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Hubwonk podcast, November 7, 2023:
Peace Through Compassion
Joe Selvaggi: [00:00:00] This is HubWonk. I’m Joe Selvaggi. Welcome to HubWonk, a podcast of Pioneer Institute, a think tank in Boston. One month after the atrocious attacks by Hamas terrorists on Israeli citizens, the world is now witness to Israel’s predictable and justified military effort to find and neutralize the murderous perpetrators living in the Gaza Strip.
The challenge for Israel’s attempt to eliminate Hamas — labeled a terrorist organization by the U. S. since 1997 — is that their members are embedded amongst the two million Palestinians in a land area only twice the size of Washington, D. C. Making the likelihood of collateral deaths of innocent civilians more likely still is Hamas’s demonstrated tactic of locating vital assets within civilian institutions such as schools, hospitals, and mosques.
While the U. S. has offered clear support for Israel’s right to defend itself, there’s little consensus on the most prudent ways to support its effort to root out Hamas while [00:01:00] also offering compassion to non-combatants trapped by both Hamas and the walls of the Gaza Strip. If the presence of unwilling victims empowers the terrorists and frustrates Israel’s effort to eradicate Hamas, could the U.S. help accelerate victory by helping refugees leave the conflict? And how would American institutions ensure that any Palestinians vetted by such a program would not bring their anger towards Israel and hatred of its Jewish citizens with them.
My guest today is George Mason Law Professor Ilya Somin, whose recent article for Reason Magazine entitled, “The Moral and Strategic Case for Opening Doors to Gaza Refugees,” makes a compelling case for accepting Palestinian victims of this war as a way to, “help Israel win faster.” Professor Somin will share with us how asylum seekers from war-torn areas of the globe share a common condition and desire to “vote with their feet” to leave areas of conflict and [00:02:00] embrace a better life.
We will discuss how such a program would operate and how such a compassionate act by the U. S. can also serve to assist the safety and security of one of our most important international allies. When I return, I’ll be joined by George Mason law professor, Ilya Somin. Okay. We’re back. This is Hubwonk. I’m Joe Selvaggi, and I’m now pleased to be joined by friend of the podcast and frequent guest professor Ilya Somin. welcome back to Hubwonk, Ilya.
Prof. Ilya Somin: Thank you so much for having me.
Joe Selvaggi: Okay. I’m sure, you know, our, I’ve given the intro and the title of the show, and I’m sure some of our listeners have concerns, to put it mildly, that we would explore the idea of offering a benevolent hand to Palestinians, people that seem to regard Israel as a colonial occupier, and Jews, not merely Zionist Jews, but Jews everywhere as their mortal enemies.
So religious can stay with us through our conversation. I hope we can offer some food for thought that they can use as they wish. you know, I’m going to, we’re going to go through this slowly and acknowledging first that, we, I hope [00:03:00] we both acknowledge that we have unequivocal support for Israel and its right to exist and that we both condemn, you know, as in the harshest terms, the acts of October 7 as the worst atrocity against the Jews since World War II. We’re on the same page there. We’re going to, we’re going to put that line in the sand. Are we together here?
Prof. Ilya Somin: Yes.
Joe Selvaggi: Okay, good. All right. I mentioned in the introduction that there are more than two million Palestinians living in the area, the Gaza Strip, which is about the twice the size of Washington D.C. So very densely populated. Clearly there are going to be collateral casualties as Israel goes on the offensive, as we know they’ve done this week. in theory, we’re leading the Israeli defense forces. How do our missiles, tanks, and soldiers, separate combatants from innocents just in broad strokes. How would we possibly know the difference?
Prof. Ilya Somin: I’m not fully expert on how the Israelis or other military forces would do this, but, it is an extremely difficult task because, of course, Hamas does use civilians as human shields and has a long history of doing [00:04:00] that, both in the present conflict and before. Second, even aside from their deliberate effort to do it, obviously, the Hamas terrorists are closely packed in the same areas as civilians and Hamas forces generally do not wear identifying uniforms. So, even aside from Hamas’ deliberate efforts to intersperse their facilities and troops and terrorists with civilians, you have a situation where it’s extremely difficult to avoid civilian casualties in the fighting against them. And there have been a substantial number of civilian casualties already, and there will likely be more as the fighting continues.
Joe Selvaggi: All right, so Israel seems to understand this reality very well. It knows that most of the Hamas combatants are in the north, and so it has advised Palestinians who want to avoid being victims to relocate to the south of the Gaza Strip. Again, this is perhaps public knowledge, but for our listeners, why aren’t civilians simply packing up and leaving and moving south?
Prof. Ilya Somin: So, a lot of civilians have, in fact, packed up and moved south about 800,000 by various estimates, but there is a couple of issues. One is there are several hundred thousand who either cannot or will not move south, either because Hamas is preventing them from doing so, as has happened in some cases, or because they’re immobile, or they cannot go anywhere. The second problem is that even in the South of Gaza there is still some Israeli bombing because, of course, there are still, Hamas terrorists there. And if civilians move south, some Hamas people can do so as well. So, ultimately, I do not think it is possible to have a hermetic sealing of North Gaza from South Gaza. In addition, it is also the case that there will be a lot of civilians who, for various reasons, cannot leave the northern part, either because Hamas prevents them, because, for understandable reasons, they don’t want to go, or because there’s really no [00:06:00] living space for them to go to in the south of Gaza, which is already massively overcrowded, both with people who normally live there, but also with hundreds of thousands of refugees who have already fled from the northern part.
Joe Selvaggi: So, let’s give our listeners who aren’t familiar with this issue just a little bit of background. We’ve characterized Hamas as a terrorist organization and guilty for perpetrating the acts of October 7, but they’re also the political leadership of the Gaza Strip. Why would political leaders allow their own citizens to be needlessly killed as collateral damage?
Prof. Ilya Somin: So, I think Hamas’ main concern is not with the welfare of their citizens but with their ideological cause and with staying in power. So, they are more than willing to use the civilians as human shields. In addition, their ideological commitments are such that they think civilian deaths are well worth it to achieve their goals of destroying Israel and setting up a radical Islamist dictatorship [00:07:00] in its place. And they know, of course, that if civilians are killed, that hurts the Israelis in the public relations battle across the world and so, they want to take advantage of that. On balance, I think it’s pretty obvious that Hamas has little if any concern with Palestinian civilian casualties, and in some cases they even think that benefits them because it makes the Israelis look bad.
Joe Selvaggi: So again, we you’re my guest not for as a historian, but more for your original thought and your legal understanding of the world. But for the benefit of our listeners, I characterize Hamas is the political leadership. They’ve been such since their election in 2006. Some people characterize the Gaza Strip as being occupied by Israel. Who’s running Gaza, you know, let’s say since 2005?
Prof. Ilya Somin: In 2005, the Israelis withdrew from Gaza, which they had occupied for 38 years prior to that since the Six Day War. In 2006, Hamas won legislative elections, though they actually got only 44 percent [00:08:00] of the vote, but in the political electoral system that existed, that gave them a legislative majority. It did not give them control over the executive power. But in 2007, they launched an armed coup that expelled their rivals, the Palestinian Authority, and installed Hamas as effectively the sole power in the Gaza Strip, which they have been for 16 years. Ever since then, they rule by force. They suppress dissent. They kill people who express disagreement and so on. Hamas has been in charge of the Gaza Strip since that time, the Israelis have, with the help of Egypt, maintained a partial blockade, keeping various goods from coming in that they believe could help Hamas. But in terms of what goes on within the Gaza Strip itself, Hamas has been in power since 2007, with the exception of some brief periods when there was fighting with Israel, when Israel briefly occupied some parts of the Strip, but then each time the Israeli forces quickly left again.
Joe Selvaggi: [00:09:00] Now, among the many theses of your books and your thought are people’s ability to vote with their feet. We’ve go — Gaza is a pretty terrible place, all told, why, or can in fact, Palestinian, civilians travel in and out of Gaza into Israel either to work or for trade? Is that possible? And if not, why not?
Prof. Ilya Somin: So right now, it’s almost completely impossible. Before the current round of fighting, it was somewhat possible, but still impossible for the vast majority of people. There are crossings from Gaza into Israel and also into Egypt, but both Israel and Egypt have, for the most part, kept them closed to almost all migration. There are some exceptions that are granted. In particular, the Israelis had a system of work permits where a few thousand Gazans could work in Israel and then go back. And on the Egyptian side, there was some very limited access as well, but by and large, Gazans were not allowed to freely emigrate either to Egypt or to Israel or indeed to anywhere else.
[00:10:00] And that largely explains why relatively few people had voted with their fee to escape what was this awful situation of poverty and oppression under the rule of Hamas.
Joe Selvaggi: All right, we’re going to be talking about the possible process and logistics of potential Palestinian refugees and what we might do with them. But before we do that, I want to lay the groundwork. Why should Americans be sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians? As we said, it’s pretty bad, but they seem to at least acquiesce to the horrible leadership of Hamas. In other words, they’re, if they’re not criminals, they seem to be somewhat accessory to the horrible things that Hamas is doing. Why should Americans, you know, have an open heart towards Palestinians?
Prof. Ilya Somin: There are both general reasons and specific ones. The general reason is that we should be sympathetic to anybody who lives under horrific poverty and oppression through little or no fault of their own, which certainly applies to majority of the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip, about half of which is under the age of 18. And it gets pretty [00:11:00] obvious that the children have virtually no responsibility whatsoever for the regime that they live under both in Gaza and anywhere else in the world. But even with many of the adults, if you look at surveys, recently undertaken — the surveys are imperfect for various reasons — but if you look at surveys undertaken of Gaza, Palestinian opinion, where you will find is as recently as last summer, more than half of Palestinians surveyed in Gaza said that they thought Hamas should recognize Israel and accept the two-state solution, and a larger percentage in that said they thought that Hamas should at least maintain the ceasefire that had existed. And we should keep in mind these surveys are imperfect, but, if anything, they may underestimate the true level of distaste for Hamas among Gaza Palestinians. Because of course, if you’re a Palestinian living in Gaza, and you’re responding to a survey, you have to worry that Hamas might find out that you said something they don’t like. And if so, they might punish you or even kill you as they have, in fact, done with various dissenters. So there certainly are Gaza Palestinians who support horrible atrocities or support Hamas in general, or have bad views of various kinds, but I don’t think we should tar with a broad brush with respect to that. And we should keep in mind that, here as elsewhere when people live under oppressive regimes, they often have little choice about that situation. And I would add finally, on this part of the discussion, that we should not condition people’s human rights on whether they have good views or not. We generally don’t trust governments to impose such conditioning in other situations and refugee and migration policy should not be an exception. There are also pragmatic reasons related — and strategic reasons related to the current conflict with Israel for why we should urge the opening of doors to Gaza refugees, which is that one of the biggest obstacles to Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip is the — what we talked about earlier — that civilians are tightly interspersed with Hamas [00:13:00] fighters. If there were fewer civilians there, the Israelis would more easily be able to target Hamas. And this is actually one of the reasons why Hamas, in fact, does not want Palestinians to leave the Gaza Strip. They want, they have said people should stay right there. Other supporters of the Palestinian nationalism and radical Islamism in the Arab world also say they do not want to let in Gaza refugees for this very reason. So, ironically, Western right wingers, including here in the United States, who are opposed to opening doors to Gaza refugees, they have the same exact position on this issue as Hamas does.
That doesn’t by itself prove it’s wrong, but it’s some irony to say that these people who claim to be great champions of the struggle against Hamas, and some of whom even oppose having any kind of Palestinian state of any kind, they nonetheless take the exact same position on Hamas, on this issue as Hamas does.
Joe Selvaggi: Indeed, I guess there’s a very clear logic. We’ve been seeing if Hamas wants civilians, they’re [00:14:00] taking casualties, that to oppose that is to say, to take away the innocent civilians, should theoretically harm Hamas. And in theory, those who support Israel should be sympathetic to the view that let’s see how many civilians we can take off the battlefield. Okay. So, for those listeners are still with us, how would Palestinians get out of Gaza? We know on well, we’ve got a roughly a long rectangle on two sides, we have Israel on one side, we have the Mediterranean and on the Rafah gate on the south, we have Egypt at the sort of entrance to the Sinai Peninsula. How would Palestinians get out?
Prof. Ilya Somin: The simplest and most plausible way is that Egypt should open the Rafah crossing, which you just mentioned, which is currently closed to all but a few people — like Egypt has opened it to foreign citizens that if people in the Gaza Strip also have some kind of foreign citizenship and to a few Palestinians who have been wounded in the fighting. But it’s closed to virtually everybody else. [00:15:00] If Egypt were to open that and say any civilian who wanted to leave can, then a great many would. And after that point, you could decide, you know, would they live in the Arab world, would they live somewhere in the West or somewhere else? Would they be allowed to stay only temporarily or permanently? All of those questions would arise. So, that’s the simplest way. In theory, you could also open crossings on the Israeli side, but for a variety of reasons, that’s not practical, including that there’s active fighting going on in some of those areas between Israel and Hamas. So, for a variety of reasons. you know, that’s not at least in the near term, a plausible solution.
And similarly, it’s unlikely that you could have people picked up by sea and taken out, given that they’re also there’s fighting between the Israeli Navy and Hamas, they’re shelling Hamas forces on shore. So, the simplest and easiest way would be to open the Rafah crossing. General Sisi, the dictator of Egypt, refuses to do this.
He says that’s because it would damage the Palestinian national cause to do it [00:16:00] because Palestinians might leave and not come back. And that would make it harder to establish a Palestinian state later. I think in almost no other context does anybody seriously claim that keeping out refugees and keeping them in a horrible war zone and living under a horrible dictatorship that that somehow benefits the refugees themselves, but we particularly should not have sympathy for this argument. If, in fact, we don’t put the same priority on establishing a Palestinian state as perhaps many in the Arab world do. I think it would not be easy to get the Egyptian dictatorship to change its policy on this, but Egypt is a major recipient of American military and foreign aid. It’s one of the three or four biggest.
If the U. S. were to start to condition that aid on opening the Rafah crossing, then maybe Egypt would have an incentive to rethink, though I also admit I see no evidence that the Biden administration is at all likely to do this anytime soon.
Joe Selvaggi: Indeed, again, you anticipated my next question, which is why would Israel do this? You mentioned earlier that none of the Arab neighbors seem to want to take Palestinian refugees. So, whereas sometimes our hostility towards Palestinian cause might be seen as somehow motivated by racism or something like this, it doesn’t seem the Arab neighbors want them any more than we do. I might, again, I don’t want to impugn motives, but it seems like they enjoy having a thorn in Israel’s side with these 2 million Palestinians.
Prof. Ilya Somin: So, I think that is a part of the motive and the rulers of Egypt and Jordan have explicitly said that the reason why they don’t want to take Palestinian refugees — at least the biggest one — is that it would somehow undermine the Palestinian national cause. To my mind, we should care more about the human rights of people than about some kind of nationalist ideal of having a Palestinian state. I’m not on principle opposed to the idea of a Palestinian state. I think maybe ultimately a two-state solution could be justified. But in the meantime, we should not forcibly keep people in poverty and oppression on the [00:18:00] hope that maybe that will somehow in the long run help establish a Palestinian state. I would add also that if people are allowed to leave, that does not mean that they should not be allowed to come back. And indeed, the Israelis have said they would let people come back to Gaza and the U. S. and other Western nations could hold them to that.
So, it’s not that I think Palestinians should be required to leave Gaza. Or that if they do leave, they should be required to never come back. That would be unjust. And I think, frankly, it was unjust in 1948-49 when the Israelis did expel some Palestinians forcibly and did not let them come back. But that’s not the kind of thing that’s being discussed now.
Joe Selvaggi: All right, so we now have a war in which Israel cannot merely repair the wall and call it a day, because at the very least, you know, the ceasefire, you know, you can’t just say that because, you know, tomorrow there might be another invasion where there’s 1,500 or so innocent Israelis killed. I mean, the goal for Israel — the stated goal — is that they want to once and for all eliminate [00:19:00] Hamas and theoretically facilitate some civil leadership that serves the needs of residents. Again, an ordinary peace-loving leadership. Why do you think there are Palestinians, let’s say who, when the smoke clears will embrace a more moderate or more, traditional leadership that does want a two-state solution, does want peace? You know, why do you think they would embrace these thing, if to date, you know, as they say —
Prof. Ilya Somin: I don’t know if they will or not. It remains to be seen what the circumstances are of when the Israelis prevail, if they do succeed in fully prevailing, and what kind of structure is set up in Gaza that I think that the Israelis themselves are not sure exactly how they would do it.
The Western and Arab powers also are not sure exactly how they would handle the situation. I do think that it will be easier to do this if, in the meantime, there have been [00:20:00] fewer civilian casualties in Gaza as opposed to more, that may reduce, at least at the margin, the amount of hatred and bitterness that exists. And this is yet another reason to let, you know, let Gaza Palestinians leave, and flee the fighting, if that’s for those who wish to do. But I don’t claim to have some sort of detailed, foolproof plan or any kind of plan for a long-term solution to this conflict. I think things will be better if Hamas is not ruling Gaza any more than they were before when it was given what Hamas did and given Hamas is complete rejection of any kind of accommodation with Israel whatsoever. But, it would be a mistake to assume that simply removing Hamas would end this problem forever. There will still be a difficult challenge about figuring out who will rule Gaza on what terms and also how to settle the larger Israeli Palestinian conflict, which in some ways is more acute on the West Bank than it is with Gaza because there are many Israelis, including many in the current government would like to annex more, most, or even all of the West Bank, whereas [00:21:00] very few Israelis, only the most extreme right wingers would like to annex Gaza.
Joe Selvaggi: Okay. All right. All right. So, let’s, let’s back away from sort of what the future might look like. Let’s talk about the present. You know, let’s just stipulate there are some Palestinians who would like to see, find, refugee status as well, or perhaps even asylum. You and I have talked about the process of asylum or refugee status when we were talking about Ukraine specifically, who wanted to follow a similar path. What would the U.S. State Department do? I understand that Palestine is in a different category and under a different organization than was the, those trying to leave Ukraine. So, what’s next?
Prof. Ilya Somin: So, obviously, what would be next, if people were allowed to leave, some might not go to the U.S. at all. Some might stay in the Arab world or go to Europe or elsewhere. If people were to enter the U.S. and I think. Ultimately, it would probably be only a small proportion of the total that even if the U. S. were to freely let them come, that only a small proportion would end up there. I think it would be difficult to do this under the refugee or asylum system, because for [00:22:00] legal reasons that we can talk about, most of them probably would not qualify, except perhaps some who had been persecuted by Hamas for religious or political reasons, but they could qualify on the basis of the same parole process which has been used for Ukrainians, and which has been used also now for citizens of four Latin American nations, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Haiti, and that parole process allows the president to grant temporary entry to the U.S. to foreign citizens who either have an urgent humanitarian need, or alternatively, it serves the U.S. interest to do And here, both arguments would be in play, obviously, being in a war zone and being oppressed by Hamas is an urgent humanitarian need. It’s pretty obvious. And in addition, there would be a public interest in reducing the number of civilians exposed to warfare in Gaza, and therefore make it easier for Israel to crush Hamas. And you only need one of these two things to be present. I think the [00:23:00] easiest way for them to be able to enter the U. S. if the administration were inclined to let them do which, by the way, at this point, there’s no evidence that there is such an inclination, but if there were the parole process, I think would be the easiest way to do it.
Joe Selvaggi: I did some research and found I think there’s an exceedingly small number of Palestinians that have been granted refugee status, something like 65 in the last 30 years.
Prof. Ilya Somin: So, there’s a much larger number of Palestinian immigrants will come in the U.S. in other ways, usually through family reunifications or other things. As I understand it, depending on how you look at the numbers, there’s about one to two hundred thousand Palestinians in the U.S. right now. Most of them have, yeah. Some kind of, permanent residency status.
Joe Selvaggi: You, you stipulated earlier, and I wanted to come back to it, that, we don’t differentiate, how terrible the regime of where a refugee comes from. We don’t sort of, you know, impugn their character motives merely because they come from a murderous dictatorship. Nevertheless, I think we would have concerns that Palestinians might be arrive radicalized. Are there provisions when, you know, security-minded Americans are like, okay, I want to like these people. I want to take them in. I hope they find, they fall in love with truth, justice, and the American way. Would we keep an eye on, I’m thinking about in the past, perhaps from communist countries, you want to make sure they’re not spies or, you know, what would we do about Palestinian refugees? Will we keep an eye on them?
Prof. Ilya Somin: So, I would make three points on this. One is I mentioned before, we already have many thousands of Palestinians who have come to U.S., and we have data on the incidence of terrorism among that group, as we do among people immigrants in general, the my colleagues at the Cato Institute, Alex Nowrasteh has, and others, they have done a comprehensive study on all migrants who have come into us from every country from 1975 through last year, and the total number of people killed in the United States in terrorist incidents involving Palestinians since then is three people in that entire 47-year [00:25:00] period. This is actually a rate of terrorism that is roughly in the same general ballpark as what we have with native-born Americans. It’s not zero. And you can say any death from terrorism is a bad thing, but the risk based on this extensive experience over almost 50 years is actually pretty low.
The second point that I would make is recall that Hamas has said that they don’t want Palestinians to leave and that other Palestinian nationalists and radical Islamists have also said similar things that suggests that those Palestinians who do leave nonetheless are likely to be disproportionately those who do not like Hamas and do not like these other extreme Palestinian organizations very much, either.
That does not mean that they’re completely free of all prejudices or attitudes that we might not like. But it does mean that the incidence of terrorist support among them is likely to be pretty low, and the incidence of actual willingness to engage in terrorism will or still as this experience over the last 50 years shows.
And then finally, as I mentioned earlier, we [00:26:00] generally don’t trust government to discriminate between people based on their bad attitudes or their views. We don’t do that domestically, even though it’s clear that there’s a substantial number of native-born Americans who have horrible attitudes on a variety of issues. And if we don’t trust that the government with that domestically, I think there’s good reason not to trust the government on that respect with respect to immigration policy either. And therefore, while it’s reasonable to punish people, keep them out and prison them if we have evidence that they’re plotting acts of terrorism or espionage or the like, I think it is not just to say we’re going to forcibly confine you to a lifetime of poverty and oppression or to being threatened with death in a war zone merely because we think maybe you have some bad attitudes and prejudices and the like. We would not accept such a thing in any other context, and immigration should not be an exception to that general principle.
Joe Selvaggi: Fair enough. And I did see in your piece, the citation about the paucity of evidence that Palestinians [00:27:00] are more inclined towards terrorist acts than anyone else, Right, those who come, yes.
Prof. Ilya Somin: At least those who come to the U. S.
Joe Selvaggi: Yes.
Prof. Ilya Somin: Those who are actively members of the Hamas organization, it’s obviously a different story, but that’s not who tends to be likely to come.
Joe Selvaggi: Fair enough. But again, in the past month, you and I have been treated to news reports from all over the world,I ‘d say protesters who are advocating for the Palestinian cause and among the other things they talk about, they’re not merely saying, boy, let’s. Let’s minimize collateral damage, but rather they’re saying, you know, free Palestine. And, you know, from the river to the sea, again, our listeners probably know this reference, which is from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea, which is effectively all of Israel. Their claim is that Israel does not belong to the Jews and Israelis, they want to essentially eliminate that state. If Western thinkers, or I don’t know if we call the protesters thinkers, but if there’s enough of a movement to generate large crowds, how is it that Palestinians who leave that region wouldn’t share that concern and in a sense add even more fuel to an already bizarre fire?
Prof. Ilya Somin: I think the same points I made earlier apply here. One is those people who support Hamas and similar movements are probably the least likely to try to leave given that those movements oppose they’re doing so. Second, it is wrong and unjust to restrict people’s freedom based merely on the fact that they have bad views. It’s fine to criticize those views, in some case stigmatize them, refuse to hire people for certain jobs if they hold those views.
It is not right to say: Because you have some awful views on some issues, you should be confined to poverty and oppression and to a risk of death in a war zone by force. We readily understand that in other contexts, that principle applies here. Finally, if you’re worried about them sort of increasing the size of a bad political movement, the total number of people living in Gaza, as you point, as you noted yourself earlier is about 2 million. Probably only a small fraction of them would come to the U.S. even if allowed. So, the likelihood [00:29:00] that they would somehow significantly affect the size of a domestic American political movement, you know, is infinitesimally small, especially when you remember that about half of those people are children under the age of 18, and children that age rarely, if ever, are effective participants in any kind of movement. So, I readily grant if you said, well, 100 million people with horrible views are going to come and they’re immediately going to become voters in U.S. elections. Then you can have a serious debate over the issue of, you know, with that horribly affect the US political spectrum.
If you’re talking about maybe some tens of thousands of people, none of whom would be able to vote immediately and half or more of whom would be under the age of 18, I think the risk of, you know, having the U.S. political balance be affected by, you know, some people with bad views, even if every single one of them had awful views, that risk would still be utterly insignificant.
Joe Selvaggi: Indeed, again, I’ve seen some backlash against Rashida Tlaib, congressman, who, advocated for the Palestinian cause. There’s substantial [00:30:00] backlash against some of her rhetoric. And I’ll say there’s lots of sympathy for Palestine coming from the ivy halls of Harvard, which scare me, just the same.
Prof. Ilya Somin: Yeah, so there are certainly people who have awful views, who are not immigrants, but rather native-born American far leftists or far rightists and the like. I think the way to combat that is by, you know, criticizing their views back, restricting their access to positions of power, and so on, but not by consigning people to poverty, death, and oppression, because, you know, we don’t like their views.
Joe Selvaggi: Okay. So let’s just stipulate that we do root out Hamas, every last one, and we have what’s left are, peace loving, or let’s say civic minded or, people who want to live in a normal life in the Gaza Strip and we find some leadership. Would the world or particularly Israel be inclined to allow, again, you’re very clear, that’s not all of Gazans, a small percentage, would those people, of course, be invited back? Is there an incentive to have people who leave then come back?
Prof. Ilya Somin: So, in my view, they should not be forbidden to come back, but I also think they should not be required to, either. In that hypothetical, if you look at the past history of refugees from horrible war and oppression, even after the war is over or the bad regime is overthrown, many people cannot or will not come back. That is what happened after World War II, and many of the people then known as displaced persons, they stayed in the U.S. or Britain or Canada or elsewhere, rather than being forced to go back to Europe. That is what has happened in, you know, subsequent conflicts. Even in the best-case scenario, life in Gaza is unlikely to be anywhere near remotely good for some years to come. And it would be unjust to force to confine people there, but it would also be wrong to prevent them from returning if indeed that is what they wanted to do. And Israel should make a commitment that they would not prevent that. And, you know, Egypt as well. And I think the Israeli government has, in fact, been saying that they would not [00:32:00] prevent people from, you know, from coming back. I think most Israelis, you know, even right wingers who want to annex the World Bank, most of them — not the World Bank, the West Bank, who want to annex the West Bank! — there’s little, there’s not much desire to annex Gaza. I think the rule here, as in other situations like it should be, that people should be allowed to return if they want to, but not forced to.
Joe Selvaggi: Indeed. Okay. So, we’re getting close to the end of our time together. I wanted to ask you two final questions. One is, I can kind of answer it myself, but we’ve been encouraged, I think, by the recent Abraham Accords. This is former enemies of the state of Israel, like the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan, I think even Morocco have said, look, you know, enough is enough, let’s normalize relations. Do you think it’s possible that the Palestinians will ever, sort of find their way towards that place where, they acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and just get on with it.
Prof. Ilya Somin: It’s certainly possible, but obviously it’s hard to know whether it will actually happen. After this conflict ends, depending on how it ends, I think both the Israelis and the Palestinians and also the other Arab states, they will have various decisions to make about how they want to approach the future. And at this point, it’s hard to foresee, you know, what will happen with that. maybe the, in the best-case scenario, maybe the Abraham Accords will proceed. Maybe Saudi Arabia and other additional states will make peace with Israel. And on their side, maybe Israel will throw out some of the more awful elements in the current government and install people who are more willing to, you know, be more accommodating on various points, but it’s hard to know what will happen with either Israeli or Arab or Palestinian politics in the future. All I can say is that with respect to this issue, letting more people flee, and thereby reducing, civilian casualties, at least at the margin, will make it easier to make peace in the future, though I certainly don’t claim that just by doing this, we somehow guarantee that there will be a wonderful peace agreement that will make everybody happy. This issue is [00:34:00] difficult and will remain difficult. Even if Hamas is completely eliminated, which I hope it will be, but even that is not yet completely guaranteed that will happen.
Joe Selvaggi: And last after listening to our conversation, our listeners think this is either a suicide pact or insanity. Are your views or have you read after your piece came out maybe a week and a half ago. Are there other sympathetic voices that are saying the same thing you are so anybody else saying look, it won’t solve this problem, it won’t win the war for Israel, and it wouldn’t eliminate Hamas, but this is a good step forward towards, you know, a humanitarian, kind, compassionate, and gracious act to extend the Palestinians at least some support for being.
Prof. Ilya Somin: So I would be lying if I said there was a huge ground full of support for this position, but I do think other people have said similar things. Matt Iglesias, the prominent moderate liberal political commentator has written about this and has said somewhat similar things. My Cato Institute colleague, Alex Nowrasteh, has written about you know, the very low nature of the terrorism risk from this group. And in my piece on the Reason website, I cite public opinion data from Gaza which shows that Gaza Palestinians are not nearly as supportive of Hamas as some in the West think they are. That data is imperfect, but if anything, it may underestimate the true level of dissatisfaction with Hamas and its policies, because, of course, many people who might not like Hamas might be unwilling to tell a poster that for fear that Hamas might find out that they said that and, you know, punish them in some way.
Yes, this is very much a minority position. I don’t expect the Biden administration to take up this idea anytime soon. Nonetheless, I think it is consistent both with general libertarian and liberal moral principles that we should espouse, and it would actually be good for the campaign against Hamas to do this. I think the Israeli government would actually be very happy if the Rafah crossing were open to Palestinians seeking to leave Gaza because that [00:36:00] would make it easier for them to prosecute this campaign without worrying about inflicting excessive collateral damage, which could then result in a loss of support for Israel and many countries around the world, as is already to some degree happening because of the collateral damage that has happened already. But I certainly do not claim that, you know, I have massive support for this. I hold various unpopular views. This is one of them. But unpopular is not the same thing as wrong.
Joe Selvaggi: Indeed. I was desperate to approach this very complex subject from an original perspective. You are always an original thinker. It’s really a great pleasure to have you on. I’m sure we’ve intrigued some people and probably irritated people on all sides. That’s what we want to do. We want to provoke some thought, and I look forward to the emails that I get. For people either saying I’m on to something or you’re on to something or we’re both crazy.
So, thank you very much for joining us today on Hubwonk, Ilya. You’re always a great guest. I really appreciate your time. [00:37:00]
Prof. Ilya Somin: Thanks so much for having me on.
Joe Selvaggi: This has been another episode of Hubwonk. If you enjoyed today’s show, there are several ways to support Hubwonk and Pioneer Institute. It would be easier for you, and better for us, if you subscribed to Hubwonk on your iTunes Podcatcher. It would make it easier for others to find Hubwonk if you offer a 5 star rating or a favorable review. We’re always grateful if you share Hubwonk with friends. If you have ideas or comments or suggestions for me about future episode topics, you’re welcome to email me at hubwonk at pioneerinstitute. org.
Please join me next week for a new episode of Hubwonk.
In a conversation between Joe Selvaggi and George Mason law professor Ilya Somin, Somin presents his viewpoint on the moral and strategic case for allowing free emigration of Palestinian refugees from the conflict zone to bolster Israel’s fight against Hamas terrorism.
Ilya Somin is Professor of Law at George Mason University. His research focuses on constitutional law, property law, democratic theory, federalism, and migration rights. He is the author of his most recent book, Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom (Oxford University Press, 2020, revised and expanded edition, 2021). Somin’s writings have been cited in decisions by the United States Supreme Court, multiple state supreme courts and lower federal courts, and the Supreme Court of Israel. He has testified on the use of drones for targeted killing in the War on Terror before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights. Before joining the faculty at George Mason, Somin was the John M. Olin Fellow in Law at Northwestern University Law School in 2002-2003. In 2001-2002, he clerked for the Hon. Judge Jerry E. Smith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Professor Somin earned his BA, Summa Cum Laude, at Amherst College, MA in Political Science from Harvard University, and JD from Yale Law School.