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CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

Perilous Moment Looms As Israel Amasses Troops On Border; CNN Reports, Initial U.S. Intel Suggests Iran Was Surprised By Attack; CNN At Site Of Deadly Hamas Siege On Kibbutz, Where 100 Killed; Senator Lindsey Graham Calls The War In Israel A Religious War; President Biden Compares Hamas With ISIS In His Speech; U.S. Congress Continues To Run Without A Speaker; War In Israel Continues. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired October 11, 2023 - 22:00   ET




KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: We have breaking news in from the Israeli Defense Forces who has just posted online, and I'm quoting from them now, that they are now launching an extensive attack on many centers of the terrorist organization Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They say there are more details to come.

Of course, a note of caution from our reporters on the ground, this is not the expected ground incursion that people have been anticipating could potentially happen. That is something they're anticipating, because you have seen hundreds of thousands of Israeli reservists amassing on the Gaza border.

Obviously, this is something that everyone is watching closely. You just heard us discussing with Barak Ravid what they are doing when it comes to whether or not there will be a humanitarian corridor for the civilians, the millions of Gazans who are still there, the innocent ones. That is a big question.

Of course, we will continue to follow all the latest developments here. Thank you so much for joining us here on The Source. CNN News Night with Abby Phillip is up next.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, we are at a perilous moment in the war between Israel and Hamas. It appears Israeli forces are on the cusp of a ground operation as retaliatory strikes are underway over the skies of Gaza. And right now, President Biden faces a potentially life or death dilemma. Would American forces be sent to rescue hostages, some of whom are believed to be U.S. citizens?

I'm Abby Phillip. This is News Night.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We just had several rockets that we just saw being fired from Gaza. The Iron Dome is intercepting overhead. We are less than ten kilometers, about six or seven miles from the Gaza border. This happened really right above our heads. And behind us, what is happening here, too, is you have these armored personnel carriers that are in a formation.

Again, these are the scenes that we have been seeing all across these communities in southern -- in Israel across from the Gaza border is preparations. preparations, this massive mobilization that is happening of troops, 300,000 troops that are all starting to mobilize here.


PHILLIP: Tragically, the death toll is rising tonight, the attacks by Hamas killing more than 1,200 people in Israel, thousands more are hurt.

In the wake of these strikes, following the massacre, Palestinian officials also say that more than 1,100 have been killed in Gaza.

Among those killed in Israel, 22 American citizens and at least 17 more are still missing. The president and his administration speaking today on the fate of those hostages.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We want to make it real clear, we're working on every aspect of the hostage crisis in Israel, including deploying experts to advise and assist with recovery efforts.

There's a lot we're doing, a lot we're doing. I have not given up hope of bringing these folks home.

REPORTER: So, about those who remain hostages right now, has the president ruled out sending any American forces of any kind into Gaza at any time to help secure their release if necessary to get about safely?

JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: We haven't made any policy options or operational decisions with respect to hostage recovery at this time. We are in active --

REPORTER: So, you haven't ruled it out?

KIRBY: We haven't made any decisions about hostage recovery at this time.


PHILLIP: And in the meantime, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that every member of Hamas is a dead man as the Israelis move more tanks and forces to the Gaza border.

Let's go right away to my colleague, Anderson Cooper. He is on the ground in Ashdod, just 19 miles north of the Gaza border. Anderson, we just heard from the IDF that what they're calling large scale strikes are underway at this very moment. What do you know? ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: The IDF has now said that. I should point out we are 19 miles from the Gaza border. Normally, over the last several nights, we've been able to hear the steady pounding of artillery and occasional jets flying over, bombing targets inside Gaza.


We have not heard that over the last several hours. So, while the IDF is saying that they are striking a number of targets in Gaza, it must be in a different part of Gaza than what we normally hear from this vantage point.

But as Jeremy Diamond was reporting, the bombardment in Gaza has been massive. It has been constant. And it is in preparation for what is widely expected to be a ground operation. Some 300,000 reservists have been called up. Israeli citizens who have been overseas we've been seeing have been coming back to Israel in order to fight alongside Israel's.

And the question is, when will that occur? There's now been a unity government, a unity cabinet formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the leading opposition figure, Benny Gantz, the former defense minister has joined with Benjamin Netanyahu. So, that was one of the stages that people thought might be necessary in order to give confidence to people in advance of some sort of a ground operation, Abby.

PHILLIP: And, Anderson, with every passing second, really, Israel is facing some really difficult choices here on the issue of hostages, of which there could be as many as 150 or more. And tonight, a senior Hamas official says that it's too early to exchange Israeli hostages.

But you spoke earlier tonight with a young woman whose grandmother was taken by Hamas. What did she tell you?

COOPER: Yes. This young woman, you know, we've seen the video and I think you probably have it of an elderly woman, a 72-year-old grandmother sandwiched between two Hamas gunmen on a motorcycle who has been kidnapped and they're driving her through the streets in Gaza.

That -- this woman, her name is Anat Moshe. She is the granddaughter of that woman. And for her family, that was the proof of life that -- the only proof of life that they have had, that their grandmother has been kidnapped and has been taken to Gaza by these killers who shot to death her grandfather, the husband of that woman on the motorcycle.

So, we have been talking to so many families who have loved ones missing or kidnapped and it certainly complicates any advancing -- any ground operation that the Israelis are planning, the fate, what to do with these 150 hostages and how much that will be taken into account in terms of the planning and the execution of a ground operation.

PHILLIP: All right. Anderson, keep us updated as the night goes on, on any strikes that we see tonight, as the potential for this ground operation seems to increase by the moment. We appreciate you joining us.

And tonight, Israel preparing for a ground operation and mobilizing those forces with its border with the Gaza Strip. Now, one of the country's largest mobilizations in history could very well be underway shortly positioning 300,000 Israeli reservists near that border. It signals a possible invasion could be imminent.

Let's break this down at the map with Evelyn Farkas, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia under President Obama.

Evelyn, Israel is describing this as large-scale strikes in Gaza tonight. And we're seeing those troops you saw in Jeremy's live shot amassed at the border. I want to just show everyone here just what we're talking about when we talk about the border and what would that mean for Israel to move into Gaza from its territory.

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIA: Yes, I mean as all of your coverage has indicated, Abby, it's heavily populated, densely populated, high-rise buildings. It's urban. This urban warfare is really difficult under any circumstance. And now, we know that these terrorists inside of Gaza, the Hamas fighters, they have access to drones.

And so the technological capability they have could also counter any of these Israelis coming in certainly with tanks and heavy, heavy formations.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, as you mentioned these are, as you can see here, it's tightly packed, the high-rise buildings.

But when I look at these images, I wonder, these are the aftermath of strikes just in the last week. What do you see here, as a national security person, when you see this kind of terrain? What is Israel trying to accomplish with these strikes?

FARKAS: Well, obviously it's punishment, it's retribution.


They're trying to signal, of course, the civilians probably to take cover, you know, go away as much as they can.

PHILLIP: But do you see any tactics in there?

FARKAS: Not really. And I think, you know, getting a little bit ahead of what you might ask about getting hostages out, that's where you really need to have tactics because you need intelligence. You need special operators, frankly. You can't have regular infantry going in there to try to take the hostages back because you want to take them back alive. And going through all of this, I mean, if it's rubble -- even if it's not rubble, it's very difficult to know where you are and keep your orientation.

PHILLIP: And, of course, there are those tunnels that are a feature, really, of how Hamas operates in Gaza. This is just an image here of what one of those tunnels looks like.

FARKAS: Right. And they're hiding likely in there and moving around. The hostages may or may not be in there. Most of the accounts by experts and others who know how Hamas operates say that the hostages probably won't be kept together, which, of course, makes everything much more difficult. And I doubt that they have a roster of exactly who they have in their hands. So, that's also difficult.

PHILLIP: When it comes to the embedding of Hamas in the civilian population, which is what Israel says has already happened, when we think about a large-scale ground operation there, what happens to Palestinians who do want to flee? Where do they go?

FARKAS: Yes. I mean, it looks like there's not much option for them because the Egyptian border, to my knowledge, is not open. That would be the only way that they could leave.

PHILLIP: And this right here, this is that border with Egypt. All of this right here, this is Israel. So, they're not going there. This is fortified now.

FARKAS: They're not going there, and that's the sea.


FARKAS: So, yes, I mean, I think what we need to be looking for is, are there diplomatic efforts underway to try to create a relief valve? But, of course, you'd have to scream very carefully to make sure you're not letting some of the Hamas terrorists out with innocent civilians.

PHILLIP: And just real quick on the north here with Lebanon. We did not see any incursions from Lebanon today as feared. What would happen if that were to occur?

FARKAS: Yes. I mean, that would be obviously a two front situation for Israel in terms of military attacks. They have experienced that in the past. They have been relying, frankly, on Russia to kind of give them a guarantee that they will keep Hezbollah from attacking them in the north. Last time I was in the Golan area was a couple of years ago, and they talked about how they were relying on this Russian guarantee, which we don't know how long that will hold.

So, I think everyone is holding their breath with the northern border and also, frankly, the West Bank to make sure everything stays calm.

PHILLIP: Yes, all right. Evelyn Farkas, thank you very much.

FARKAS: Thank you, Abby.

PHILLIP: And tonight, a senior Hamas official is claiming that Saturday's surprise attack on Israel has been two years in the making, saying in part, we have been preparing for this for two years. We manufactured a lot. We have local factories for everything.

Let's go straight to CNN Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Matthew Chance. He is in Tel Aviv. Matthew, what did this official specifically claim?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think he gave us a pretty realistic picture of the time it took for Hamas to plan this highly sophisticated operation. He was speaking on Russian television. It's one of its Arabic language channels. And so that's how we've encountered this interview he gave to Russian television.

He said also that none of Hamas' allies or its supporters knew about the zero hour. They didn't know exactly what the timing would be for this operation to be launched. And that pretty much tallies with some of the sources that I've been speaking to here in Israel. One senior Israeli official told me earlier today that it believed that Iran green-lighted, effectively green-lighted the operation by Hamas, which killed so many Israelis.

Although the official said that he didn't believe and Israeli intelligence did not suggest that Iran knew the actual timing of the operation, nor what the consequences of it would really be, the horrific consequences. I don't think anybody really sort of like predicted that, not even Hamas. But they were aware, Iran was aware of the operation and of the plan before the operation took place. So, that's something significant.

And that puts a bit of light between what the Israelis are saying and what the U.S. is saying, which is that there's no, according to U.S. intelligence, no direct link at this moment that they've established between these attacks against Israel by Hamas and the regime and individuals inside Iran. But it's very early on in this crisis. And so we'll see how that develops.

Also, this Hamas official, again, speaking on Russian television, said that Russia was very supportive of Hamas. Now, obviously, we know that Russia has a relationship with the Palestinian militant group, as well as others in the region as well, but no Israeli officials that I've spoken to at least are drawing a direct connection between what happened here at the weekend and Russian involvement.


In fact, Russia's official position is that it supports a two-state solution. It's called on all sides to step away, basically, from a bloodshed.

That doesn't mean -- just to be very brief, that doesn't mean that this crisis doesn't play into the hands of Vladimir Putin and Russia. First of all, it distracts international attention, specifically U.S. attention, away from the conflict in Ukraine. And so that may result in, depending on how long this goes on for, a reduced supply of weapons to Ukraine. Certainly, that's something that Russians have spoken about publicly.

It also may push up oil prices. And of course, Russia is one of the biggest oil suppliers in the world, so that could benefit Putin's government economically as well, Abby.

PHILLIP: Yes, very interesting development, how intertwined this official seems to say that they are with Russia right now. Matthew Chance, thank you so much.

And up next for us, the first images out of the site of a massacre.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pictures, family photographs on the wall.


PHILLIP: CNN's Clarissa Ward went to the kibbutz where Hamas went door to door executing civilians, and she spoke to some of the survivors of that siege.


THOMAS HAND, LOST DAUGHTER IN HAMAS ATTACK: If you know anything about what they do to people in Gaza, that is worse than death.




PHILLIP: As retaliatory strikes are underway tonight over Gaza, we are only beginning to learn the horrors suffered by the residents of Be'eri, a kibbutz in southern Israel, that was one of the worst hit communities.

More than a hundred people there were killed, and officials expect to find even more victims as they search through the rubble.

CNN's Clarissa Ward was able to gain access to that kibbutz. And I want to warn you that the video that we are about to show you is violent and hard to watch.


WARD (voice over): It was 7:11 A.M. on Saturday morning when the militants arrived at Be'eri Kibbutz. Surveillance footage shows them lying in wait until a car arrives. They shoot the driver and entered the compound.

More poured in on motorcycles, eerily at ease and in no apparent hurry. Thomas Hand heard the gunshots and immediately thought of his eight-year-old daughter, Emily, who was staying with a neighbor.

HAND: She doesn't do it very often, but, unfortunately, that night, that particular night, the Friday night, she went to sleep at her friend's house.

WARD: For 12 hours, he says he was pinned down under heavy gunfire unable to reach his daughter, as Hamas went door to door, executing his neighbors.

HAND: I'm waiting. I'm thinking the army are going to be here soon. You know, just hold on a bit longer, and longer and longer.

WARD: By the time the military gained control of Be'eri, this is what remained of the once tranquil community. Late Wednesday afternoon, Israeli forces let journalists in for the first time after days of pitched battles.

MAJ. GEN. ITAI VERUV, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: I saw houses, soldier fight here and I fight here myself in the first hour, only to get inside to the kibbutz, only to come from apartment to apartment. It took a lot, a lot, a lot of time. And so --

WARD: Does that weigh on your conscience to know how long it took?

VERUV: You know, we have a very difficult question to ask ourselves. Now, we look forward to defend the people and to take the survivors out for it, and to switch ourselves from defense to offensive operation. I'm sure that we ask ourselves all the difficult question updates.

WARD: For now, there are more pressing questions. The bodies of more than 100 residents have been recovered. But the army says that many more are still missing.

You can see the amount of blood. This was a massacre.

And the full scale of the horrors that transpired here are just starting to come to light.

Pictures, family photographs on the wall.

Thomas waited two agonizing days before getting the news.

HAND: They just said, we found Emily. She's dead. And I went, yes. I went, yes. I smiled because that is the best news of the possibilities that I knew. That was the best possibility that I was hoping for. She was either dead or in Gaza.

And if you know anything about what they do to people in Gaza, that is worse than death. That is worse than death, the way they treat you. They'd have no food. They'd have no water. She'd be in a dark room filled with Christ knows how many people and terrified every minute, hour, day and possibly years to come. So, death was a blessing, an absolute blessing.

WARD: Clarissa Ward, CNN. Be'eri Kibbutz, Israel.


PHILLIP: I want to bring in now Ahal Besorai. His family was kidnapped in Be'eri by Hamas militants. That's the same kibbutz that Clarissa just showed moments ago. Ahal, thank you for joining us. I'm so sorry to hear about your family.

My understanding is that you don't know where they are. How did you learn that your sister and all of her family were missing and when did you last hear from them? [22:25:03]

AHAL BESORAI, FAMILY KIDNAPPED BY HAMAS FROM KIBBUTZ BE'ERI: So, before that, you know, just looking at these photos, Be'eri is my kibbutz. I was brought up there until I was 25. I was living there. My dad is still living there and my two sisters. So, just watching these videos again, it's heartbreaking, you know, it's really heartbreaking.

About my sister, I spoke to her when all this transpired, and then I lost touch with her at about 9:00. She was there with her husband and two children. One is 15, a boy and a girl with 13 just at her bar mitzvah in June.

And they have another son who is older, he's 17, he was not with them. And I spoke to him in the evening, and he said that someone on the kibbutz that I know as well personally hold them, saw them being pulled out of the house, you know, the haikid (ph) and the mamad, which is the safety room, and the terrorists burnt their house down, you know, to force them out of the mamad. And then someone -- when they came out, someone saw them being pulled out alive. So, you know, hope is a very good storyteller.

So, because with other stories, they shot them on sight, these ISIS- like terrorists, we hope, you know, maybe it was supposed to tell us that they're still alive and will be found and returned home safely.

PHILLIP: Hope is a very good storyteller. I think that really captures what you and so many other families are experiencing today.

You mentioned that this is your home, really, this kibbutz and your --


PHILLIP: I believe you heard in that story that father's voice, his pain. What were you thinking when you heard that?

BESORAI: I think it's heartbreaking, you know, that the father needs to say, Kaddish, which is the prayer to say for the dead, on your child, you know? But in the Israeli and Jewish history, this happens so many times. And every time, you know, it breaks your heart fresh.

You know, I know these people, I know probably everybody who is dead. You know, I was just there with my sons in April this year, visiting my sister. And it was the first time that my boys were a bit older, 25 and 23, really bonded with their cousins, you know, my sister's children, because before they were children, now they are young adults, so they can talk about football,

And, you know, it was so nice for me and for my sister and her husband to see, you know, this bond between the English boys and the Israeli boys, you know? And it's just heartbreaking, you know, that this is, you know, what's savagery, and, you know, you just try to comprehend it. You know, I think Biden termed it as a total lack of any more human morality, you know?

And, you know, you just try as a human being, as someone who has some sort of moral values, you know? I was in the military. But, you know, you don't kill children, you don't kill women, you don't kill old people, you don't kill civilians, you know? It's just incomprehensible, you know?

And, you know, I make a plea maybe to Hamas, to whoever can help, you know, to at least convince him to release the children and the women, you know? I think it's probably also against Islam to do something like this.

It's just very difficult. Also, I feel helpless. Normally, I go, I take action, I do things, you know. So, here I'm talking to the media and try to create awareness. But there's not much I can do more apart from crack.

PHILLIP: Do you ever think about going back? You've seen some -- you mentioned you were in the army. Does that ever cross your mind?

BESORAI: Yes. You know, I don't think I would like to live in Israel, not because of the country or the threat or this. I just found my home somewhere else. This is life, you know? It wasn't like a decision to leave Israel, et cetera. Israel is my home. If Israel needs me, I will go. If Israel needs me to fight, I will fight.

You know, I was a Navy SEAL, a combat fighter and an officer.

So, I know -- I served for five years. I know what to do. At the moment, I'm 60. I don't think I'm very useful in this sort of role but if it needs me, yes, I will go.


And you know, if something more sinister happens to my sister and a family -- if they are not alive and there is a funeral of course, I will go back. If my dad needs me, I will go back. If my little sister needs me, I will go back. So, there is no fear in my heart to go back to Israel. I just have to live somewhere else.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: Aha Besorai, thank you very much for joining us. And we continue to join with you in the hope that your sister and her family are alive and will return at some point. Thank you so much.

BESORAI: Thank you so much, Abby and thank you for being so kind and gentle and giving me this space. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

PHILLIP: Of course. And up next for us, one Republican senator calls this a religious war and is facing some criticism for that tonight. Plus, the ominous and cryptic warning from President Biden to Iran and the backlash intensifies over this war at institutions here at home, including some elite colleges and universities.


AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE, FORMER NBA ALL-STAR: All you politicians who always have something to say on the contrary, I see you --you. All you Black Lives Matter people who always have something to say and always support everything else and you're quiet now -- you, too. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


PHILLIP: We are continuing to watch the skies light up over Israel and Gaza tonight as the Israelis say that they are launching large-scale attacks at this moment. It's obvious now that religion has played a role in this decades-long conflict between the two sides of this. And Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is now making an outright declaration. Listen.


LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), SENATOR: We're in a religious war here. I am with Israel. Do whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourself. Level the place. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: Now tonight, Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is responding to Graham's description. She said, quote, declaring a holy war on national TV and calling to level a civilian population over two million is dangerous and insane. Someone please ask Republicans if they will condemn these repugnant remarks.

Joining me now is Dan Senor, a senior foreign policy advisor to President George W. Bush. He's also the co-author of a new book called "The Genius of Israel", and it comes out this November.

Dan, first of all, a true expert in this region and in all the things that have played out here for all this time. So, when you hear Lindsey Graham's comments, he's calling it a religious or a holy war. What goes through your mind?

DAN SENOR, FORMER POLICY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I don't think it's productive right now for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is some of the out -- most outspoken voices right now in Israel are Israeli Arabs showing solidarity with Israeli Jews against the threat from Hamas.

I got a text message the other day from a friend of mine who's an actor in Tel Aviv, Israeli Arab Muslim, who is just horrified about what's happening, a friend of his. Another Israeli Arab is one of the people who've been taken hostage.

There's a very prominent woman on one of the local Israeli television channels, Lucy Arash, who's Israeli Arab, who went on the air. And instead of speaking Hebrew or Arabic, she made a statement in English because she wanted the world to see and she wanted to send a message to Hamas to say, we stand with Israel. We stand with our fellow citizens in Israel when you're going to attack like this.

And so, I think the sense of Israel and the diversity of Israel is sometimes not enough of a spotlight is put on it. It's a diverse country that's showing incredible solidarity right now, and I just don't think this language is necessary.

PHILLIP: Yeah, and it seems to always play into Hamas' hands at this point. They want this to be seen as a religious war.

SENOR: Yeah. I mean, look, I think the country's united, and we're about to go through a very difficult time in the next few weeks. These past few days have been very difficult, and I just think that rhetoric.

PHILLIP: So, when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, he has vowed to, quote, crush and eliminate Hamas. A lot of people are saying that taking Hamas out of the picture is necessary, but the question I wonder is, what happens in Gaza next? Do you get the sense that the Israeli government has a plan or is prepared for --

SENOR: For when Hamas is gone?

PHILLIP: Yeah. Yeah.

SENOR: Not right now.


SENOR: All this happened very quickly, obviously. One could argue that the ground operations or the operations generally should have been ramped up sooner. I think Prime Minister Netanyahu was trying to form a national unity government, which he did today, he announced it today. So, he has his war cabinet in place, which is important to have leaders of other parties in the government, in the war cabinet, before they commit a major number of troops.

But look, I would go back to President Biden's speech yesterday, which was very powerful. And he compared Hamas to ISIS, repeatedly. Now, Hamas -- ISIS came on the scene in 2014 out of the wreckage of Syria and Iraq. And over three administrations, the Obama administration, the Trump administration, and the Biden administration, there was a systemic effort to not just degrade ISIS' capabilities, but to wipe ISIS out, including killing its senior leadership.

In no world would anyone ever imagine we'd say, well, we're going to fight with ISIS, but at the end of it, we'll keep some territory, and they can operate. Hopefully they won't be so as aggressive and we'll learn to continue to live with them. Of course not.

And so, when President Biden says Hamas is ISIS, the message is Hamas needs to be taken out. It needs to be wiped out. It cannot be responsible for running Gaza. And the military capabilities that it and its peer terrorist groups have, have to be wiped out.


Where you go after that is going to be a big challenge. It's a big challenge for Israel, and it's a big challenge for the region.

PHILLIP: And speaking of which, what's the role of the other Arab nations in this, as the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said his country is, quote, "making unremitting efforts to stop further escalation". Can they actually help? SENOR: Look, I think Egypt can help because it's on the other side of

the Gaza border. I think when the Israeli government is telling Palestinian civilians to get out of Gaza if they can because --

PHILLIP: That's where they have to go.

SENOR: I mean, I think Egypt should -- there should be pressure on Egypt to be welcoming them. I think in a post-war situation, some of these other countries like Saudi Arabia can help with developing Gaza, redeveloping Gaza maybe. And I think these countries could maybe play a role, although I'm not terribly optimistic, but they could play a role in trying to get some of the hostages out.

But ultimately, this is Israel's war with Hamas and I just think there's a limit to what most of those other countries can do other than just keeping quiet and staying out of it, if not expressing support like the United States has done, like so many of the European countries have done. for Israel needing to defend itself.

PHILLIP: All right, Dan Senor, thank you so much for joining us.

SENOR: Thanks.

PHILLIP: And up ahead, some Harvard students are under fire tonight after laying the blame for these attacks on Israel. I'll speak with a Jewish Harvard student about the uproar that that letter is causing. Plus, more breaking news tonight. There's a sudden twist in the Republican efforts to name a new speaker of the House here at home.



PHILLIP: Tonight, there is growing backlash to a letter signed by nearly three dozen student groups at Harvard, which solely blamed Israel for the deadly attacks by Hamas. Now, that letter accuses the Israeli government of being an apartheid regime that forces millions of Palestinians in Gaza to live in an open-air prison.

J.J. Kimche is a doctoral student in Jewish history at Harvard. He has an op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal" now titled, "Harvard Shrugs at Jew-Hatred". He's also the grandson of an Auschwitz survivor, and he joins me now.

J.J., that part of the statement, I think, is really what got so many people infuriated, that Israel bears sole responsibility. When you read that, what was your initial response?

J.J. KIMCHE, DOCTORAL STUDENT IN JEWISH HISTORY AT HARVARD: I think my response was the same as many other Jewish students, the shock, the horror, the absolute rage, because again, these are students with whom we share classrooms, dormitories, all sorts of campus spaces.

And until now, we have considered them to be colleagues, to consider them to be friends, even if we don't agree with them politically or don't agree with them on Israel-Palestine. And then we wake up in the morning after the events of last Saturday, which let's be clear, wasn't a mere atrocity. This was a small-scale Holocaust. The butchery, the savagery, the kidnapping, the rape, the sheer gleeful joy, and machine gunning whole Jewish families.

And we think surely every student, every teacher, no matter their political affiliation, should condemn this, should find this so horrific they can barely open their mouths. And what do we find? Fellow students at Harvard excusing this, justifying this, and on other campuses, as well, University of California, Berkeley, they were celebrating this.

They think this is a great idea, a great event. The fact that our fellow colleagues and students could think that, the fact that they would excuse the murder of our families and eventually us, as well. This, I don't think, makes the Harvard campus a safe place at the moment for Jews. Harvard must address this.

PHILLIP: The leadership of Harvard, the president, Claudine Gay. She put out a statement a couple of days later. You were not satisfied with that statement. Is it that you thought that it was not strongly condemning these student groups enough?

Firstly, yes. What she said was that these student groups do not speak for the university which was an extraordinarily weak way to put it. Doesn't speak for the university. You mean, accusing the atrocities -- sorry, exonerating the atrocities, excusing this small-scale Holocaust that doesn't speak for the university. That's the best you can do? It's extraordinary to me.

And I remember, I mean, you know, I was on the Harvard campus back in the horrible chapter of the killing of George Floyd. If even one group would have justified that, if even one group would have said, oh, this is a good thing, this is a good idea, we're behind it, all hell would have broken loose for good reason, right?

They would have been defunded, probably students expelled, definitely the president would have written something much more strong. And we Jewish students find 31 student groups excusing the mass murder of Jews, and the Harvard administration's response is, you know, weak at best. This is not acceptable.

PHILLIP: Several CEOs have publicly called on Harvard to release the names of the students who signed the letter. They want these students to be blacklisted for jobs and internships. What do you make of that? I think any student or certainly the leaders of any student group who have signed such a letter have proven two things.

Number one, they've proven a completely broken moral compass that they are willing to excuse and stand by the mass slaughter of Jews. And secondly, they've proven a completely deficient education, which is one of the main points here, is that Harvard should turn around and not just see this terrible, you know, outgrowth of hatred in their own campus.

They should ask themselves the question, what in our education has led to this? Why are students in our classrooms taking courses with our professors turning around and saying, oh, the mass slaughter of Jews, that's a price we should all be willing to pay to meet our political ends.

Any student who endorses that shows, again, not only a broken moral compass, but such a completely flawed and completely insufficient education on every level that I think it is perfectly legitimate for employers to think this is grounds for not hiring anyone.


No company should hire anyone who would be willing to do anything other than condemn this in the strongest possible terms.

PHILLIP: All right, J.J. Kimche, thank you very much for sharing that perspective.

KIMCHE: Thank you, very much.

PHILLIP: And as war rages in Israel, the wing of the American government that is supposed to decide funding for war zones is now still without a speaker. But a majority of the House Republicans, they are rejecting Donald Trump's preferred candidate for speaker.

That would be Jim Jordan. And they're opting for, instead, Congressman Steve Scalise. That said, 99 Republicans right now are not on board with Scalise. And he needs 217 votes in order to get the gavel, right now. He only has 110, leaving him significantly short. Now, keep in mind, both Scalise and Jordan have before refused to acknowledge that 2020 was a legitimate election.


CHRIS WALLACE, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY" ANCHOR: Do you think the election was stolen?

STEVE SCALISE (R), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: And it's not just deregulated, it's states that did not follow the laws set, which the constitution says they're supposed to follow.

JIM JORDAN (R-OH), HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: Think about it, the same people who are telling, who told us you could trust the Steele dossier are now telling us you can trust the results of this election.


PHILLIP: And with me now is CNN's Senior Political Analyst, John Avlon. John, if Scalise or Jordan becomes the speaker, I mean, in some level, this is actually just a continuation. You would potentially have an election denier in the highest office in the House.

To be fair, Kevin McCarthy was similarly questioning the results of the election, telling Donald Trump to fight, even when there was no evidence of fraud. What does this say about Republicans right now?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It says that the Republican Party still has a very muddied moral compass when it comes to basic facts about the next election. That said, I mean, Jim Jordan was someone who was, by all accounts, involved in Trump's attempt to overturn the election. Scalise is parroting that party line, I'm not excusing that, but he was less directly involved.

And the idea that, you know, that Jordan can somehow unite the conference or the Congress with trust among the Democratic side, as Nancy Mace said earlier today, is sort of self-evidently nonsense.

PHILLIP: Isn't it interesting, though, that Trump endorsed Jordan and it had no effect, it seems?

AVLON: That's extraordinary, because it is the first crack we're seeing in sort of the Trump's complete control of the Republican Party. And I think it's crucial that it occurred in a secret ballot. You know, still.

PHILLIP: That is crucial.

AVLON: Yeah, because that's, you know, it shows the power of the secret ballot. So, there is daylight between the majority of Republicans and Donald Trump's demands. That said, Scalise is far from sure to be able to cobble together the number he needs.

PHILLIP: Yeah, you mentioned Nancy Mace. She was on with Jake today. She said that she would not support Steve Scalise because he attended a white supremacist conference and compared himself to David Duke, okay?

But the interesting thing is that she took his endorsement, it seems gladly, as you can see there, in 2020. She also claimed that Jim Jordan has democratic support, which there is no evidence of. What do you make of that?

AVLON: That's just a laugh-out-loud line. I mean, look, Scalise's argument that he is making to his fellow Republicans is that there's a greater reservoir of trust, that he can accommodate. And I spoke to people on the Hill, Republicans on "The Hill" today, and they're saying that he's going to make an appeal individually to the holdouts, and he's going to draw this reservoir of trust that McCarthy did not have.

The idea that Jordan has a greater reservoir of trust to the extent it would reach out to Democrats is self-evidently nonsense. It's absurd. I mean, he is a hyper-partisan warrior to the extreme. That said, there still is the problem of math and hurting these cats. As you've noted, they've knocked out several speakers before Kevin McCarthy. That problem isn't going to go away.

PHILLIP: Yeah, I mean, neither of them are close. And, you know, I mean, I've talked to a lot of Democrats about Jim Jordan and Steve Scalise, and there's a big shrug among Democrats because they think that fundamentally it's all the same.

AVLON: Yeah.

PHILLIP: John Avlon, thank you for joining us. And up next, back to Israel, where large-scale attacks on Hamas are underway right now.



PHILLIP: I'm going to be honest, there are really no words to explain what I'm about to show you. A young Israeli woman, a mother of an infant, learning about the fate of her husband. She escaped as the militants attacked, but he disappeared. Here's what unfolded during a live interview on Sky News.


UNKNOWN: Listen, I feel like every minute counts right now. So, because he's either injured somewhere or either kidnapped, so every minute is like important.

UNKNOWN: Mom. Mom.

UNKNOWN: While we filmed, a phone call came. The news she dreaded. Yahav is dead. This is the horror of war. The family have allowed us to show this so that everyone understands what it is like.



PHILLIP: Your heart just -- it's like a rock in the pit of your stomach to watch something like that. And that's really, Laura, you know that so many families are experiencing that, this death toll keeps going up. And the number of missing keeps going up. And it's a story that I think so many of us don't understand, but people are living through this right now.

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: I mean and I, we both have children. We think about the emotions that are running. The hope that you have when you have a newborn to raise your child together with person that you love. And to have that news come in that way after what has happened, it is unimaginable. And that they were able to share that, really just underscores the cruel reality of what we're in now, Abby.

PHILLIP: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the brutality -- but there's also so much hope and I just want to end on that note for you to get started. There's a lot of hope still out there. So, we'll go. We'll end with that.

COATES: Abby, thank you so much.