The War Next Door | Crooked Media
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October 23, 2023
What A Day
The War Next Door

In This Episode

  • Two more hostages held captive by Hamas were released on Monday, though Israel says more than 200 others are still being held by the militant group. Meanwhile, officials in Gaza say Israeli airstrikes have now killed over 5,000 people in the territory.
  • Clashes along the Lebanon-Israel border are also stoking fears that the war could spill over. George Bisharat, a Middle East policy expert and professor emeritus at the University of California College of the Law San Francisco, joins us to explain how neighboring countries are watching the conflict unfold.
  • And in headlines: Argentina’s presidential election is heading to a runoff vote next month, the United Auto Workers Union expanded its strike against Detroit’s Big Three automakers, and  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is not happy about how he looks in wax.


Show Notes:



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Josie Duffy Rice: It’s Tuesday, October 24th. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson and this is What a Day. 


Josie Duffy Rice: On today’s show the autoworkers strike has expanded again. Plus, the Rock is not happy about how he looks in wax. 


Tre’vell Anderson: But first, an update on the war between Israel and Hamas. Two more hostages were released on Monday by Hamas. They are Nurit Cooper and Yocheved Lifshitz. Two Israeli women in their eighties that the military wing of Hamas said it had released for, quote, “compelling humanitarian reasons.” It was facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Israel has also revised the number of hostages they believe Hamas captured a couple of weeks ago to 222 people, meaning well over 200 people are still being held. Hamas has said it does not have custody of all the hostages and that some were taken captive by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is another militant group based in Gaza. We also know that a third convoy of humanitarian aid has crossed into Gaza for the millions there in need of resources. This comes as Israel has, according to local reports, stepped up its airstrikes. The Israel Defense Forces struck some 320 targets belonging to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad over the past day alone, bringing the killings in Gaza to 5087 as of yesterday morning. That’s according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I also saw that President Obama has publicly weighed in on the conflict. Can you tell us what he had to say?


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. So he made a post on Medium and social media in which he largely expressed support for the Biden administration’s ongoing allyship of Israel, and he advocated for peace and stability in the region. He said, quote, “In dealing with what is an extraordinarily complex situation where so many people are in pain and passions are understandably running high, all of us need to do our best to put our best values rather than our worst fears on display. That means actively opposing antisemitism in all its forms everywhere. It means rejecting efforts to minimize the terrible tragedy that the Israeli people have just endured, as well as the morally bankrupt suggestion that any cause can somehow justify the deliberate slaughter of innocent people.” He continued, quote, “It means rejecting anti-Muslim, anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian sentiment. It means refusing to lump all Palestinians with Hamas or other terrorist groups. It means guarding against dehumanizing language towards the people of Gaza or downplaying Palestinian suffering, whether in Gaza or the West Bank, as irrelevant or illegitimate.” 


Josie Duffy Rice: I thought he did a very good job of balancing a lot of the different dynamics here, including like not excusing violence against anybody and also outlining kind of the history of the region in a way that I thought was really powerful. So on that point, let’s turn our attention to how other countries in the region are watching this conflict unfold. We mentioned before that there are ongoing concerns that the violence could spill over and conversely, that efforts to get humanitarian aid into Gaza have relied on careful diplomatic negotiations between Arab and Middle Eastern nations and could be at risk. To learn more about how all of this is connected, we reached out to Middle East policy expert George Bisharat. He is a professor emeritus at the University of California College of the Law San Francisco, formerly known as UC Hastings. I started by asking him about Qatar’s role in brokering the release of two American hostages over the weekend. 


George Bisharat: Qatar is one of the few Arab states that has relatively friendly ties and relationships with Hamas. Qatar is you know, it’s a conservative Arab autocratic regime that’s Islamist itself in its own orientation and has had a close relationship with Hamas for a long time. It’s harbored a lot of the political leadership of Hamas. You know, Hamas is a large and complex organization. There is the military wing, which is called the al-Qassam Brigades. That’s the one that carried out the attack against Israel on October 7th. As a consequence of this closeness, you know, in this long term relationship between Qatar and Hamas, which is unique, there’s no other Arab state that has that kind of relationship. And, of course, Qatar also has friendly relations, relatively speaking, with the West, with the United States. So that’s what positions it to be intermediary in this kind of situation. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Got it. So we’re obviously also kind of in a waiting pattern to see about this possibility of a ground invasion from Israel into Gaza that was seemed kind of imminent for a few days. And then it seems now less maybe imminent, but certainly likely in the in the future. What’s your perception of how likely that is that a ground invasion happens and soon? And what kind of response are you expecting to see from other countries in the region if that does happen? 


George Bisharat: An Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip remains more likely than not. The timing of it is indeterminate. The United States is reported to be pushing Israel to delay its ground invasion in order to buy time to get more humanitarian aid and and also to negotiate for the release of more hostages. As that latter process has been having a little bit of success over the last few days, and we’ve had four hostages released, that provides further incentive to keep going and to try to get more. And how long that timeline extends is impossible to predict. How other countries in the region and other actors in the region react to a ground invasion. There is substantial possibility of wider conflagration in the region. I mean, certainly it’s already happening on the West Bank. And, you know, the Israelis have killed something like 90 Palestinians in the last week or so on the West Bank. That could simply pick up. The other likely spot, not even next, most likely, but equally likely spot would be along the Lebanese border with Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a very capable fighting force, at least it was in 2006 when Israel re-invaded Lebanon and had a very, very tough go with Hezbollah. Hezbollah also has a very large arsenal of missiles, and it wouldn’t at all shock me if there is a ground invasion and lots of Palestinians are being killed. And that’s like a given that will happen if there is a ground invasion there are going to be thousands of Palestinians killed. It could cause Hezbollah to just say, screw it, we’re going to join the battle. I don’t see Iran entering into this directly. I don’t see any other real regional actors that would get involved. I think it’d probably stay at that, but it could get really ugly. 


Josie Duffy Rice: You know, these bordering countries of Egypt and Jordan, who have been kind of outwardly, it seems like hesitant at this idea of accepting refugees from Gaza. What is kind of the logic behind these countries decision when it comes to accepting refugees from the Gaza area? 


George Bisharat: 70% of the people who live in the Gaza Strip are people who were expelled in 1948 and after. Right. They are already refugees. They were people who these towns that they invaded on October 7th were towns where their fathers and grandfathers and mothers and grandmothers lived. They tilled those fields. They were pushed out of them in the war. So Palestinians themselves, they don’t want to leave their homeland. They see this as another major step in the Nakba, in the forced displacement of Palestinians, and they would rather die in their homeland than go elsewhere and be forced out. And of course, the Arab governments, they actually know this. Sisi in Egypt is a is a military dictator who took over in a military coup in 2013 from a democratically elected government that was actually, you know, supportive of the Palestinians, you know, the king of Jordan. What can you say? He’s a king, a repressive, autocratic, you know, form of government. They don’t want a bunch of rabble rousing Palestinians in their midst. They have their own, you know, their own calculus in other words, the governments do, quite apart from the sentiments of their people. 


Josie Duffy Rice: When you actually put it in terms that Americans can relate to, it seems pretty outrageous. 


George Bisharat: Yeah. And I mean, part of this is, you know, the failure to recognize the specificity of Palestinian identity. Oh, they’re all Arabs. You know, they can all live together. You know, what does it matter if you’re from Palestine? Just go live in Jordan. Go live in Egypt. You know, go live wherever. Well, actually, people are attached to where they live and they want to remain in their country, in their homes, in their villages. You know, they’ve been living there for hundreds and in some cases thousands of years. You know, that’s where their family roots are and that’s where their identity is rooted. 


Josie Duffy Rice: That was George Bisharat. Professor emeritus at the University of California College of the Law San Francisco. That’s the latest for now. We will be back after some ads. [music break]




Josie Duffy Rice: Let’s get to some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Josie Duffy Rice: New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez pleaded not guilty yesterday to an additional charge in his federal bribery and corruption case. In a superseding indictment earlier this month, prosecutors accused Menendez of helping the Egyptian government while he was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Menendez has since stepped down from that role. And it goes without saying that members of Congress are not allowed to act on behalf of foreign governments. Menendez’s wife, Nadine, and an Egyptian American businessman, were also charged in the superseding indictment. They also pleaded not guilty last week. As a reminder, federal prosecutors say Menendez, his wife and three other co-defendants, accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from three New Jersey businessmen in exchange for political favors. All five entered not guilty pleas to those initial charges. For his part, Menendez has repeatedly denied the allegations and has resisted calls from his fellow Democrats to resign. A trial is tentatively set for May. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Argentina’s presidential election is heading to a runoff vote next month. It will pit the country’s economy minister and leftist Sergio Massa against far right populist Javier Milei, a self-described anarcho capitalist. Milei was widely expected to win in the first round of voting Sunday, but fell to second place after Massa captured over a third of the vote. Milei is a controversial but very popular figure in Argentina, which is struggling with its worst economic crisis in decades. Aside from his admiration of Donald Trump and bringing actual chainsaws to campaign rallies, Milei has proposed eliminating the nation’s central bank and replacing the peso with the American dollar. He’s also said that human organs should be bought and sold like any other commodity and has questioned whether climate change is real. Which wow. Meanwhile, Sergio Massa has spent more than two decades in politics and has positioned himself as the candidate who can actually get a handle on Argentina’s triple digit inflation rate. Voters in Argentina will go back to the ballot box to choose between the two on November 19th. 


Josie Duffy Rice: These political beliefs are so chaotic, it’s just like you put everything in a hat. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Listen. 


Josie Duffy Rice: You pulled out five or six and you just, this is what I’m in too now.


Tre’vell Anderson: And just said, why not? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Let’s try it on for size. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Chainsaws, human organs. Let’s go to the dollar. No climate change. Donald Trump. I don’t know. It’s a lot. It’s a lot to process. The United Auto Workers Union expanded its strike against Detroit’s Big Three automakers yesterday, shutting down production at the largest Stellantis factory in the country. More than 6800 workers walked off the job at a Ram pickup truck auto plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan, yesterday, bringing the total number of UAW workers on strike to over 40,000 nationwide. This latest walkout indicates that the union remains far apart from Stellantis Ford and General Motors at the bargaining table as the strike enters its sixth week. Stellantis released a statement on Monday saying that the company was, quote unquote “outraged that the UAW would expand the strike” after the two sides had, quote, “multiple conversations that appeared to be productive about a new labor agreement.” But according to the union, Stellantis has the weakest offer on the table, despite boasting the highest revenue of the Big Three. You’ll remember that the UAW is asking for a 40% increase in wages over the next four years. All three automakers have only offered the union about half that, but Stellantis in particular has reportedly faltered on the union’s other demands, such as temporary worker compensation and cost of living adjustments. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And finally, after a week of jokes and a few perfectly raised eyebrows, a Paris museum says it will redo a wax figure of Dwayne the Rock Johnson. The statue of the actor and former wrestler was unveiled last week at the Musée Grévin, which is like Madame Tussauds over there. It’s also home to hundreds of wax replicas of celebrities and historical figures from Albert Einstein to Michael Jackson to Queen Elizabeth the second. But there was one detail that critics noticed right off the bat. The figure’s skin tone is a lot lighter than Johnson’s. Many were quick to accuse the museum of whitewashing his likeness, with some comparing it to Mr. Clean or his Fast and Furious costar Vin Diesel. Johnson, who is Black and Samoan, eventually weighed in Sunday night, saying that he reached out to the museum to, quote, “work at updating my wax figure here with some important details and improvements, starting with my skin color.” He also reposted a video from comedian James Jefferson roasting the statue. Take a listen. 


[clip of James Jefferson] They turned the Rock into a pebble. They done turned the Rock into an albino Rock or something like that. It looked like the Rock ain’t never seen the sun a day in his life [?]. You made the Rock look like he David Beckham and it look like the Rock about to be part of the royal family. 


Tre’vell Anderson: [laugh] The museum said yesterday it has already started the process of making those changes. And by the way, this is the same museum that unveiled the very cursed wax statue of supermodel Naomi Campbell over 20 years ago. So here’s hoping they get it right this time. If you don’t know what we’re talking about with the Naomi Campbell statue. Just Google it real quick. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Google it and you will know immediately which one it is. I Googled it. A lot of different wax statues of Naomi Campbell came up and I was like, these aren’t so bad. And then I saw it and I was [laugh] I stumbled, I screamed. I was shocked. I was moved. And not in a good way. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. Not great. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Not great. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Not great at all. I will say, if you take a look at this statue– 


Josie Duffy Rice: It looks like I did it. [laughter] It looks like I made the statue of Naomi Campbell.


Tre’vell Anderson: Are you trying to say you’re not an artist Josie? 


Josie Duffy Rice: I’m trying to say I barely passed high school art, and I could have done her more justice truly. 


Tre’vell Anderson: [laughing] And those are the headlines. 




Josie Duffy Rice: That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review and tell your friends to listen. 


Tre’vell Anderson: What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


Tre’vell Anderson: 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.