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Week In Politics: New Zealand's Gun Reform And Developments In The Middle East


It is Friday, which means it's time for our Week In Politics segment. Today, we're going to look at two stories outside the U.S. that may have implications here at home. First, New Zealand. Less than a week after the attack on two mosques in Christchurch, the government enacts tough new gun laws.


PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: In short, every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned in this country.

CHANG: That's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand. And over here in the U.S., people were asking, how in the world did that happen so quickly? All right. That's one story we'll get to. And we will also get to developments in the Middle East. Here with us now are our Friday regulars, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times. Nice to see you guys again.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Great to be here.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Great to be here.

CHANG: So as we noted, we saw New Zealand banned military-style semi-automatic guns just a few days after the mass shooting that left 50 people dead. Were either of you surprised by how quickly this happened, the change in gun laws there? E.J.

DIONNE: Not really. I mean, Australia some years ago had a horrible attack, and a conservative government there put through some very tough gun measures. She has been very impressive here, first of all, in speaking out against racism and then in speaking so clearly on this issue. And it really raises questions of why we can't even act on simple things like extending background checks. The House passed a bill on background checks earlier this year, and immediately it was said, well, it has no chance in the Senate.

CHANG: Right.

DIONNE: We would need a very different approach to the gun debate. Voters sent a message in the election. The voters who voted on guns voted overwhelmingly Democratic. This is going to change, I think, eventually, but our system and the tilt toward rural states in the Senate makes it very hard to pass sane gun laws.

CHANG: David, were you surprised with the swiftness with which New Zealand acted?

BROOKS: Well, they've got a parliamentary system, and we don't.

CHANG: And it's unicameral.

DIONNE: Although the opposition supported it, too. I think that's really significant.

BROOKS: I used to think it was better to have our system because we have more checks and we don't go in for fads, but since our democratic system is completely dysfunctional now, I'm warming to the idea of a parliamentary system where the majority party can actually do something. I support these laws.

There's not a whole bunch of evidence to suggest it has tremendous effect on the murder rate, let alone mass murders, but gun control clearly has effect on suicide rates. If you control guns, do background checks on things like that, you can really reduce the number of men who commit suicide.

DIONNE: But semi-automatics and banning those, I think, has a material effect on mass shootings like the one that happened in New Zealand.

CHANG: I mean, is it helpful to even compare New Zealand with the U.S. - because there are really important differences between the two countries that explain why passing such laws here is just a lot harder. Not just the structure of our government, but we have the NRA, for one thing, the Second Amendment.

BROOKS: It's not about guns anymore. It's a culture issue. And the - we can't actually talk about the specifics because a lot of people hear gun control and they think it's a bunch of coastal snobs looking down on their lifestyle.

DIONNE: Although I think that's what has been changing. And I think the students from Sandy Hook really made a difference in the national debate where people said, no, this is not about culture. This is about stopping mass shootings. And so I have hope for the long term, but I'm afraid our long term is going to be far in advance.

CHANG: I mean, nothing happened after Sandy Hook.

BROOKS: Yeah. It has to be...

DIONNE: No. But the organization happened, and the change in the politics happened in the electorate.

BROOKS: Right. With all respect to Mike Bloomberg, it can't be a movement led by him. They have to find red state figures to say this is not about our lifestyle. This is about saving lives. And the various activists have not done that so far.

CHANG: OK. I want to turn to Israel now. President Trump announced on Twitter yesterday that it's time for the U.S. to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Once again, he's breaking the previous administration's policy towards Israel. What is the real-world impact of this announcement on the Golan Heights? David.

BROOKS: Not so much. I mean, if you go up to the Golan Heights, it feels like Israel. It looks like Israel. And so I think it's the right policy. I mean, there was always going to remain Israel. Syria's barely a country anymore. And the idea of conceding something to the Assad regime seems completely foolish. So to me, this is just calling a thing by its true fact.

What I mind is that if we're giving a concession to Netanyahu and to Israel, we should get something in return. It's the same thing as when we moved the embassy to Jerusalem. We're constantly giving chits, and we're not getting something in return, especially on the settlements. And so a clever president would say, OK, we'll give you this recognition of the Golan, which is only reality, but we want something in return - and Trump doesn't do that.


DIONNE: This is a blatant effort to - yeah - influence the Israeli election. Republican and Democratic presidents have not done this in the past for the very reason David said, which is it was seen as something that should be part of a larger negotiation. The situation on the ground won't change.

But there is an election coming up in Israel on April 9. Netanyahu - Bibi Netanyahu, the prime minister, is running behind. The last polls showed him narrowly but, you know, with some distance behind a ticket of Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, who's the leader of a centrist party.

CHANG: And you see Trump's announcement as very much trying to help to boost Netanyahu?

DIONNE: That's what most Israelis think, and that's what an awful lot of most people who follow Israeli politics here think. And so will it help? It's not clear. It may simply strengthen the hold that Netanyahu has over some of his voters. But he has been - Netanyahu has embraced Trump, is arguing in the election that his close relationship with Trump is good for Israel. And Trump is doing this to reinforce that message.

CHANG: Now, Netanyahu is going to be here in D.C. on Monday for the AIPAC Conference, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a very powerful lobbying group. Many Democrats will be there, but several of the top Democratic presidential candidates will not. And this is what President Trump said to reporters today on the White House lawn about that.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I don't know what's happened to them, but they are totally anti-Israel. Frankly, I think they're anti-Jewish.

CHANG: Just a couple things here. President Trump will not be going to AIPAC either. But, David, I'm curious. You know, this isn't the first time he's expressed a similar sentiment. Do you think Trump's message is gaining traction with Jewish voters?

BROOKS: No, not at all. Saying something is anti-Jewish is essentially calling someone a racist. And to throw that around lightly is just - it ruins the national conversation. The deeper issue here is the American Jewish Committee is fragmenting. And so AIPAC used to really represent a broad swath of the American Jewish community. Now it's a more conservative swath - Democratic, but still conservative.

American Jews are now much more separated from Israeli Jews on a whole bunch of issues. These are not about being pro and anti-Israel these are having policy differences about how Israel should survive. And the Democratic Party's clearly moving away from where the Israeli mainstream is as the Democratic Party moves left.


DIONNE: I would just put it a little differently in that I would say that the Democratic Party has real differences with Mr. Netanyahu and that those differences were really sharpened when Netanyahu spoke to Congress at the invitation of Republicans to attack President Obama's Iran deal.

As for President Trump calling the Democrats anti-Jewish, his last campaign ad attacked a global power structure responsible for economic decisions that have robbed our ruling class, and it flashed images of prominent Jews. He has a lot of nerve calling someone else anti-Jewish.

CHANG: All right. That's E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times. Thank you both so much.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this segment, E.J. Dionne incorrectly refers to Sandy Hook students. He meant to say Parkland students.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: March 22, 2019 at 12:00 AM EDT
In this segment, E.J. Dionne incorrectly refers to Sandy Hook students. He meant to say Parkland students.