Emergency and security personnel inspect the site of strikes that hit a building annexed to the Iranian embassy in Syria’s capital Damascus, on April 1, 2024. (Photo by LOUAI BESHARA / AFP via Getty Images)

Iran Vows Revenge. J.K. Rowling Says, ‘Arrest Me.’ Plus. . .

A tragedy in Gaza. RFK voters sound off. Ten stories we’re tracking. And much more.

Olly here, back from a week of vacation with my young family. Or at least, I thought it would be that. You may not know that I’m from the UK—a civilized place where we are granted humane working hours and generous vacation. At The Free Press, taking a week off made me “lazy” and “unprofessional”—at least according to Suzy Weiss. My thanks to Suzy for gifting our readers gems such as TamponGate. Now the adult is back in the room.

Today from The Free Press: the World Central Kitchen tragedy in Gaza, J.K. Rowling’s free-speech stand in Scotland, The New Yorker smears Jonathan Haidt, and much more. But first, our lead story.

Israeli jets hit part of the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus on Monday, killing three Iranian generals, four other military personnel, and six Syrian nationals, according to Iranian state media. The strike was described in Israel as the most significant assassination of an Iranian military leader since the killing of Qasem Soleimani by the U.S. in January 2020. Among the dead was Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who oversaw Iran’s proxy forces in Syria and Lebanon. 

Yesterday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed revenge. Israel would “regret their crime,” he said.

The strike was a reminder that Israel is in a war that stretches far beyond its own borders. Today in The Free Press, Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh explain why—Monday’s strike notwithstanding—Iran is winning that war.

Palestinians standing next to a vehicle in Deir al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, on April 2, 2024, where employees from the World Central Kitchen were killed in an Israeli airstrike. (Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A Tragedy in Gaza 

Israeli drone strikes in central Gaza on Monday night killed seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit run by the Washington, D.C.–based chef José Andrés, which rushes onto the scene of conflict and natural disasters to provide food. WCK says Australian, Polish, and British nationals as well as an American-Canadian dual citizen were among the victims.

Israel admitted responsibility on Tuesday. 

“Unfortunately in the past day there was a tragic event in which our forces unintentionally harmed noncombatants in the Gaza Strip,” said Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahi in a video statement. He confirmed that Israel was investigating the incident. 

White House spokesman John Kirby said the Biden administration was “outraged” by the attack. 

World Central Kitchen CEO Erin Gore called the strike “not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organizations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war.”

“We are sorry,” said IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi late Tuesday, calling the incident a “mistake that followed a misidentification—at night during a war in very complex conditions.” 

As well as being a tragic loss of civilian life, the incident is a major blow to the distribution of food in Gaza. Israel had been working more closely with WCK as a far better means of aid distribution than UNRWA. Now, WCK has paused its operations in the region. 

It is also a PR disaster for Israel at a crucial juncture in its war with Hamas, which will soon enter its seventh month. 

To help make sense of the incident, I called up historian and former Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren.

Israel, he said, is “facing a military challenge unlike any ever faced by a modern army” in Gaza. “That is not to excuse what happened, but help explain it,” he said. “And the people responsible for this will have to explain how it happened.”

Oren lamented a failure of Israel to control the narrative. “We’re not doing nearly enough to explain the reality of Gaza to the world and the challenges Israel faces,” he said, referring to the nightmarish task of trying to eliminate a hostile force that hides among a civilian population. 

“Every bombing operation by the Israeli Air Force goes through a very lengthy approval process. Things can go wrong in intense combat, but it is anything but indiscriminate. Quite the opposite. It is intensely supervised, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t mistakes; we’re dealing with human beings.  

“In a war mistakes happen,” continues Oren. To illustrate the point, he notes a friendly fire incident he witnessed 40 years ago. “In 1982 I watched a squadron of Israeli phantom jets, in broad daylight, bomb a column of Israeli paratroopers, killing twenty-five. In broad daylight. And all the vehicles were marked. And I think about not only the families of the twenty-five but I think about the pilots who did that. Because they have to live with that.” 

Oren said there is “nothing in terms of Israel’s interests, in terms of our essential security interests, that is in any way remotely enhanced by this incident. On the contrary, it is greatly impaired by this. It increases the pressure on us to agree to a cease-fire. It increases pressure on the Biden administration to come down harder on Israel.” 

He added: “We need to take responsibility for our mistakes, but we can’t take responsibility for the war. This is Hamas’s war.” 

Ten Stories We’re Reading 

  1. A Texas man has contracted a “highly pathogenic” bird flu from a cow, according to the CDC. I don’t know about you guys, but I get the sense we’ve really learned our lesson from Covid and are ready to crush our response to the next pandemic. (The Hill

  2. The truth about Bidenomics. Matthew Yglesias wants you to stop exaggerating—in either direction—about the state of the economy. (Slow Boring

  3. Why the border will be a deciding factor in November. A detailed look at the politics of immigration. (Did we mention we have a debate on exactly this next week in Dallas? Buy your tickets here.) (Bloomberg

  4. Trump’s small-dollar donations are way down. The Donald raised $51 million from small donors last year, a huge drop from the $119 million he raised in 2019. (Washington Post)

  5. Is corporate America moving on from DEI? Mentions of “DEI” in quarterly earnings calls peaked at more than 300 in the second quarter of 2021. The term was mentioned just 74 times in calls in the first quarter of 2024. (Axios)  

  6. Latin America’s leaders really don’t like each other, and are calling each other names. Argentine president Javier Millei says that supporters of his Mexican counterpart AMLO are in the “small-penises club.” (WSJ)

  7. A group of Republican lawmakers are pushing to rename Washington, D.C.’s Dulles airport after Donald Trump. Naming airports after the most recent president of whichever party has a majority on the Hill seems like the logical next step for our polarized politics, and I look forward to flying from DJT to Joe Biden International. (CBS

  8. “There’s something happening in the brain that makes no sense.” New research suggests the line between life and death is fuzzier than we thought. (The Guardian)

  9. Don’t fall for the air fryer hoax. The hottest kitchen appliance in America is little more than a tiny oven. (Quartz

  10. Minor league baseball team the St. Paul Saints are sticking with the new name for their live pig mascot, Ozempig, amid accusations of “fat shaming.” (AP)

Here’s Ben Kawaller with the latest installment of his new Free Press series: Ben Meets America! 

RFK Jr.’s Supporters Made Me Doubt the Truth

Last week I was in Oakland, California, where the independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. officially announced his running mate, the lawyer and technologist Nicole Shanahan.

RFK Jr., as I’m sure you’ve heard, is a man who believes our institutions have been utterly corrupted by corporate influence, and that he is the only candidate who can return us to an America governed by and for the people. Perhaps in confirmation of his central thesis, mainstream media has dismissed him as a conspiracy theorist, largely due to his anti-vax views.

I was interested in why Kennedy’s followers find him trustworthy in the face of so many naysayers. The answer, of course, was that they had no faith in the naysayers. Corporations “own the media,” after all. I suspect their cynicism also stems from the politicization of scientific reporting on topics from Covid to youth gender medicine.

When you lose faith in authority, what do you rely on for the truth? In covering RFK Jr.’s supporters, I had to confront my own belief system, which is based not on personal research into every empirical question, but on a mix of accepted wisdom and an animal instinct for whoever seems right. If I were better, I would delve deeply into the literature on, say, the supposed link between vaccines and autism, so that I could not only confidently report that such an idea has been debunked by The Science, but be able to defend that assertion in detail.

All of which is to say, I came away from my day with RFK’s true believers with more questions than answers. I didn’t know whether to envy their certainty or to lament it.

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Also On Our Radar:

→ J.K. Rowling takes a free-speech stand: On Monday, new hate speech legislation went into effect in Scotland that criminalizes “stirring up hatred” against a series of “protected characteristics,” including race, age, religion, disability, and “transgender identity.” People found guilty under the Hate Crime Act face up to seven years in jail. The legislation is, in short, a free-speech travesty. On the morning the law came into effect, Scotland’s “minister for victims and community safety” admitted in an interview that misgendering a trans person could lead to a police investigation.   

Enter J.K. Rowling, the most famous person living in Scotland. As readers of The Free Press know, critics have accused Rowling of hate speech because she says trans women are male and women have a right to female-only spaces. On Monday, the day the law came into effect, the Harry Potter author posted a dare on X. In it, she named 10 transgender women, called them all men, and said: “If what I’ve written here qualifies as an offense under the terms of the new act, I look forward to being arrested.” 

Afterward, the Scottish police said that Rowling’s posts were not being “treated as criminal.” Reacting to the police’s decision, the author said she “hope[d] every woman in Scotland who wishes to speak up for the reality and importance of biological sex will be reassured by this announcement, and I trust that all women—irrespective of profile or financial means—will be treated equally under the law,” and “If they go after any woman for simply calling a man a man, I’ll repeat that woman’s words and they can charge us both at once.” 

→ Anatomy of a smear: If you are alive and have an internet connection we’re pretty confident you’ve heard of Jonathan Haidt’s important new book, The Anxious Generation. (If you haven’t heard him on Honestly, listen here.)

Most of that coverage has been glowing. The same cannot be said of a review of the book published in The New Yorker, in which Jessica Winter, an editor at the magazine, writes that Jonathan “has been beset by a troubling fixation on the heritability of IQ—a contention widely dismissed as scientific racism—and the purported accuracy of stereotypes.” 

To anyone remotely familiar with Jonathan’s work, this idea is laughable. As Jesse Singal notes, the claim is just flat-out wrong. It is either written by someone who has no idea what they are talking about, or someone who set out to smear Jonathan. Or both. That it made it past the magazine’s vaunted fact-checkers speaks volumes about The New Yorker’s decline. 

I reached out to Jonathan, who had this to say about the line: 

As a social psychologist studying morality, I have long been interested in taboos and taboo violations. My dissertation in 1992 was a study of cultural variation in reactions to harmless taboo violations. Over the following decades I noticed that we had some taboos in psychology, and in the academy more broadly.

On several occasions since 1992 I have given talks about these taboos. But they are so powerful that just mentioning them and showing the taboos on both sides is enough to bring down the ire of the taboo enforcers. That, I believe, is why my several mentions of taboos in the social sciences over the course of a 30-year career in which I have said tens of thousands of things is said to be “a troubling fixation on the heritability of IQ.” That is a rather low bar for a “fixation,” and it is a misunderstanding of who I am and what I do. 

→ Abortion is on the ballot in Florida: The Florida Supreme Court issued two abortion-related decisions this week. In one, it ruled that privacy protections in the state constitution do not extend to abortion, giving the green light to the six-week abortion ban (with exceptions) that was signed into law last year. In the other, the court approved a ballot measure for November that would enshrine a right to abortion until viability in the state if it wins the approval of 60 percent of voters. 

This double whammy has some Democrats wondering whether the state might be back in play come November. Florida has grown redder over the last few cycles, but the Biden campaign is all-in on the power of abortion to energize its voters. The combination of a restrictive new law and the chance to do something about it in November is a perfect storm for Republicans worried that abortion is a losing issue for their party. And it is a big part of the reason the Biden campaign has leaked a memo in which they describe Florida as “winnable” this cycle. For a taste of what the Democratic messaging in Florida will look like, here’s a new ad from the Biden campaign focused on abortion: 

In other Florida news, Nate Silver reports that, contrary to claims of an exodus, Americans really, really like the Sunshine State. 

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman.

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