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Interview With Columbia University Environmental Law Expert Michael Gerrard; Interview With Senior Director Of Future Frontlines And Planetary Politics New America And Arizona State University Center On The Future Of War, Professor Candace Rondeaux; Interview With New York Times Correspondent And "The Land Of Hope And Fear" Author Isabel Kershner; Interview With "Polite Society" Writer and Director And "We Are Lady Parts" Creator Nida Manzoor. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired May 31, 2023 - 13:00:00   ET



BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone and welcome to "Amanpour." Here is what is coming up.

As American lawmakers raced to avert a catastrophic debt default, what exactly is in the deal? We hone in on what it will mean for climate policy.

Then --



STATE UNIVERSITY: Many people have described the Wagner Group as a paramilitary, and that is true, they are a paramilitary but they are also

increasingly a social movement.


GOLODRYGA: -- the brutal tactics of Russia's Wagner Group and why its influence extends far beyond Ukraine.

Plus, "The Land of Hope and Fear: Israel's Battle for its Inner Soul." Author and veteran New York Times Jerusalem correspondent, Isabel Kershner,

joins me on her new book.

And finally --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is going on?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You haven't seen this guy for a month and you're marrying him.


GOLODRYGA: -- "Polite Society." British writer director Nida Manzoor takes us through her new film and its celebration of sisterhood.

Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

Lawmakers here in the United States are racing to get a key debt ceiling bill through both chambers of Congress and signed into law. D-day for a

disastrous default would be June 5th, that is when the Treasury Department says it will no longer be able to pay all of the nation's bills.

A wide range of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are getting behind a deal. And on today's show, we want to focus on one key element, climate

policy. Environmentalists are warning that this deal could have significant ramifications for the climate because it fast-tracks a controversial gas

pipeline in West Virginia. But the White House says the bill protects Biden's key climate achievements.

So, let's dig into all of this with Michael Gerrard. He is the founder and faculty director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia

University. And he joins me now from New York. Thank you so much for joining us.

So, first, again, this is not a done deal and there will be more votes to come. But given where this bill stands in its current form, what are your

thoughts, specifically, in terms of what it is able to salvage of President Biden's key initiatives and policies thus far in the Inflation Reduction


MICHAEL GERRARD, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW EXPERT, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: We were afraid that it was going to be a lot worse. There were efforts by some in

the Republican Party to repeal some or all of the energy probations of the Inflation Reduction Act. This new law doesn't do any of that. It speeds up

some permitting processes both for fossil projects and renewables but it leaves almost all of the major initiatives intact.

GOLODRYGA: And that is some $370 billion for clean energy that was introduced into the Inflation Reduction Act. As you said, that remains

intact. But let's dig in more on some of the concerns that you do have, namely that controversial gas pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline that

goes from West Virginia to Virginia. It spans over 300 miles across nearly 1,000 streams and wetlands. Talk about some of your concern specific to

this pipeline.

GERRARD: Well, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the extent that we need to, we shouldn't be building anymore fossil fuel

infrastructure. It's unfortunate that the deal included this pipeline. Also, a couple month ago, President Biden approved a major oil drilling

field in Alaska called the Willow Project. Those goes in the wrong direction. But at the same time, we are seeing tremendous progress on wind

and solar and other things that have to go in a positive direction.

GOLODRYGA: So, overall, are you more optimistic about where things stand, not only with the debt ceiling but also with policy related to clean energy

in this administration?

GERRARD: Yes. The Inflation Reduction Act, the earlier bipartisan Infrastructure Act make enormous amounts of money available for the clean

energy transition. They have survived this debt limit fight. It seems to not have hurt them and everybody agrees that it takes too long to permit

these facilities. And so, we're going to have an ongoing fight over permit reform. And that's also part of the debt package that is now being voted



GOLODRYGA: So, where do you stand on permit reform? Because some people may argue, listen, it works both ways. It works in terms of promoting and

instigating green energy production, right? And, again, you have the fossil fuel supporters who are saying that this will trigger quicker action on

that front as well. They point to what happens in terms of permits in other countries, specifically in Europe and that they are all much speedier than

the United States.

GERRARD: So, we know that nobody is building coal fired power plants in the United States anymore. Those are the worst emitters. We have increasing

controls on natural gas, which is the largest remaining source of fossil fuels for electricity.

But I think that the damage that is done by somewhat faster permitting of those facilities is not as bad as -- it is overcome by the good by speeding

up wind and solar. We need to be building literally thousands of wind farms and solar farms and hundreds of thousands of miles of transmission. We need

permit reform to speed that up. And this Congress is not going to give us changes that will only help one side but not the other side. So, there are

certainly trade-offs involved.

GOLODRYGA: Another area of concern specific to this Mountain Valley Pipeline is it not only does it push it forward and greenlight it though.

The administration says that this is something they agreed to this in the past in order to get Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia on board with

the IRA itself, but it also takes measures to shield it from judicial review. Can you explain to our audience the significance of that?

GERRARD: Right. There have been lots of lawsuits, including successful lawsuits against this pipeline because of issues with endangered species

and other things. And the legislations says that the courts can't touch it. That regardless of those kinds of problems, these permits are in place and

can't be challenged in court.

There are a few precedents for this kind of thing but not many. It's not a good thing to shield these projects from challenge in court when they are

really would have negative environmental impacts or they didn't go through the right procedures.

GOLODRYGA: Speaking of challenges in court, we've really seen the Supreme Court curtail some of the EPA's legislative authority there with regard to

wetlands and the Clean Water Act, that's the most recent that we've seen from this Supreme Court. What are your concerns regarding what we can and

can't see stemming from this going forward as far as any authority that the EPA may have if we continue to see these types of ruling from the Supreme


GERRARD: As you alluded last week, the Supreme Court issued a decision in a case called Sackett, which really cuts back on EPA's authority under the

Clean Water Act. Last year, they issued a decision of a case called West Virginia that restricted EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act to

regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

We -- now, with the six to three conservative majority in the Supreme Court have a Supreme Court that likes to cut back on regulations, especially

environmental regulations. That is a major concern.

GOLODRYGA: What are the real-world impacts from these types of decisions?

GERRARD: On the water impact it will allow people to fill in and pollute lots of areas that previously had been protected. The court is allowing

much more development in areas that are of ecological significance and that are also important to preserve drinking water.

GOLODRYGA: Michael Gerrard, always great to have --

GERRARD: It is something Congress could fix.


GERRARD: But then --

GOLODRYGA: Yes. There's a lot that Congress could fix. I mean, we don't have enough time to go down that road. That is something, obviously, that

the Supreme Court itself is saying that that is the responsibility of Congress to legislate. We'll have you on to discuss that on another time.

Thank you so much, Michael Gerrard. We appreciate your insight and expertise.

GERRARD: Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: Well, turning now to the war in Ukraine. There are new signs that the battle is creeping across the border into Russian territory. The

Kremlin is calling the situation in the Belgorod region, alarming after a "massive strike wounded four people."

Now, it comes just a day after drone attacks damaged civilian buildings in the heart of Moscow. So far, Russia has relied heavily on the Wagner Group

in their war efforts. But who are they and what is their relationship exactly with the Kremlin? Professor Candace Rondeaux is an expert on

Putin's so-called private army, and she joins Walter Isaacson to discuss its influence.


WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Bianna. And Candace Rondeaux, welcome to the show.


STATE UNIVERSITY: Thanks. It's good to be here.

ISAACSON: Let's start with the news. There have been drone attacks in Moscow this week. Are those done by the Ukrainian military? And likewise,

are the drone attacks in Kyiv being directly done directly by the Russian military?


RONDEAUX: Well, there's a lot we don't know about the recent drone attacks in Moscow and around that area. Certainly, there is reason to suspect

Ukrainian forces of some sort are behind these attacks. Good reason to believe that, of course, is the attacks that we saw in the town of Belgorod

on the border of Ukraine and Russia just recently.

So, there seems to be kind of a dual track approach, which is penetrating beyond Russia's borders deep inside as it means of sending a message to the

population as well as the politicians who are responsible for the war in the Kremlin.

I think we have still more to learn about exactly what happened there. There are, of course, questions about whether this is some sort of false

flag operation that the Kremlin has dished up as a means of previewing or laying the political groundwork for a major mobilization. We've been

hearing these rumors that Putin may be considering something much grander than we've seen in the past year, a full-scale open mobilization where

conscripts as well as officers and active reservists would be called into force.

This is a sign, I think, perhaps either way that there are some serious challenges for Russia in terms of their own internal security and that's

increasingly becoming a problem for the Kremlin.

ISAACSON: You are an expert on the Wagner Group, the somewhat private paramilitary group run by Yevgeny Prigozhin who seems to be allied with

Putin sometimes but now breaking with Putin. Explain what that group is and what the situation is as they pull out of parts of Ukraine.

RONDEAUX: Well, the Wagner Group is, in fact, that's right, the best way to describe them is quasi-private. They're not really private in the kind of

classic sense. A lot of people have tried to compare them to Blackwater, the American private military security company that famously acted in Iraq

during the Nasiriyah (ph) Square's crisis way back in 2007.

They're very different in the sense that they get their supplies from the ministry of defense. They get their contracts from the ministry of defense.

And they mostly serve state enterprises like Gazprom, Ross-Tech, the big arm dealers.

Most of the kind of flow of weapons and man and material from their missions comes from the Russian state. So, to call them private isn't

really the best way to describe them.

ISAACSON: But isn't it true that Putin has control over them or not?

RONDEAUX: Well, certainly, Putin has control over them in the sense that the minute that the ministry of defense decides that they no longer want to

supply Yevgeny Prigozhin's forces with weapons and ammunition is the minute that the Wagner Group becomes an interoperable force basically. So, there

is an interdependency between the ministry of defense and the Wagner Group.

But your question about Yevgeny Prigozhin is an important one. I think that it really requires thinking about and addressing. Is this gentleman

becoming some sort of rogue force within Russia? Certainly, his very loud critiques of Sergei Shoigu, the ministry of defense, as well as Valery

Gerasimov, the chief of army staff, that criticism about the lack of ammunition, the lack of support, the lack of men, the inability of the

entire country to mobilize behind this war effort, Yevgeny Prigozhin's complaints about that are in some ways well founded, I think probably from

his perspective and from the soldier's perspective.

But at the same time, he's voicing something that Putin also would like to be able to say but is politically constrained, right? We can't very well

have the president of Russia saying, this war effort is going terrible. Who is responsible? Who is in charge of this war, when, in fact, we all know

that he isn't?

And so, Prigozhin, in a way, he aligned with what Putin would like to be on the say openly. And I think that we should always be thinking and hearing

when we're listening to Prigozhin's critiques a little of Putin there. But I will say that his more recent comments about the risks of sort of

revolutionary movement in response to the poor coordination of this war, the poor handling of this war, those warnings should be taken seriously.

We have never seen, at least, not in the last 30 years or so since the end of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan back in 1979, we will not have seen a

moment in Russian history where we have potentially hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Russian men coming back from the front broken, wounded,

in some cases addicted. I think this is kind of a repeat of history and we're in a very dangerous point in terms of the trajectory of stability in

Russia going forward.


ISAACSON: There was a statement this week by him that, no, he wouldn't participate in a coup against Putin. But instead of a strong denial he said

he didn't think he'd be able to pull it off. That seems like a frightening thing to say and he even suggested that the Russian military might do a

coup against Putin. If I were Putin, I wouldn't be feeling so comfortable with this guy anymore.

RONDEAUX: Well, that's interesting. I have a slightly different interpretation that's a bit counterintuitive. My sense is that that's a

warning to anybody who is thinking about trying to pull it off from Putin directly. Anybody who is thinking that maybe this is an opportune moment to

come at the Kremlin with a coup with some sort of internal kind of push either from inside Moscow or outside Moscow, perhaps in St. Petersburg, I

actually think that Prigozhin is basically wagging his finger and saying, don't even think about it. And he's saying that on behalf of Putin.

ISAACSON: You say that Prigozhin is sometimes just channeling Putin. He's saying what Putin wishes Putin could say in public. He said, somehow

nothing is working out for us in Ukraine. He said, one of the strongest in the world militaries, meaning the Russian military, has been transformed

and weakened. He said that, we're unable to defend the country and that the generals were trying to deceive Putin. Do you think that Putin believes all

of that?

RONDEAUX: I think that there is a good logic for Putin now to kind of start listening to different types of messages. OK. I think the most important

thing to understand is that Prigozhin is not wrong. Unfortunately, and he's not the only one on the far-right in Russia today who is making the

assessment that Russia was ill prepared for this war, that the military generals who assured Putin ahead of the invasion that everything would be

OK, somehow, they may be -- misled Putin on some level. I mean, I think that assessment seems to be correct. I mean, I don't think there's anything

to contradict that evidence right now.

At the same time, you know, I think it is possible to consider that the inter factional rivalry has gotten to the point where some elements within

the military and within the intelligence services feel that it is now time to express extremes. That the only way to get out of this logjam with this

war, turn things around, get some sort of secured victory, whatever, even if it's a pirate victory, you know, politically, over Ukraine, that is

really critical for the psychology of the country.

And I think that is what Prigozhin is messaging. He's not the only one on the far-right who is saying these things, he is saying them louder. He is

saying them more effectively. He has been, I think, a very conscientious student of sort of media relations and he understands how to plant a

message and how to capture of people's imagination. That has been his great success. And to some degree, that's why Putin chose him in some ways as

this kind of new spokesman or interlocutor for being the kind of marshal general for the war.

At the same time, it is worrying that the script, you know, that we are hearing from Prigozhin and the far-right is becoming increasingly more

shrill. And that the criticism of the generals of Putin is starting to actually bite. And what that says, I think, is a certain faction, a very

extreme ultranationalist faction within Russia is starting to gain the political upper hand.

This doesn't mean that Putin will suddenly now encounter a coup necessarily, but it does mean that he is deeply constrained by that

element. That is to say he has to answer to those critiques and he has to find a way to counter them before the narrative gets ahead of him.

ISAACSON: If Putin has to counter the narrative of these ultranationalist, those who expressed real dismay at the Russian military, what could it --

what would that mean, a full mobilization, a full invasion of Ukraine, use of tactical nuclear weapons? How far do you think they could go?

RONDEAUX: Well, unfortunately, Putin is a no-win situation. I think he was in a no-win situation before he even started this war and that's why he

started the war. Unfortunately, for -- you know, I think for global stability, unfortunately, there really isn't an offramp, right? There isn't

really a quick path to victory here.

We probably won't see the full outcome of a mobilization until sometimes next year. So, what that should tell everybody who is watching in what's

happening with Russia, with Ukraine, who's wondering what is the impact on energy prices, inflation, everybody should be very clear that this war will

not be over tomorrow, it won't be over next year, it won't be over, really, until there is true resolution to put down the weapons and stop the fight.

And we don't see any signs of that anytime soon. And I think whatever happens, we are very much on an escalatory path right now.


ISAACSON: The Wagner Group was founded by a soldier who had, you know, swastikas and Nazi tattoos on. And it's often been claimed that it's a neo-

Nazi group. Is that true?

RONDEAUX: There is a very large contingent within the Wagner Group that seems to be very attracted to the idea of white supremacy. And that is a

very troubling part of kind of their organizational drive. Many people have described the Wagner Group as a paramilitary, and that is true, they are

paramilitary, but they are also increasingly a social movement that represents a very extreme white nationalist Panslavist mentality and

ideology that Putin and others would like to see spread across Europe.

And we've seen in Spain, for instance, there were a few letter bombs earlier in 2022 that were attributed to the Russian imperialism (ph), which

is another kind of linked to the Wagner Group. That is a very frightening pattern.

In some ways, this may seem extreme now but in maybe a years' time or two years' time, we are looking at the early progenitor of an almost the al-

Qaeda or ISIS like force in the sense of their extreme positions on social cohesion and their extreme positions on what it takes to kind of run a

society. An extremely frightening prospect is the idea that that social movement would start to seep out of Russia.

And we also know that there are a lot of fans of the Wagner Group online. We've track that for the last several years and seen how the Wagner Group

brand on social media has grown overtime largely because of that used of neo-fascist symbolism and culture that they invoke when they try and kind

of bring people on board.

ISAACSON: You say the Wagner Group is somewhat like al-Qaeda in a way, that it's a big social movement and that it is seeping out of just Ukraine and

Russia into the rest of Europe. Tell me what that portends and whether or not the U.S. should therefore label it as a terrorist organization and

treat it (INAUDIBLE).

RONDEAUX: Well, this has been a big debate in the White House and in Washington. I've been, you know, president in many of these conversations.

How do we deal with the Wagner Group? If we can't categorize them as one thing or another, what's the best way to approach them?

The one thing that's been very encouraging, at least to me, has been that that debate has become more nuanced. There's a recognition, certainly,

within the White House and I think even other parts of Congress that declaring the Wagner Group a foreign terrorist organization will only take

the United States so far in terms of policy effects.

The biggest risk there is essentially treating what is essentially an arm of the Russian state as if it wasn't an arm of the Russian state. And that,

obviously, has complications for things like war crimes accountability, for reparation, for reconstruction. If you were to treat them just as sort of

just like al-Qaeda, then you would not expect al-Qaeda, of course, to own their war crimes, right, or to be responsible, you know, for destruction in

a given place and time.

The reality is, the Wagner Group is a state sponsored paramilitary cartel. And so, the White House, I think rightly, has come down with the decision

of categorizing them as an organized transnational crime group, right? So, basically, a mafia that's on international steroids that operates from

around the world. And I think that is probably the most appropriate way to go largely because it makes it less controversial for partner states that

maybe have issues around the way we fought the war on terrorism the last 20 years, it makes it less controversial for them to go after organized crime

figures or entities that help and support the Wagner Group in that context.

So, at the end of the day, the best approach is to really enhance the ability of many partners around the world, beyond, you know, Russia and

Ukraine and in places in Africa where we see them to really go after those supply channels, to go after those internal intermediary hubs where we know

that they are very important for the deployment of weapon and men to do bad things in countries where there's great instability.

ISAACSON: You've written about and described the horrible sort of war crimes and torture that the Wagner Group does, sometimes of a mayor and his

whole family in Ukraine. And we also see that around the world where the Wagner Group operates. In Mali, in other places in Africa. Tell me about

that and to the extent to which they are using these terrorist tactics in places like Africa.


RONDEAUX: Yes. Well, this is, of course, one of the saddest parts of this entire situation, I think. We've just seen countless victims of the Wagner

Group in all the places that you've just named, especially Mali. I think that's one that -- where you just, you know, have large-scale, you know,

extrajudicial killings of sometimes hundreds of people, mass graves, right? This has also been true in Ukraine for many years now, not just in this

particular phase of the war that we know that Russian irregulars have been important for the use of torture, you know, illegal detention and so forth

and so on.

You know, the psychology here at work, you know, it is important to remember that many of the commanders in the Wagner Group, in Russia's

irregular military forces, come from a long line of engagements where special forces, Spetsnaz, were deployed to handle problems that the

conventional military couldn't.

All of these, you know, commanders have at some on stage in their career spent, you know, years and years and years on the front lines deploying

again and again to extreme crisis situations. They come back. Nobody knows what their mission is. They can't talk about it. And in some ways, they're

social outcasts. And so, in many ways, they're suffering from a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder. That is the reality.

And I think what we are seeing in terms of the torture of civilians is not only just about sort of the indiscipline of this group but also something

deeper here in terms of the psychology of the commanders. But it does also reflect on the idea of Russian military doctrine, that, you know, civilians

just don't matter. I mean, it's just not as important as, you know, territorial control. That is where they sort of start to privilege most of

their missions is going to set on what can we control, how can we control it, whatever the cost, we're going to get it done.

ISAACSON: Candace Rondeaux, thank you so much we joining us.

RONDEAUX: Thank you.


GOLODRYGA: I learned some much from that conversation. Thank you to Walter.

Well, it has been a tumultuous few months in Israel with Prime Minister Netanyahu's controversial judicial overhaul proposals causing weeks of mass

protests. Those reforms are currently on pause, but demonstrations continued over the weekend for the 21st straight week.

And with the country this year marking its 75 years since declaring independence, what holds it together and what divides it and what internal

and external forces threaten its future? Well, to answer all of this, Isabel Kershner is here. She is a longtime "New York Times" correspondent

in Jerusalem. And her new book is called "The Land of Hope and Fear: Israel's Battle for its Inner Soul."

Isabel, welcome to the program. It's a fascinating book. Really a page- turner and I've learned so much from it already. Let's talk about the country and its history looking back 75 years, because what united the

country 75 years ago, obviously, was a combination of the Jewish people's tragic recent history at the time from the holocaust, its biblical

connection to the land and the external threats facing the country even before its inception. What is uniting the country today though?

ISABEL KERSHNER, NEW YORK TIMES CORRESPONDENT AND AUTHOR, "THE LAND OF HOPE AND FEAR": Well, thank you for having me, Bianna, and that is a great

question. Basically, in the old days, at the beginning, 75 years ago, we had these divisions, we had very deep divisions over the establishment of

the state. But there was one thing then that was in common, a common purpose, and that was to build the homeland, to see it survive. And now, 75

years on, yes, Israel is flourishing in many ways. It's a strong country of nearly 10 million people, innovative with a strong economy. And yet, it's

more divided than ever.

And when you ask what is holding it together, I think there's one thing I found on my journey to write this book, and that is that however polarized

people are, all the different sectors of society here do share one thing, and that seems to be a passion for being here and a sense of belonging and

an identity that they hold very dear.

And even though they compete in their world views and contradict each other and almost cancel out each other in terms of their vision for the future of

the country and which way it should go, nobody is going anywhere. And I think that is one of the binding factors here that is holding this place



GOLODRYGA: I think a lot of people would be surprised to learn really what a melting pot Israel is. Obviously, it is a Jewish homeland. But behind

that label, there's so much rich history from various backgrounds. And you have people that call themselves Sabras, those that are born in Israel. You

have Ashkenazi Jews who have origins from Europe. You have Sephardim Jews who have north African origins. There's ultraconservatives, there's

secular, there's Russian, there's Ethiopian.

Talk about how that melting pot is working today. Is it as cohesive as one would hope it would be or as you've discovered in the book, some frictions

there as well?

KERSHNER: Well, it's not cohesive at all. What I found is that with generational change here, even though you might expect that across the

generation some of the old conflicts and resentments might fade, in some ways what I found was that they've become more acute and you have younger

generations of these various sectors of society who are looking back now, more educated than their parents were in many cases and are going back

through the archives and trying to right some of the wrongs, which have just not been addressed here for so many decades.

I think, also, you know, we have the generational change but we also have a kind of changing of the guard in terms of the elites in the country. So,

the old Ashkenazi socialist leaning elite that ruled the country or dominated politics here for the first decades of the state have really

found themselves on the wane in recent years. And now, we have a much stronger less liberal right-wing population coming up.

We have, on religion and state issues, a much more conservative sector of society that is perhaps seeing the definition of a Jewish state in a

different way and a different kind of Judaism, which is less humanistic or universal and more nationalist. And so, we also have the ultra-orthodox

Haredi population, which is probably the fastest growing population in the western world with very large families and boys, certainly, most children

who are not receiving a secular education at all at school and are coming out of school very unequipped for a modern economy and a modern workforce.


KERSHNER: And all of these challenges are now coming to a kind of boiling point because we are seeing a trajectory where there is demographic change

as well as generational change, which is extenuating rather than healing these divisions.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. Your second chapter focuses on civil war, and that dates back to the inception of the country and its founder, its first prime

minister, David Ben-Gurion. And his concern about war and divisions between rival factions that ultimately culminated in death and fighting between

these two factions. That simmered down but not really.

And it brings us to where things stand today. The two major parties of the country had been the Labor and Likud Party. And the Likud Party has been

the dominant one as of late. It is a center right to right leaning party that has become even more extreme given some of the strange bedfellows that

the current leadership finds itself in. And the one constant appears to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is now the country's longest-serving

prime minister.

Can you talk more about his role and leadership and where that has taken, at least, part of that faction of the party?

KERSHNER: Absolutely. Well, the backdrop for the book, I would say, largely, is Netanyahu's Israel. Because as you noted, he's the longest

serving prime minister the country has had over his various terms in office. He has shaped this country in many ways.

And on the one hand, he's made it strong. He's championed the high-tech industry here. He has an outsized role on the world stage for a country the

size of Israel. And on the other hand, he has proven, in the recent years, particularly since he was charged with corruption and has been standing

trial, he's proven to be a very divisive leader, as well.

And what we are seeing today is, you know, his grip on power and his determination to remain in power has made him take in coalition partners

who were really on the fringes, the extreme fringes of Israeli politics and society until very recently, and are now sitting in the government with

him. And so, we do see a kind of move towards extremism and a lot of toxic rhetoric in the country.


And Netanyahu now finds himself in a coalition government where he is the most centrist person there. And most of -- all the other parties are either

far more ultraconservative religiously or politically. And so, he is really trying to maintain the balance and position himself as still being a

liberal. But the forces he is juggling with, within his own government, are creating a lot of noise.

GOLODRYGA: He's juggling with his own legal challenges as well. He is an indicted prime minister, and that's raising concerns as to what his focus

is, is it on the country as a whole or is it really on himself and protecting himself? And that leads us to the big controversy that we've

been talking about for months now and that has led to so many weeks of demonstrations in the country and that is his attempt at overhauling the

judiciary in the country. It's been put on pause for now given all of the backlash.

But what are the long-term ramifications and concerns for the country that has taken pride in so many decades calling itself sole democracy in the

Middle East?

KERSHNER: Well, this judicial overhaul or the plan for it, at least, is a very fundamental. And the supporters of it would say it's a democratic

plan. It's actually trying to redress the balance of powers in Israel and give, rightly, as the supporters would say, more powers to the elected

government and a bit less power to unelected judges.

But as you've noticed, there's been huge opposition and a massive pushback and really, a kind of liberal awakening in the country from the other side

of the camp, which says the Supreme Court here is really the only check and balance on the government and the only real institution that can guarantee

protection for minorities, because Israel has no formal written constitution. It has one house of parliament. It does not have a federal-

based or a constituency-based system. It is basically whoever manages to gobble together a coalition which can command 61 seats in the 120-seat

parliament and then, the Supreme Court.

And so, what this judicial plan is proposing is to increase the power of the government and the politicians on things like the selection of judges,

which the critics say will severely harm the independence of the Supreme Court, which so far has quite a prestigious reputation, both here and


It's trying to curve judicial review, the ability of the Supreme Court to strike down legislation in the parliament, which does not comport with the

basic values of basic laws here. And weaken the judiciary in general.

Now, there is -- most people here will say, there is room for some judicial reform, but not like this. Not in such a drastic way. Not so quickly.

Netanyahu did not really campaign for this election on an agenda of such a drastic judicial overhaul. And it's something that appears to have sort of

come out of the blue on January the 4th, when his justice minister announced the plan. Well, of course, it didn't come out of nowhere and it's

more of a symptom of the deep changes that have been going on in this society as the book records.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. And a deal?

KERSHNER: But at the same time --

GOLODRYGA: A deal? He --

KERSHNER: At the same time, this is --

GOLODRYGA: Go ahead.

KERSHNER: -- not the kind of reform most people want.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. A deal that he knew he was willing to make going into this coalition. Perhaps he doesn't carry all of the power now but he is still at

the helm of the government. As you brilliantly go through all of the different challenges and evolutions that we've seen in the country over the

past two decades, there -- the past several decades, there have been things that have remained constant and unanswered, and that is, perhaps, where the

two-state solution go in terms of the Palestinian question and the question over Palestine. And also, the expansion of settlements. These two issues go

hand in hand.

What did you walk away from this study for this book, feeling, in terms of any sort of resolution on that big, big issue?


KERSHNER: Well, my basic takeaway would be that there isn't going to be any resolution of that conflict until the Israelis find some kind of revolution

within themselves, because the country is so split on that very issue. And at the same time, the -- on the Palestinian side, we have a very weak and

divided Palestinian leadership that is also not, at this point, in the eyes of most Israelis and probably most Palestinians in a position to deliver

the kind of deal that would be required, the kind of deep compromise that would be required.

So, I, unfortunately, don't see a resolution around the corner. We haven't actually had formal peace talks here for almost a decade with the growth of

the settlements and the disarray on the Palestinian side of the lines as well. This is only becoming harder to resolve and not any easier.

GOLODRYGA: Finally, before I let you go, what is the status, in your view, currently? We know what president, President Biden, every president of the

United States says that they have a very close and warm connection with the State of Israel. Over the last several years, there have been some concerns

about the direction of the country is headed in. And also, just personal relations between the two countries leaders.

Are you getting the sense that that bond is still as solid as it has been for so many years?

KERSHNER: Look, I think the U.S. Israeli relationship is extremely solid. But I think the personal relations between President Biden, the White House

and Benjamin Netanyahu and this government and the hardline parties within it is obviously very problematic.

Netanyahu was reelected and came back into office six months ago and has not -- unusually, not received an invitation to the White House. President

Biden made it clear not long ago that there was not one forthcoming right now. I think a lot depends on what happens with this judicial overhaul

plan. And quite honestly, I don't think even the prime minister, Netanyahu, could tell you right now where that is going.

GOLODRYGA: Fascinating. Isabel Kershner, it's so great to have you on the program finally. Congratulations on a fantastic book again.

KERSHNER: Thank you. Thank you so much.

GOLODRYGA: Thank you.

KERSHNER: Thank you so much for having me, Bianna. Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: Well, next, turning to an action-packed portrait of the teenage experience and a love story between sisters. Nida Manzoor's new film,

"Polite Society," follows a young British Pakistani stunt woman in training as she sets out to stop her beloved sister's marriage. Here is a clip.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm nervous. This family is up to something. I just don't trust him. I've got to stop this wedding.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not letting you do this alone. We are in.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've got my eye on you.


GOLODRYGA: And writer director Nida Manzoor joins me now from London. Nida, it is a pleasure to have you on. It was a pleasure, enjoy, to actually

watch this movie. I loved every moment of it. I laughed. I was in suspense. You sort of have all of the reactions that a director and writer would want

from their audience. What made you make this film?

NIDA MANZOOR, WRITER AND DIRECTOR, "POLITE SOCIETY" AND CREATOR, "WE ARE LADY PARTS": Thank you so much, Bianna. Thank you for having me. You know,

I had the idea for this over 10 years ago. I was just so excited to create a film that brought together all the films I loved growing up. The Jackie

Chan movies, the Bollywood films and to really center a South Asian teenage girl and let her be an action hero and let her do these big fun over the

top stunts and explore what it means to be a teenage girl using the action genre to sort of see the violence that you feel and just kind of use action

to explore that.

GOLODRYGA: It takes sibling fighting to a whole new level, I can give you that, because there's so much you can relate to in this film. And all of a

sudden, you see these fighting scenes and you're, you know, whoa, what am I watching here? And it does, it talks about the love these two sisters have

for each other but also, their emotions internally, really come loose in these dramatic action scenes. Let's just show our viewers just a glimpse of

one of the scenes.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, you bumped into him at the gym, huh? Really?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I followed his movements and tracked him down. I wanted to meet him, seeing he's my soon to be brother-in-law.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did I tell you about is staying out of my life?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I told you to piss off.


GOLODRYGA: I love how that ends by their mother saying, screaming from downstairs, I don't care who started it, but you have to clean it all up.

Is it true that this was somewhat inspired by fights that you and your sister had when you moved from a Singapore to London?

MANZOOR: Yes, I think very much so. You know, there's a kind of an -- there's attention between two siblings and I feel like when you find your

sibling, it can be the most brutal, you know, emotionally because they know you, they know your kind of pressure points, your wounds. So, I knew what

this fight between the two sisters, I wanted it to be the most physically violent to kind of externalize that internal small emotional violence that

can exist between two sisters. And yes, it's very much inspired by my darling older sister.

GOLODRYGA: And the older sister here, her name is Lena. The younger sister is Ria. And Ria is trying desperately to stop her older sister Ria from --

Lena, excuse me, from marrying someone who she just thinks is not a right match and suitable for her.

We saw that clip, that fight scene, and I have to say it really made me think that -- it reminded me a bit of Tarantino, like Tarantino light type

of films.


GOLODRYGA: You mentioned Jackie Chan. Can you talk about some more of your influences?

MANZOOR: Absolutely. You know, I was inspired, in many ways, by Tarantino's movies, his sense of fun, his sense of playfulness and his sense of, you

know, play with the genre. And I was excited to use genre to explore the sort of the female experience, a woman's experience, which is, again,

something I haven't seen.

You know, my influences are so varied. I mentioned Jackie Chan movies, Coen Brothers films. I love Edgar Wright movies. You know, it's -- and

Bollywood. I grew up on -- insane diet of Bollywood films. So, it's just such a pleasure to get to pull together all the movies I love but to

explore sister relationship. You know, it's really -- this film is a love story between two sisters and I don't feel like we see that enough in


You know, a sister relationship is always a romantic relationship or, you know, a band of brothers, but where is the sister story? So, I was really

excited to get to explore that.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. These two sisters are the heroines. And not to mention, as we're seeing friends of Ria's at school. Well, this is a rival, but that at

the end, I'm not going to give too much away, but this is really a sisterhood that extends beyond just the bloodline.

And you mentioned the Bollywood influence. There is a real focus that you bring on the South Asian cinema and that experience to life in London and

in the U.K. as well. We've seen films with these themes in the past, "Bend It Like Beckham" comes to mind. But why is it so important for you to focus

on this cultural aspect too?

MANZOOR: Well, you know, it's something that's part of my identity as a filmmaker, as an artist and I wanted to show all these different aspects of

my identity sitting side by side. It's not just Bollywood, it can be Bollywood plus Hong Kong kung fu plus, as you said, Tarantino movies,

westerns and it can coexist in a London setting.

You know, it's not just a South Asian story is one thing, it's -- it contains all these different strands, and that was one of the most exciting

things for me. I could bring all my love of genre, all my love of the sort of the strange movies I grew up on as well as the Bollywood cinema and they

can coexist because that is very much my experience as a filmmaker and as a person, you know, there's so many aspects to my identity, and getting to

explore using all these genres, it was amazing.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. It's your personal cultural experience and background but something in these topics that almost every family can relate to and so

many women can relate to, and sisters as well. And without getting too deep here, I mean, there really is a focus on a woman's own control of her

destiny, her strength and her body.

And it's a very timely issue, I think, specifically in the United States when you follow politics and the issue over abortion rights here. Again,

without giving too much away in this movie, did that resonate with you at all, the timing of this movie coming out in some of the headlines that

we're seeing play out and real-life here in the U.S.?


MANZOOR: Yes. I mean, absolutely. You know, I wrote the script before any of these things happened and there was a sort of a sad timeliness to it, as

you say, and it just made me even more kind of galvanized into keeping that storyline in the script because, you know, there's a version of the film

where it stays very light and frothy and fun, and I knew I wanted to have this sort of more kind of serious slant on it because these issues exist.

You know, a women's agency, we -- you know, we think it's all OK now but actually, the fight is still very much ongoing. And as you say, you know,

with what's happening within the U.S., I feel even more proud that this film kind of -- we stuck to our guns with keeping that kind of darker

storyline that is very much part of our reality.

GOLODRYGA: And this movie -- forgive me, I should've started with this -- has received rave reviews. Not just for me, because who am I, but also from

critics, movie critics, 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. You do poke fun at some cultural issues and South Asian tropes. I'm curious. And again,

you're sort of an equal opportunity person here who makes fun across the board, but have you received any backlash at all from the community given


MANZOOR: No. It's a great question. I have only received, so far, anyway, very sort of positive kind of affirming reactions of people saying, we feel

seen, you know, that I play on the kind of mother/son dynamic where it's like an over -- you know, a loving -- overly loving mother, shall we say,

and just pushing that and heightening that. And I've only received positive stuff of people being like, yes, you're finally showing parts of the

culture that maybe don't get shown and getting to poke fun at all kind of different aspects of what was really part of my reality.

And I feel like, in some ways, I get away with it because it comes from a place of my authentic experience and in some ways genuine affection for my

own community and the world I grew up in.

GOLODRYGA: Of course. How has your family responded? How has your parents and your sister specifically?

MANZOOR: Yes. I mean, I had the such a delightful experience getting to watch the film with my family. And I mean, they told me they loved it. You

know, my parents were extremely encouraging and were laughing the whole way through, which gave me extreme levels of validation.

And, you know, my sister was lovely and she cried, I think, tears of joy. I hope tears of joy. Just having -- getting to see it, because it's very much

our relationship and she's such kind of amused for me. So, I -- yes. It was positive for my family, thankfully.

GOLODRYGA: That -- well, that is always a relief, because they can always be your biggest critics, right? So, I bet you were a bit nervous while

having them watch this film but knowing that they loved it is very rewarding to hear.

How did you blend in the research that went into some of the more cultural dynamics that we see in this film, the dance scenes, for example? Did you

do research? Did you corroborate and collaborate with others in the field when we saw some of those dynamic scenes?

MANZOOR: Yes. I mean, you know, this film is put together by an a credible a crew of people. So, with the martial arts that I love was drawn from the

films I love, but I had an incredible stunt team who work closely with the actors. You know, with the Bollywood dance, I had a brilliant dance

choreographer, Nileeka Bose, who came on board and I told her the film, (INAUDIBLE), that was inspired by, but I said, can we filter it like

through a teenage girl from London. And so, she sort of was able to bring her eye to it. And, you know, it's such a collaboration any film and got to

work with brilliant actors who brought us so much of their own take to the peace.

So, you know, I suppose it was less sort of research given that it comes so much from my own personal experience, but I definitely drew from my

collaborators, my costume designer who really sort of brought so much richness and color and texture to the world. So, it was really a big

collaboration in that sense.

GOLODRYGA: And as you mentioned, the actors themselves, these South Asian actors were really fascinating to watch and so talented. Talk to us a bit

about these two main characters in real-life, these two sisters.

MANZOOR: Yes. So, Priya Kansara who plays Ria, the main character, with someone sort of I hadn't heard of came through the door and just blew us

all away in her audition. She only started acting perhaps a year ago. And she's just this incredible new talent. Had so much joy and so much

enthusiasm on set but also just did so many of her own stunts, you know, performed her dance, just really brought her A game. So, I was so thrilled

to get to work with her.

And then, Ritu Arya who plays the character of Lena, I've worked with many times before. And I'm just -- I just so admire her. You know, she's a South

Asian actor but has such a kind of punk energy, like an alternative edge. And -- this is such nuance performer and it was so brilliant see them both

together on screen.

GOLODRYGA: And they are beautiful and definitely have chemistry as sisters. I hope everyone gets a chance to watch this film. As I mentioned, I loved

every moment of it. Nida Manzoor, thank you so much. Congratulations on this hit and great talking with you today.


MANZOOR: Thanks so much, Bianna. It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

GOLODRYGA: Well, that is it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thank you so much for watching and goodbye

from New York.