The View From Tel Aviv | Crooked Media
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October 11, 2023
What A Day
The View From Tel Aviv

In This Episode

  • As Israel sends thousands of troops to the border with Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to form an emergency war cabinet with members of the country’s political opposition. It comes as Israel continues to pound the Palestinian territory with airstrikes, intensifying fears that the assault will create a humanitarian crisis.
  • Meanwhile, Israel is on edge over the fate of over a hundred hostages taken by Hamas – as well as the prospect of an unprecedented ground invasion of Gaza. We caught up with Itamar Karbi, a PhD student living in Tel Aviv, to hear more about how the conflict has upended everyday life.


Show Notes:



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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Thursday, October 12th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver. And this is What a Day. On today’s show, house Majority Leader Steve Scalise won his party’s nomination to become House speaker. Plus, early voting is underway in Ohio for a special election on reproductive rights. 


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, let’s begin with an update on the tragic human toll from the intensifying war between Hamas and Israel. As of our recording time at 9:30 p.m. Eastern, the BBC reports that 1200 people have been killed in Israel, including 22 Americans and 11 people have been killed in Gaza. In the wake of the violence, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed an emergency unity government yesterday with his chief political rival, former defense minister Benny Gantz. This power sharing agreement adds two opposition lawmakers, both of whom are former Army chiefs to Netanyahu’s cabinet. And according to the agreement’s terms, they will make decisions regarding the war and security in Israel as this conflict continues. Following the formation of this government, Netanyahu gave a televised address with Gantz on Wednesday night, presenting a unified front and pledging to crush Hamas. 


Juanita Tolliver: So this war cabinet formed as troops in Israel continue to gather in the south. And it’s looking more and more likely that a ground invasion of Gaza is expected to happen any day now, right? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. As of our recording time, that has not yet happened, but it is still expected. The details are undoubtedly something that this new wartime cabinet has weighed in on at this point. Meanwhile, as we mentioned on the show yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken headed to Israel yesterday in a show of solidarity. As he’s there, he’ll be attempting to do a number of things, including working with allies to try and secure the release of the estimated 150 hostages in Gaza, as well as discussing additional military support for Israel, the humanitarian challenges related to civilians in Gaza. And, of course, he’ll be working to prevent a wider conflict from emerging in the region, which is something that President Biden warned Iran against yesterday as well, while urging Netanyahu and Israel to abide by the rules of war. Here at home, Biden had an emotional meeting yesterday with Jewish community leaders in Washington, D.C., where he expressed his sorrow over what he called a, quote, “campaign of pure cruelty launched by Hamas.” 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah, the Biden administration is fully supportive of Israel right now. And as Secretary Blinken meets with senior Israeli officials, there have been repeated calls from Israeli citizens for Hamas to release the elderly and the children they are holding hostage first. There are also concerns about the hostages well being as the blockade to Gaza has cut off food, fuel, security and water. And Hamas is threatening to execute hostages as the Israeli air strikes continue in Gaza. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, it is a really horrific situation with the hostages. Have there been any updates on the Americans that are among that group? 


Juanita Tolliver: Sadly, there aren’t any updates yet. And as National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told CNN yesterday, quote, “This isn’t like any other typical hostage situation. This is an active war zone.” He also added, quote, “Getting granular information that you can act on is going to be that much harder and the risks will be that much higher for any attempt to recover them.” 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Juanita Tolliver: And with this extremely limited information, it’s also been easy for misinformation to spread widely since the Hamas attack last Saturday. Misinformation has been flooding social media and every day clips and documents are being debunked and identified as video game footage or years old footage from conflicts in other parts of the world. There was even the fake memo claiming President Biden announced $8 billion dollars in military aid for Israel. And I’ll give you one guess where a lot of this bad information is making the rounds unchecked. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I don’t even need one guess to know where this is proliferating. 


Juanita Tolliver: 100% or X as we’re forced to call it now. And things are so bad that European Commissioner Thierry Breton sent a letter to Elon Musk calling on him to remove misinformation and giving Musk 24 hours to respond. Twitter aside, we had a chance to speak with someone who is experiencing the war firsthand from Israel. Itamar Karbi is a Ph.D. student studying climate change and a peace activist who lives in Tel Aviv. We started by asking what it was like for him and his family Saturday morning when the first rockets hit his city. 


Itamar Karbi: I was hoping that maybe I’m dreaming or a bad dream, but my wife woke me up and we went down the staircase. We heard the explosion and we thought it, that will be it. Like previous times. And but it wasn’t. There were news about invasions to the nearby villages, about gunshots. And at some point, I guess it was the rumors about people getting kidnapped, people getting killed. Israel is a small country. It feels like kind of everyone knows everyone. So you run through your mind. Who do you know that lives that close to the border. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Itamar Karbi: And I was relieved to remember that my family and from the border, they were in France. My uncle is French, but my wife found out that their cousins are there. A lot of my attention went to get updates from them when they had the reception. It’s strange to talk about it because at no point did I let into the option that something bad will happen to them. I just kind of knew that it will be okay because it must be okay. That the only option that I see when when I’m trying to be optimistic in these moments and in the end of the day we heard that they were evacuated to a nearby location in the kibbutz. And we heard that many other people from that kibbutz didn’t survive, that they were killed or murdered. And later we found out that many were kidnapped. And I was again chose to be relieved at that point. But it was only 24 hours later or even more that they were finally evacuated from that region. And today we finally, I think did a big move and till now, we were going between Tel Aviv and my wife, grandparents. We moved to my wife’s parents place finally, after many days in the center of Israel now, where we went up north and we took our cat, which is not really happy to leave the house. 


Juanita Tolliver: Can I ask you about that journey as you all were driving north, you said you left Tel Aviv. You’re with your wife’s family further north in the region. Can you describe the contrast of your experience in Tel Aviv versus where you are now further north and what you were seeing and experiencing as you were making that drive north? 


Itamar Karbi: I was surprised to see many more cars than I expected because the roads were empty till today. It felt like people kind of leaving Tel Aviv, you know, people–


Juanita Tolliver: Okay. 


Itamar Karbi: –kind of sick of of being in the rocket zone and are trying to get to a safer spot. And arriving here, it doesn’t feel much different being here, really. 


Juanita Tolliver: Okay. 


Itamar Karbi: Unlike Tel Aviv, you hear a lot of Israeli fighter planes. So there is constant noise, it really is too small to be in a place where you feel like you ran away. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. It sounds like a very scary and uncertain time. But in the piece that you recently wrote for The L.A. Times, you described yourself as a peace activist. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you mean by that and how that’s been a part of your life? 


Itamar Karbi: I think that it changes between different periods in my life. I think the times where being a peace activist meant the most to me was when I did my undergrad, living in Jerusalem. In Tel Aviv you can live a very peaceful life as an Israeli for most of the year. In Jerusalem it doesn’t feel this way. In Jerusalem you see with your eyes every day, the conflict you see every day, the Israeli occupation. And when I lived there, I was unable to choose to live a peaceful life, which you are able to do in some neighborhoods. And there I think I was involved mainly with a movement that I believe in. And I’m a member and it’s called Standing Together. It’s a grassroots movement of Jewish and Palestinian citizens in Israel that try to promote peace and and equality in this country. These are very difficult moments to be a leftist and these are very difficult moments to be a peace activist or a humanist at, because the notion that Israelis try to promote, which is quite a legitimate [?] they would ask what a country would tolerate rockets being shot at it. You know, like you live your life and you need to run to the shelter. Like what country will tolerate that? And story is more complicated than that because people in Gaza don’t live there the life they deserve to live. And it’s more complicated than that because there are moments in these operations where as a person reading the news, it feels like we are able and we should do better to not hurt innocent people. On Saturday, Isreal deserved all empathy people could give it. And today, too. And it doesn’t contradict the fact that Palestinians should get any amount of empathy a person can give. 


Juanita Tolliver: I really want to just emphasize how much I appreciate you talking through the humanist side of this and the empathy for the innocent civilians, both Israeli and Palestinians who are losing their lives every day with each of these strikes who were harmed and killed in the attacks. And thinking ahead, knowing the Israeli government’s intentions to mobilize on the ground in Gaza. I’m curious, what’s your message, I guess, to other peace activists, Israeli or peace activists across the globe who are watching this with civilians in mind and the potential impact this could have for them? What’s kind of your message to them?


Itamar Karbi: Um. I really don’t know. Um. I feel like the most crucial point right now for me, at least as an Israeli, is and I feel that to a large extent my government, which, you I’m very unfortunate to have this government, and but trying to think of how to answer your question, I do believe that freeing the kidnaped Israelis and doing some kind of hostage exchange is a good step to de-escalate. 


Priyanka Aribindi: You said that in the past, maybe day or two, you have seen more people than you were before, before you were, you know, at home not seeing anybody. I’m curious what the sentiments you’re hearing from other people that you know, your friends or people you’re interacting with, how are they feeling? I imagine not everyone feels the same as you. Maybe a lot of people do. I’m just so curious about, you know, what you’re hearing from them. 


Itamar Karbi: I’m meeting friends mainly. And I’m lucky to have very sensitive and I know intelligent friends and they feel many of them feel similarly. That they are hurt but I think most of us are just trying to find ways to be active and to support other people in need. My wife cooked for an elderly woman in Tel Aviv and after like, how is it related to, you know, to this war? And she was like, I’m not sure if it’s related. You know, just people are trying to do something to feel like they’re contributing. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Itamar Karbi: When I hear that the minister of my government say the craziest things and I get scared like we had the worst government that we’ve ever had. And now we are in the moment where I know guess one of the toughest moments Israel has ever faced. And it feels horrible. It feels like we’re in the worst hands. 


Juanita Tolliver: That was our conversation with Itamar Karbi, a peace activist and Ph.D. student from Tel Aviv. And we are so grateful that he was able to speak with us and share more about the difficulties he’s personally confronting as we understand the human toll of this war. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, it was a really moving hard conversation to hear, you know, the suffering and the feelings there. And of course, we hope for Itamar’s safety. We hope for the safety of the so many innocent people in Israel and in Gaza right now who are living with so much uncertainty and so much fear. 


Juanita Tolliver: Fear, tragedy, heartbreak, every bit of it. And the fact that he took time to talk to us was really big. And we’re so grateful. Of course, we’ll continue to follow this story, but that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]. 




Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise has been nominated by his fellow Republicans to take the absolute worst job in Washington. He narrowly beat out his Trump backed rival, Jim Jordan, during yesterday’s closed door nomination contest to replace Kevin McCarthy as House speaker. But the Louisiana representative doesn’t have the gavel just yet. He now needs to win a vote from the full House of Representatives. And knowing how the GOP operates these days, that could be a very tall order. That is because in the initial rounds of the nomination process, some Republicans insisted on voting Kevin McCarthy back in as speaker. Excuse me, we’ve done this before. Not once. Not twice. Like– 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. 


Priyanka Aribindi: What, 15 times probably? 


Juanita Tolliver: Insert massive eyeroll. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, and there are still a handful of Republicans who say they won’t support Scalise in the floor vote, including South Carolina Representative Nancy Mace. She told the Washington Post that it is because Scalise spoke at a white supremacist gathering over 20 years ago when he was still a state representative, something that no one should let him or anyone else forget, because that is crazy. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah, I’m truly looking at that entire GOP conference, like hmm how many other people there are going to be disqualified for aligning themselves with white supremacists? Go figure. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Falling like dominoes. Truly, that controversy came up over a decade ago when Scalise became the House majority whip. At the time, he acknowledged that he was at the event, but he claimed that he didn’t know about the group’s ideology. I just find that a little difficult to believe. In any event, it is not clear when the full House will take up the vote to confirm Scalise as speaker, but here is what he had to say yesterday. 


[clip of Steve Scalise] It’s really, really important that this Congress get back to work. We select a speaker, go to the House floor, get to 218, and then get the House working again. And the first order of business under Speaker Steve Scalise is going to be bring a strong resolution expressing support for Israel. 


Juanita Tolliver: Getting to 218. Ugh.


Priyanka Aribindi: Listen. There’s that and I hate that he said under Speaker Steve Scalise, like talking about himself in the third person, that just immediate no, immediate ick.


Juanita Tolliver: And staying in D.C., the saga of Joann the scammer continues as a group of House Republicans introduced legislation yesterday to expel New York Representative George Santos from Congress. It was announced by Representative Anthony D’Esposito and cosigned by five other freshman New York Republicans. D’Esposito called Santos a quote unquote “stain on the chamber and the state they represent.” This all comes just a day after federal prosecutors issued a new 23 count indictment against Santos, formally charging Santos with fraud, identity theft and more. He pleaded not guilty to an earlier set of charges back in May. House Democrats tried to expel Santos around that same time, but Republicans instead voted to refer the issue to the chamber’s Ethics Committee, which has been investigating Santos since March. Expelling a member of Congress requires a two thirds majority vote from the entire chamber to succeed. And I got a hunch this will get done a lot easier than the House speaker vote will. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I mean, if there can’t be consensus on this, I’m sorry. There really is no hope for us at all. 


Juanita Tolliver: None. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And if you are registered to vote in Ohio, make a note to get to the polls between now and the first week of November. That is because early in-person voting kicked off yesterday in the Buckeye State. Ohioans will vote on a ballot measure known as issue one, which, if passed, would protect the right to an abortion in the state’s constitution. We’ve told you about this measure before and how earlier this summer, voters overwhelmingly shot down an attempt by Republicans to make it harder to pass constitutional amendments like this one in the first place. So let’s keep our winning streak for reproductive access going. We will drop a link in our show notes from our friends at Vote Save America with more information on early and mail in voting in Ohio. If you are from Ohio, get yourself to the polls because this is important. 


Juanita Tolliver: Go vote, people. Go vote. And finally, another election story we can get behind. Fat Bear week is officially over and the results are in. Bear number 128, aka Grazer, a.k.a. Priyanka’s pick, a.k.a the badass bish has won. 


Priyanka Aribindi: My Girl. 


Juanita Tolliver: For any of you who are late to the party, Fat Bear Week is the annual competition held by the National Park Service, where the entire country is invited to weigh in on which Alaskan bear can pack on the most weight before going into hibernation. The bracket was tied as 11 bears competed for the crown this year, and Grazer beat out her competitors one by one and ultimately went face to face in the final round against Bear 32, also known as Chunk. Chunk is described as a, quote, “mountain of a male” with a, quote, “prominent posterior.” [laughter] But Grazer emerged victorious after demonstrating her superior ability to pack on the pounds by eating copious amounts of salmon. According to park rangers, larger male bears tend to avoid Grazer because she’s a quote, “particularly defensive mother that regularly attacks male bears in order to protect her cubs. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, she does. 


Juanita Tolliver: Stand your ground sis, do what you got to do. And the National Park Service said, quote, “Bear 128’s combination of skill and toughness, makes her one of the most formidable, successful and adaptable bears who is well prepared for winter.” So, Priyanka, go ahead. Take your victory lap, friend. 


Priyanka Aribindi: You know, this feels like a real victory, even though I contributed absolutely nothing to this. 


Juanita Tolliver: You gave moral support. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Moral support, support through this platform. But I will say this does feel like a victory for all of us in a way like these attributes that made this bear successful. Being a defensive mother, these are the things that I like read when the other bears are scared of her because she–


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Priyanka Aribindi: –is tough and will get in their face and will defend her cubs. I was like, yeah, this is the making of a champion here and the judges in this [?] I guess the judges, all us voting. The electorate in this election was like, you know what? These are the things that matter to us too. For too long, these traits have been ignored and–


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Priyanka Aribindi: We deserve to see them shine. It’s a beautiful thing, it’s a beautiful win. 


Juanita Tolliver: Shout out. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Shout out Grazer.


Juanita Tolliver: Shout out to Grazer. Shout out to Lucky number 128. We’ll see–


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. 


Juanita Tolliver: –her again next year. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That’s my girl. All the way every year. And those are the headlines. 




Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review and tell your friends to listen. 


Juanita Tolliver: And if you’re into reading, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter, check it out and subscribe at I’m Juanita Tolliver.


Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi. [music break]


Juanita Tolliver: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla. Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf are our associate producers and our senior producer is Lita Martínez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.