust (I am not minimizing the suffering of either population, it is real, although it may not be helpful to dwell on it); then you modify the language, so that anti-Zionism, becomes antisemitism, and with that, any criticism of the State of Israel is silenced, as any person criticizing Israel’s policies becomes immediately labeled as antisemitic, an insult just as powerful as being called a racist. Any person belonging to the victimized group that presents opposing views is immediately labeled as a self-hating Jew, and thus their opinions become irrelevant and immediately dismissed and not worth listening to (I guess this may sound familiar to you). That people of the likes of Brett Stevens and Bari Weiss don’t see the parallels is a testament to the power of tribalism in human behavior. Less than two months ago they proclaimed themselves to be freedom of speech absolutists, only to become proponents of censuring any view that criticizes Israel. How Coleman Hughes balances the idea of the virtues of color blindness with his defense of a country that separates her citizens based on ethnicity is a mystery to me when the essence of color blindness is to treat every human being as an individual irrespective of their identity. I guess I’m just against any kind of identity politics whether coming from the left or from the right. When the fancy private school that my son attended in New Haven started to implement affinity groups based on ethnicity and race, I knew it was time to leave as nothing good can come out of it.
But there are many Jewish voices that dissent, and it is worth listening to them. I would like to recommend that you listen to this conversation sponsored by Jewish Currents:
One of the panelists is your colleague at Brown, Omer Bartov, Samuel Pisar Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, that is a signatory of the letter entitle “The Elephant in the Room”: https://sites.google.com/view/israel-elephant-in-the-room/home. He may be a good person to have a conversation with at the Glenn Show, please, consider it.
Anyway, I’m going for too long, I just wanted to support you on the face of the criticism leveled at you for signing the letter and having the conversation with Robert Wright; I’m sure there are a lot of people that think like me. Once more, thank you, thank you for your humanity and your courage.
I hope you enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving.
I'm glad Glenn is willing to have difficult conversations and feature a wide range of views. With that said, I think he and Wright are profoundly mistaken here, not just mistaken, but profoundly ignorant of the history of the conflict. Neither of them sound like they know what they're talking about. It's a little embarrassing.
Amazing conversation Glenn. Nuance and humility instead of unwarranted certititide. Hard to find these days.
Robert Wright keeps telling us to listen to what Hamas has said. What Hamas has said since October 7 is that they will use any pause, any ceasefire, to prepare for more incursions and rape and torture and slaughter. The leader of Hamas is Gaza is calling for 1000 more October 7s.
So yes, Mr. Wright, yes, Mr. Loury, listen to what Hamas is saying and take them at their word.
The Glenn Show needs a better, more balanced group of guests unless, The Glenn Show really is anti-semetic.
[Time 36:00] - “River to Sea” allegedly having different meanings for different people- such as voting rights for Palestinians as Wright claims. I suspect he was told this by dishonest people. My experiences with those who traffic in vagueness have been horrific. I think the “multiple interpretations” claim is an outright lie by activists. Here we are as audience of The Glenn Show trying to make sense of Israel-Palestine and the group that says “Trust us for peace” has statements of uncertain meaning. That is lousy PR for Palestinians.
On Glenn’s signing of “Cease Fire” petition, I recognize that complexities exist beyond the position of “pro-Israel vs. pro-Palestine”. In fact Glenn’s signing demonstrates diversity within the individual. On Congresswomen Tlaib’s “River to Sea” statement, highly inappropriate considering her religious affiliation and political leanings. One does not achieve credibility with a statement that signals hostility, even if subsequently claiming to have intended the more benign interpretation. Those with benign intent should create a separate and clearly worded phrase. I h
Glenn... At 37:30 you pose the right counter to Wright, comparing White Lives Matter to From the River to the Sea... And then sadly fit is all you let him off the hook. After years of words being violent and intentions being entirely irrelevant all of a sudden thousands of protesters are forgiven... For not knowing better? How nice. For THEM. What a lazy dodge by him. And it's too bad you let it go so easily Glenn... We're all spoiled because you do such a great job nearly always but this veered away from the generous and into the irresponsible. Especially now in this trying time we need to remember that you can't move the goal posts when it's convenient. Please do better.
How do I cancel my subscription?
It seems to me that Wright's take on the slogan "from the river to the sea" tracks pretty closely to the debate on the Confederate flag. Like the slogan, the flag may mean different things to different people, it may be flown by people who have no idea how it is received by others, and those who advocate in favor of it could probably use some education about its history and how it has been utilized in the past.
But the difference in this: The confederate flag is not welcome anywhere in polite society. But "from the river to the sea"… well, Wright wants us to accept that it is just a thing with multiple meanings and we all should just deal with it.
Glenn, your show has been a shining light and beacon of intelligent discourse in my life for the past several years. Your choice to sign the letter calling for a ceasefire is not what I would have done, but it shows you are full of surprises and can't be placed in a box, which is good for your brand and also could be considered morally courageous, if you are in fact voting your conscience and not caving to some sort of pressure. I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on that, since I believe you to be a man of integrity with very little left to prove. Good on you for doing what you think is right.
But I must say... unless it was as a thank you for his early help on your podcasting journey, having Bob Wright on your show for over an hour to discuss the Israel/Palestine conflict - a subject about which he, himself, admits he's "just now doing the research" (20:13) - is suspect! There are many people on all sides of this issue who are not "just now doing the research." Why not have a discussion with one of them? Bob makes a litany of contentious claims about "apartheid" and "ethnic cleansing", words that, through overuse and sloganeering, are increasingly losing any semblance of the power they ought to have and, if used, should be followed up with evidence. Rather than provide any, Bob just says, "it's undeniable." Is that something you'd accept if your guest were arguing that the US is "systemically racist"?
Bob claims the Palestinians have never been offered a "real state", whatever that means. Real or not real, they've been offered considerably more territory and independence than they now possess at 4-5 major historical junctures (1947 1967, and 2000 to name the most significant - though in 1993 and 2008 there were better offers on the table as well). There are arguments to be made about whether or not the Palestinian people themselves rejected these offers or instead were betrayed by Arafat, Abbas, the Arab League and others (including the often incompetent and disorganized US Dept of State), but Bob doesn't make these arguments.
Wright's "non-zero" analysis of the Israel/Palestine conflict is also devoid of any constructive criticism or suggested realistic solutions to the problem. You rightly point out that he says "Israel should stop creating more terrorists" without describing what they can or should do instead to keep their own citizens safe - in the immediate aftermath of a brutal and barbaric raid that killed 1200+ men, women, children, infants and elderly. Ultimately, "non-zero" is a bizarre and contradictory way to frame one's analysis of a war, which most people would consider the textbook definition of a "zero sum" situation.
At the end of the day, I see a double standard at work for a friend, and I think it does a disservice to your generally robust brand to provide a platform for an outspoken but unlettered critique like Bob's.
Much love and respect, despite my criticism in this instance.
If you look a the current FBI statistics, you will find that white females are 39 time more likely to be assaulted by black males than black females are to be assaulted by white males.
Years ago I spent a summer studying the 3,500 lynchings on record in America. I drilled down on about 2,500 of them before quitting. One shocking thing I found is that 3/4 of these guys really deserved it.
My favorite were the 3 in California that were lynched by a mob after a kidnapping murder.
Someone wrote in the newspaper, "The sanctity of the event was marred only by its endorsement by a politician."
Glenn, this reminds me of a theme you've often hit upon: Lack of agency by one side. In this case, the Palestinians never have agency.
1. Discussion of mistakes by Israel, the US, and their allies in the past. Naturally, the Palestinians respond badly. No agency on their part.
2. Call for a ceasefire to avoid a humanitarian crisis -- deaths in hospitals, mosques, schools, etc.. No agency for the govt. of Gaza using hospitals, mosques, schools etc. to screen military assests. (No sense that Hamas might *want* the deaths of Palestinian civilians to further their own goals -- that's just incomprehensible to the Western mind.)
3. Sympathy for the poor infrastructure in Gaza. No agency for the govt. of Gaza repurposing infrastructure resources for construction of tunnels and weapons.
4. Hope that the current Palestinian leaders would accept a 2-state solution (despite lots of evidence to the contrary) if only Israel would take the "correct" approach. (And no actual recommendations for what that approach might be beyond "stop doing X", which neglects the historical fact that resistance to Isreal predates "X".)
5. Call for a ceasefire. No call for the immediate relase of the hostages. THIS IS THE WORST OF ALL. (If the ceasefire letter does call for release of the hostages, my bad. It wasn't mentioned in the podcast)
If the govt. of Gaza cared about the people of Gaza, they could surrender. But that would require agency.
Some history: The Arab nations rejected the original UN proposed 2 state solution in favor of a single-state solution (the original "from the river to the sea"). They attacked Israel in 1948. Gaza and the West Bank were under the control of Egypt and Jordan prior to 1967. The Arab countries could have implemented a 2-state soltion at any time. It appears that politically, they were more intersted in the elimination of Israel than in a Palestinian state.
I wonder what he means that the Palestinians were never offered an actual 2 state. My understanding was that this is what was agreed to under President Clinton.
Also in the double-standard:
1. Wright constantly refers the "Zionist" state. There's a presumption that "Zionist" equals BAD. By any reasonable standard, the Israeli ("Zionist") govt has a *far* better human rights record than any other country in the middle east -- including to their Arab population. A claim that a new Palestianian Arab country in the region would be a good thing needs defending -- otherwise, he's arguing for a net reduction in human rights in the region.
2. He refers to "ethnic cleansing". He ignores the ethnic cleansing that happened in the middle east where basically all the Jews were expelled from every other country in the middle east after 1948 (as well as the ongoing ethnic cleansing against Christians in the Arab world). Again, Israel has agency; ethnic cleansing of Jews by Arab states was something that "just happened" -- if he acknowledges it at all.
3. Wright refers to Jews in the West Bank who can vote vs Arab Palestinians in the West Bank who can't vote. Presumably, he's talking about voting in *ISRAEL*. The Jews are Israeli citizens, the Arab Palestinians in the West Bank are not Israeli citizens -- of course they can't vote in Israeli elections. Arab Israelis living in Israel do vote in Israeli elections. Do Arab Palestinians living in the West Bank vote in Palestinian elections? Do Israeli's? What he is really complaining about? Again, is he somehow suggesting that the govt. of the West Bank (Palestinian Authority) does a better job on human rights than the govt. of Israel?
Finally, regarding "From the River to the sea, Palestine shall be free." By the standards of the Left (and currently widely accepted in the US), this is:
1) An Antisemetic dog whistle
2) a micro agression
3) An example of "Speech is violence"
4) Racist because it disproportionaly affects an oppressed minority. (I'm waiting to hear "Jews aren't an oppresssed minority in the world -- or even in the middle east")
Glenn has the right analogy: "White Lives Matter". And I'd actually agree that the intent of the speaker matters. But that's not the world we live in. Until Wright condemns the standards of the Left, sorry, he has no moral grounds to say "the listerners need to get educated" -- that's not the way we evaluate claims about speech. (and I'm particularly incensed that Wright would try to make that claim.)
What's particularly ironic about that slogan is that it would not result in a free state. Show me the model of a free state in the region? Would you model a hypothetical Palestine after Saudi Arabia? Jordan? Syria? Qatar? It seems that people uttering that slogan are either ignorant ("useful idiots", to borrow a phrase) or simply interested in getting rid of Israel.
I’m shocked by the narrow minded vitriol in the comments here. Thank you for this interview Glenn. I’m also someone who’s a Sowell fan, libertarian oriented, somewhat conservative on social issues even, but I too have come to question Israel’s recent actions. It’s not heretical to do so, it’s not antisemitic to do so. I’ve come to this issue with an open mind, no dog in the fight, and initially primed to lean toward a less wavering support for Israel after the barbarism on October 7th, but it’s become clear to me that Israel’s response has been cruel, politically unsavvy, and tremendously stubborn.
That letter is deeply disappointing, indicative of shallow thinking, and a continuation of the logic that permits the indiscriminate murder of Israeli civilians.
There was a cease fire on October 6. There was a cease fire until the morning of October 7. Hamas was in Israel for 48 hours without a single call for a cease fire. Civilians, Jews and non-Jews, but mostly Jews, were being tortured, raped, slaughtered, and kidnapped without a single call for a cease fire.
And speaking of kidnapping, there are massive calls for a cease fire. Where is your call for a release of the kidnapped? Where is that letter for us ALL to sign? Or are kidnapped Jews acceptable?
Glenn, why is guest after guest after guest taking this view?
Having read the Brown statement Glenn signed I have to say I am surprised and disappointed. One claim in that letter in particular jumped out at me. It was that the deaths of children in Gaza since the current incursion began are GREATER than the annual number of children killed across the world’s conflict zones (over 20 countries) combined since 2019. I challenge Glenn to support that claim, which appears utterly incredible to me. First, the letter cites a precise number (3,195) children killed in Gaza as of October 29. These figures come, of course, from the Gaza Health Ministry, an arm of a genocidal terrorist organization (the letter attributes the number to Save the Children, but they got their figures from Hamas). I challenge Glenn to defend this figure, since he signed on to it. As to the rest of the world, it is absurd to suggest civilian deaths in Ukraine, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, etc., etc., do not surpass this 3,195 figure cited, however bogus it may be. According to Amnesty International, for example, 5,000 civilians in Sudan alone have died in the first six months of this year. I assume a large share are children. One conflict out of many, over one-half year.
As to civilians and children in particular, I would love to know if anyone out there has seen even ONE news story meticulously stressing numbers and estimates of civilians killed in any single Ukrainian offensive. That is, numbers the Ukrainian forces alone have killed, let alone estimates of children. I have never seen a single story. Am I supposed to believe the Ukrainian forces never kill civilians? Let alone the Russian forces, who I suspect kill even more. Even though our press is pretty much on the Ukrainian side, I never see stories dwelling all that much on children or even overall civilian deaths by Russians in any offensive. Certainly not to the point of having precise figures to bandy about daily, as the Brown statement indicates. I put it to Glenn and all others, this dwelling on children almost entirely ONLY with respect to Israel makes me profoundly uneasy, as it plays on an ages-old trope about Jews, that they kill children to mix their blood in their bread.
I ask all this as someone who is one of Glenn's biggest fans. I feel he has dropped the ball here on this one. I urge him to do better. (I once suggested he get Jeffrey Herf on, or someone else who knows the history of this conflict better than Robert Wright does.)