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How to Watch Our Sold-Out Debate. The First of Many. Bari Weiss

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(Roger Kisby for The Free Press)

When we decided to rent a theater with 1,600 seats for our first-ever live debate, most of our friends looked at us with a mixture of pity and concern. 

Never mind the fact that we would have to fill all 1,600 seats. The theater we’d booked was in Los Angeles—not exactly a city known for its culture of public debates. And not just in L.A., but smack in the middle of downtown, where after-hours can look a little bit like San Francisco during the day. To make matters worse, we had only managed to get the place on a Wednesday night.

We did it anyway. And we sold every seat in the house.

What did we learn? A few things. 

(Roger Kisby for The Free Press)

The Free Press Isn’t Just a Newsletter. It’s a Community of Curious People.

The line was wrapped so far around the block that we had to start 30 minutes late. People were begging the box office to find them just one seat minutes before the debate began. Moms emailed us asking if the theater would allow children under five so they could attend but keep to their breastfeeding schedule. (There was at least one mother with a very well-behaved newborn strapped to her chest; jury’s out on how he feels about the sexual revolution.)

People came from all over. I met Free Pressers from Vancouver, Seattle, New York, Nevada, Montana, and so many other states.

Aella at the after-party. (Roger Kisby for The Free Press)

Someone drove a retrofitted school bus down from San Francisco to hold an after-party for whoever wanted to come. There were three young priests who drove many miles to see the action, and at least one porn star who took a flight.

Three priests deep before the show. (Roger Kisby for The Free Press)

Also: libertarian frat bros in suits; e-girls with Elf Bars; trad boys who wondered aloud if the concession popcorn had seed oil; dads who had to run out to check in with the babysitter; actors from your favorite TV shows; comedians you’ve never heard of; writers you hate to love; angry Catholics; resigned atheists; closeted Trump voters; Mormons who saved themselves for marriage; young gay couples in crop tops; feminists; anti-feminists; and a whole lot of podcasters.

Coleman Hughes, Kimi Katiti and others at the after-party. (Roger Kisby for The Free Press)

We had a sense of how diverse—in all ways—this community was. But no comments section is a substitute for actually being with you guys. And holy shit, was it exciting.

James Pogue, Dasha Nekrasova and Antonia Hitchens. (Roger Kisby for The Free Press)

Debate Isn’t Dead

We live in an upside-down moment in which disagreement is too often taken as dislike. A culture in which it’s too often deemed heresy to consider the other side of an argument. A culture in which speech itself too often considered a kind of violence. 

At The Free Press, we simply don’t believe any of that.

We believe that you can wrestle with complicated ideas without being contaminated by them. We believe that you can survive being a little bit offended. And that it’s actually really good for us.

What’s so gratifying is that you think so, too. 

One of our takeaways from this inaugural debate is that this community is hungry for healthy disagreement (ideally with drinks!), and we’re already hard at work planning more of them in a city near you. 

Anna Khachiyan, Louise Perry, Bari Weiss, Sarah Haider and Grimes. (Roger Kisby for The Free Press)

We Make News

And not just with our reporting. 

The very fact of this event generated coverage ranging from the excoriating (hello, LA Times!) to the elevating (thank you, Blocked and Reported and Megan Daum).

We made news in the old outlets (New York magazine) and in the new ones (Rob Henderson; Smoke ’Em If You Got ’Em; Jessica Reed Kraus, we are grateful). Right-wingers were pissed off (The Carousel), but then again, so were lefties (LA Review of Books). If you read one of these pieces, please make it Emily Jane Fox at Vanity Fair.

Jessica Reed Kraus and her posse. (Roger Kisby for The Free Press)

It’s probably not a good sign about the state of our country that a group of people getting together to debate is a major news story. We live in fear that the mainstream media might think of something crazy like this. Until then, we’re happy to be your purveyor of wild, shocking events in which several people publicly disagree. (Please note that at present, we do not provide pearls to clutch.)

(Roger Kisby for The Free Press)

So, What’s Next?

We’re going to do more of these things. We’re going to throw big after-parties for those of you who schlep to town. And we’re going to aim to do at least a handful of these in 2024—a year that will be full of empty, make-believe debates—on subjects that actually matter to our lives and to the future of our country.

We’re also going to make it easier for all 450,000 of you (and growing) to be a part of it.

It felt right, as a news organization focused in part on what the digital age has done to us and our relationships, to hold a debate that required participants and audience members to really look at and hear each other. The electricity of that interaction cannot be created via Zoom.

But too many of you are in far-flung places, and we want those of you who weren’t able to make the trek to L.A. to be able to grapple with this important subject. 

That’s why we’re releasing the full film of the event this coming Thursday, only to subscribers of The Free Press

You can get a taste of what you’ll see on Thursday right here:

So if you want to watch, become a paid subscriber today by clicking right here. It’s the price of a decent sandwich!

And to those who have been longtime supporters, thank you. I’m blown away by what this has become. 

Subscribe now

 

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June 15, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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Nero’s Guests Chris Hedges

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I gave this talk in Blackburn, England during a campaign event for my friend Craig Murray who is running for parliament. Like George Galloway, who was recently elected to parliament, Craig’s central campaign issue is the genocide in Gaza. He calls for a permanent ceasefire, the establishment of a full and independent Palestinian state and backs the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against the apartheid state of Israel.

Transcript

Craig Murray: Good evening. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming along. I’m Craig Murray. I’m here in Blackburn, as you may know, as a candidate in the general election and one thing I’ve made absolutely plain is that I’m standing here because of the genocide in Gaza. That’s what has brought me here to raise the issue and fight the election here and we’re having a meeting here today which is not like your normal election meeting in that it’s very much focused on that subject and which I hope will give you a lot of information and food for thought and I am extremely proud to have two of the best speakers on the subject in the world, two world leading authorities on the subject who’ve come here to Blackburn.

I had difficulty persuading people today that they are actually here and that it’s not a Zoom meeting or something along those lines. And they’ve both come large distances to be here. And without further ado, because I’m going to be here, as comedians used to say, I’m here all week. I’m here for the next month so you’ll have lots and lots of chances to hear me talk but this is a man who you probably very seldom get to hear talk.

He is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, a man of enormous experience, who’s just flown in from Egypt, where he won the Arab World’s Top Prize for Journalism — and we look very much forward to hearing Chris Hedges.

Chris Hedges: Thank you.

Israel has been poisoned by the psychosis of permanent war. It has been morally bankrupted by the sanctification of victimhood, which it uses to justify an occupation that is even more savage than that of apartheid South Africa. Its ‘democracy’ — which was always exclusively for Jews — has been hijacked by extremists who are pushing the country towards fascism. Human rights campaigners, intellectuals and journalistsIsraeli and Palestinian — are subject to constant state surveillance, arbitrary arrests and government-run smear campaigns. Its educational system, starting in primary school, is an indoctrination machine for the military. And the greed and corruption of its venal political and economic elite have created vast income disparities, a mirror of the decay within America’s democracy, along with a culture of anti-Arab and anti-Black racism.

By the time Israel achieves its decimation of Gaza — Israel is talking about months of warfare that will continue at least until the end of this year — it will have signed its own death sentence. Its facade of civility, its supposed vaunted respect for the rule of law and democracy, its mythical story of the courageous Israeli military and miraculous birth of the Jewish nation – which it successfully sold to its western audiences – will lie in ash heaps. Israel’s social capital will be spent. It will be revealed as the ugly, repressive, hate-filled apartheid regime it always has been, alienating younger generations of American Jews. Its patron, the United States, as new generations come into power, will distance itself from Israel. Its popular support will come from reactionary Zionists and America’s Christianized fascists who see Israel’s domination of ancient Biblical land as a harbinger of the Second Coming and in its subjugation of Arabs a kindred racism and celebration of white supremacy. 

Israel will become synonymous with its victims the way Turks are synonymous with the Armenians, Germans are with the Namibians and later the Jews, and Serbs are with the Bosniaks. Israel’s cultural, artistic, journalistic and intellectual life will be exterminated. Israel will be a stagnant nation where the religious fanatics, bigots and Jewish extremists who have seized power will dominate public discourse. It will join the club of the globe’s most despotic regimes. 

Despotisms can exist long after their past due date. But they are terminal. You don’t have to be a Biblical scholar to see that Israel’s lust for rivers of blood is antithetical to the core values of Judaism. The cynical weaponization of the Holocaust, including branding Palestinians as Nazis, has little efficacy when you carry out a live streamed genocide against 2.3 million people trapped in a concentration camp.

Nations need more than force to survive. They need a mystique. This mystique provides purpose, civility and even nobility to inspire citizens to sacrifice for the nation. The mystique offers hope for the future. It provides meaning. It provides national identity. 

When mystiques implode, when they are exposed as lies, a central foundation of state power collapses. I reported on the death of the communist mystiques in 1989 during the revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania. The police and the military decided there was nothing left to defend. Israel’s decay will engender the same lassitude and apathy. It will not be able to recruit Indigenous collaborators, such as Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority — reviled by most Palestinians — to do the bidding of the colonizers. 

All Israel has left is escalating savagery, including torture and lethal violence against unarmed civilians, which accelerates the decline. This wholesale violence works in the short term, as it did in the war waged by the French in Algeria, the Dirty War waged by Argentina’s military dictatorship, the British occupation of India, Egypt, Kenya and Northern Ireland and the American occupations of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. But in the long term, it is suicidal.

The genocide in Gaza has turned Hamas’ resistance fighters into heroes in the Global South. Israel may wipe out the Hamas leadership. But the past — and current — assassinations of scores of Palestinian leaders has done little to blunt resistance. The genocide in Gaza has produced a new generation of deeply traumatized and enraged young men and women whose families have been killed and whose communities have been obliterated. They are prepared to take the place of martyred leaders. 

Israel was at war with itself before Oct. 7. Israelis were protesting to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s abolition of judicial independence. Its religious bigots and fanatics, currently in power, had mounted a determined attack on Israeli secularism. Israel’s unity is a negative unity. It is held together by hatred. And even this hatred is not enough to keep protestors from decrying the government’s abandonment of Israeli hostages in Gaza.

Hatred is a dangerous political commodity. The Palestinian “human animals,” when eradicated or subdued, will be replaced by Jewish apostates and traitors. A politics of hatred creates a permanent instability, exploited by those seeking the destruction of civil society.

Israel was far down this road on Oct. 7 when it promulgated a series of discriminatory laws against non-Jews that resemble the racist Nuremberg Laws that disenfranchised Jews in Nazi Germany. The Communities Acceptance Law permits exclusively Jewish settlements to bar applicants for residency on the basis of “suitability to the community’s fundamental outlook.” 

Yeshayahu Leibowitz, whom Isaiah Berlin called “the conscience of Israel,” warned that if Israel did not separate church and state and end the occupation, it would give rise to a corrupt rabbinate that would warp Judaism into a fascistic cult.

“Religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism,” wrote Leibowitz, who died in 1994. He understood that the blind veneration of the military, especially after the 1967 war that captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, was dangerous. “Our situation will deteriorate to that of a second Vietnam, to a war in constant escalation without prospect of ultimate resolution,” he warned.

He foresaw that, “the Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police — mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 million to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would have to suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.” 

“Israel,” he wrote, “would not deserve to exist, and it will not be worthwhile to preserve it.”

Settler colonial states that endure, including the United States, exterminate the native population through genocide and the spread of new infectious diseases such as smallpox. By 1600 less than a tenth of the indigenous population remained in South, Central and North America. Israel cannot kill on this scale, with nearly 5.5 million Palestinians living under occupation and another nine million in the diaspora. They cannot, as many Israelis wish, wipe them all out. 

Israel’s scorched earth campaign in Gaza means there will be no two-state solution. Apartheid and genocide will define existence for the Palestinians. This presages a long conflict, but one that the Jewish State cannot ultimately win.

Run, the Israelis demand of the Palestinians, run for your lives. Run from Rafah the way you ran from Gaza City, the way you ran from Jabalia, the way you ran from Deir al-Balah, the way you ran from Beit Hanoun, the way you ran from Bani Suheila, the way you ran from Khan Yunis. Run or we will kill you. We will drop GBU-39 bombs on your tent encampments and set them ablaze. We will spray you with bullets from our machine-gun-equipped drones. We will pound you with artillery and tank shells. We will shoot you down with snipers. We will decimate your tents, your refugee camps, your cities and towns, your homes, your schools, your hospitals and your water purification plants. We will rain death from the sky.

Run for your lives. Again and again and again. Pack up the few belongings you have left. Blankets. A couple of pots. Some clothes. We don’t care how exhausted you are, how hungry you are, how terrified you are, how sick you are, how old, or how young you are. Run. Run. Run. And when you run in terror to one part of Gaza, we will make you turn around and run to another. Trapped in a labyrinth of death. Back and forth. Up and down. Side to side. Six. Seven. Eight times. We toy with you like mice in a trap. Then we deport you so you can never return. Or we kill you.

Let the world denounce our genocide. What do we care? The billions in military aid flows unchecked from our American ally. The fighter jets. The artillery shells. The tanks. The bombs. An endless supply. We kill children by the thousands. We kill women and the elderly by the thousands. The sick and injured, without medicine and hospitals die. We poison the water. We cut off the food. We make you starve. We created this hell. We are the masters. Law. Duty. A code of conduct. They do not exist for us.

But first we toy with you. We humiliate you. We terrorize you. We revel in your fear. We are amused by your pathetic attempts to survive. You are not human. You are creatures. Untermensch. We feed our lust for domination. Look at our posts on social media. They have gone viral. One shows soldiers grinning in a Palestinian home with the owners tied up and blindfolded in the background. We loot. Rugs. Cosmetics. Motorbikes. Jewelry. Watches. Cash. Gold. Antiquities. We mock your misery. We cheer your death. We celebrate our religion, our nation, our identity, our superiority, by negating and erasing yours. 

Depravity is moral. Atrocity is heroism. Genocide is redemption.

This is the game of terror played by Israel in Gaza. It was the game played during the Dirty War in Argentina when the military junta “disappeared” 30,000 of its own citizens. The “disappeared” were subjected to torture — who cannot call what is happening to Palestinians in Gaza torture? — and humiliated before they were murdered. It was the game played in the clandestine torture centers and prisons in El Salvador and Iraq. It is what characterized the war in Bosnia in the Serbian concentration camps.

Israeli journalist Yinon Magal on the show “Hapatriotim” on Israel’s Channel 14, joked that Joe Biden’s red line was the killing of 30,000 Palestinians. The singer Kobi Peretz asked if that was the number of dead for a day. The audience erupted in applause and laughter.

We know Israel’s intent. Annihilate the Palestinians the same way the United States annihilated Native Americans, the Australians annihilated the First Nations peoples, the Germans annihilated the Herero in Namibia, the Turks annihilated Armenians and the Nazis annihilated the Jews. The specifics are different. The goal is the same. Erasure. 

We cannot plead ignorance. 

But it is easier to pretend. Pretend Israel will allow humanitarian aid. Pretend there will be a permanent ceasefire. Pretend Palestinians will return to their destroyed homes in Gaza. Pretend Gaza will be rebuilt — the hospitals, the universities, the mosques, the housing. Pretend the Palestinian Authority will administer Gaza. Pretend there will be a two-state solution. Pretend there is no genocide.

The vaunted democratic values, morality and respect for human rights, claimed by Israel and the United States, has always been a lie. The real credo is this – we have everything and if you try and take it away from us we will kill you. People of color, especially when they are poor and vulnerable, do not count. The hopes, dreams, dignity and aspirations for freedom of those outside the empire are worthless. Global domination will be sustained through racialized violence

This lie — that the American empire is predicated on democracy and liberty — is one the Palestinians, and those in the Global South, as well as Native Americans and Black and Brown Americans, not to mention those who live in the Middle East, have known for decades. But it is a lie that still has currency in the United States and Israel, a lie used to justify the unjustifiable.

We do not halt Israel’s genocide because we, as Americans, are Israel, infected with the same white supremacy, and intoxicated by our domination of the globe’s wealth and the power to obliterate others with our advanced weaponry. 

The world outside of the industrialized fortresses in the Global North is acutely aware that the fate of the Palestinians is their fate. As climate change imperils survival, as natural resources, including access to water, diminish, as mass migration becomes an imperative for millions, as agricultural yields decline, as coastal areas are flooded, as droughts and wildfires proliferate, as states fail, as militias and armed resistance movements rise to battle their oppressors along with their proxies, genocide will not be an anomaly. It will be the norm. The earth’s vulnerable and poor, those Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth,” will be the next Palestinians. 

“Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths,” the Roman historian Tacitus wrote of those the emperor Nero singled out for torture and death. “Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”

Sadism by the powerful is the curse of the human condition. It was as prevalent in ancient Rome as it is, 200 miles to the north from us, in Gaza. 

We know the modern face of Nero, who illuminated his opulent garden parties by burning to death captives tied to stakes. That is not in dispute.

But who were Nero’s guests1? Who wandered through the emperor’s grounds as human beings, as in Rafah, were burned alive? How could these guests see, and no doubt hear, such horrendous suffering and witness such appalling torture and be indifferent, even content?

There is nothing hidden about this genocide. Over 147 courageous Palestinian journalists have been murdered by the Israelis because they have conveyed the images and stories of this slaughter to the world, martyred for their people, for us.

We are Nero’s guests. 

The Palestinians have long been betrayed, not only by us in the global north, but by most of the governments in the Muslim world. We stand passive in the face of the crime of crimes. History will judge Israel for this genocide. But it will also judge us. It will ask why we did not do more, why we did not sever all agreements, all trade deals, all accords, all cooperation with the apartheid state, why we did not halt weapons shipments to Israel, why we did not recall our ambassadors, why when the maritime trade in the Red Sea was disrupted by Yemen an alternative overland route into Israel was set up by Saudi Arabia and Jordan, why we did not do everything in our power to end the slaughter. It will condemn us for not heeding the fundamental lesson of the Holocaust, which is not that Jews are eternal victims, but that when you have the capacity to stop genocide and you do not, you are culpable.

“The opposite of good is not evil,” Samuel Johnson wrote. “The opposite of good is indifference.”

The Palestinian resistance is our resistance. The Palestinian struggle for dignity, freedom and independence is our struggle. The Palestinian cause is our cause. For, as history has also shown, those who were once Nero’s guests soon became Nero’s victims. 

Thank you.

The Chris Hedges Report is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

1

The title and concept of Nero’s Guests comes from a lecture by P. Sainath about the suicides of Indian farmers.

 

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Things Worth Remembering: The Indispensability of Men Douglas Murray

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Camille Paglia in a men’s room. (Photo by Mario Ruiz via Getty Images)

Welcome to Douglas Murray’s column Things Worth Remembering, in which he presents great speeches from famous orators we should commit to heart. To listen to a portion of Camilla Paglia’s speech at the Munk Debate in Canada in 2013, scroll to the end of this piece.

Happy Father’s Day in the United States! I thought that, to celebrate, I would do the obvious thing and highlight a speech by the feminist Camille Paglia.

One of the strangest things that has happened in my lifetime is the emergence of the man as a pathetic figure, or a figure of fun. For the last fifteen years or so, you could see it in every walk of life—nowhere more so than in advertising. 

There are two things you can always predict with 100 percent certainty if a family, any family, is featured in an advertisement. The first is that the family will be biracial. The second is that the man (especially if he is white) will be portrayed as an incompetent or a loser. If the problem is wrestling with the remote control, the children and wife will patiently have to show poor old dad how to work the darn thing. It is a small but significant example of a wider trend, because this is a time in which male role models have been stripped away from the culture. 

We may have the culture of the “strong woman,” which I referred to in my Mother’s Day column. But “strong man” is a phrase now used to denote fear and even loathing. 


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