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Israel's Nation-State Law Sparks Backlash; Interview With Bo Burnham On Anxiety Online And In Real Life. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 2, 2018 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program. Ahead, controversy in Israel. Does the new nation-state law change the character

of the Jewish state? I speak to Israeli Knesset members and Meretz Party head Tamar Zandberg.

And a story for our times. Anxiety online and in real life. Comedian and filmmaker Bo Burnham captures human angst in its purest form, focusing on

the life of a teenage girl in his new movie, "Eighth Grade."

Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

And we begin tonight in Israel where a controversial new nation-state law has drawn rare criticism from the influential Jewish Federations of North

America, saying that it is a step back for all minorities.

While in Israel itself, protests against the law, which was pushed through by the Netanyahu government in a stormy session of the Knesset, are planned

for this weekend.

Supporters of the new law say that it simply enshrines Israel as the national home of the Jewish people, but, as critics point out, it also says

the right to exercise national self-determination is unique to the Jewish people.

Israeli Arabs and left-wing MPs tore up the bill in protest after the vote.


AMANPOUR: In 1948, Israel's Declaration of Independence, which enshrined the country as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, promised "complete

social and political equality for all citizens" regardless of religion.

Indeed, Israel's founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion warned, the nation had to withdraw from the occupied territories after the Six Day War

or watch their young state descend into conflict between democracy and pluralism or identity.

Now, all these years later, the still occupied West Bank, the lack of a peace process, has proven Ben-Gurion's prophecy. And joining me to discuss

is Tamar Zandberg. She's a member of the Knesset and she's leader of the left-wing Meretz Party, which is petitioning Israel's High Court to

overturn the law.

And we had hoped to have a proponent of the bill here to debate the issue. We invited almost a dozen senior officials to appear on the program with

Tamar. None would do so.

So Ms. Zandberg, welcome to the program. Now, why are you petitioning the High Court? After all, as the proponents say, there's nothing out of the

ordinary in this bill? It simply enshrines the right of the Jewish people.

TAMAR ZANDBERG, CHAIRWOMAN, MERETZ PARTY: The right of the Jewish people to its own homeland after the tragedy of the Jewish people, really the

worst in human history, was promised in the Declaration of Independence that you quoted - very rightly - in your opening remarks.

We lived 70 years here under the premise of a Jewish homeland and, in the same time, a democracy that promises, first of all, equality to all its

citizens regardless of race, religion or gender, like the very beautifully written Declaration of Independence stated.

And now, 70 years later, when we are much stronger than we were when this Declaration of Independence was read by our first Prime Minister David Ben-

Gurion, the Netanyahu government, for the first time in the history, not only of the Israeli democracy, but also of any democracy in the world,

anchors inequality and discrimination in a constitutional law.

And I don't know if you know, but Israel does not have a constitution.


ZANDBERG: We have a series of basic laws, which together complete some kind of constitutional principles. And here, there, instead of equality,

they anchor discriminatory principles. And that is a shame not only to Israeli minorities like the Arab minority, that Druze minority that protest

against this law, LGBT, women, Jewish streams other than the ultra- orthodox, but also any Israeli that cares for equality and sees in it a basic principle of the democratic system.

AMANPOUR: So, Ms. Zandberg -

ZANDBERG: - that's now being broken by the Netanyahu government.

AMANPOUR: Let me play then to you what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said about this law as it was being pushed through the Knesset.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): This is a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the history of the State of


[14:05:06] We will keep ensuring civil rights in Israel's democracy. These rights will not be harmed, but the majority also has rights and the

majority decides. An absolute majority wants to ensure our state's Jewish character for generations to come.


AMANPOUR: So, he's kind of having his cake and eating it too, saying that, absolutely, civil rights will be enshrined, will be respected for all, and

yet the majority decides.

I mean, I guess, what I want to know is, where do you think you can go with this? Because it looks to be, according to polls, that a majority of

Israelis do believe that when it comes to choice between democracy and identity, these days, anyway, they're choosing identity. They're siding

with identity.

ZANDBERG: The mere founding principle of the Zionist movement that seeks to ensure the homeland for the Jewish people was that there is no

contradiction between identity and building the homeland for the Jewish people and between ensuring democracy and equality for all.

The majority decides is one principle of democracy. Other very important principles are also defense for minorities. This is what keeps us


And when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1948, it was signed in a wide consensus between ultra-orthodox and communists. Everybody

joined this beautiful text that defined our identity here till this day.

And today, Benjamin Netanyahu, unfortunately, together with his extreme conservative right-wing partners, signed some kind of a political deal

between themselves, defining their identity for all of us. And it's no wonder that a huge part of Israelis go out and protest, whether it's the

Druze minority, LGBT rights activists.

And many of us feel really hurt, insulted by this law that, in a way, we feel that intentionally this government was about to make it a point to

hurt minorities and to go against many rulings of the Supreme Court, for example, that, during the years, ensured equality and put it as a profound

principle of the Israeli democracy.

And this comes after some years of this government legislating a series of laws, starting from NGO law, boycott law, a series of laws threatened or

aimed to narrow the democratic space of Israel and stress the nationalistic character over the democratic one.

AMANPOUR: So, I want you just very briefly for viewers who may not fully understand the actual point because many of the supporters and many

analysts are saying, OK this is really about words and, as you say, potentially a political deal, a political ploy ahead of potential

elections. What will it actually change?

ZANDBERG: Well, actually, there are two main points here. One is the general spirit, even I would say, the atmosphere of this law, taking the

beautiful Declaration of Independence and replacing it with not a very eloquent, not a very elegant text that is supposed to be a constitutional

principle. Really, to the best part, unnecessary.

But the others are specific clauses in the law that truly hurt equality. One, for example, is the one ensures the supremacy of Jewish settlement, of

Jewish inhabitants over the equality and promising the same rights to everyone including minorities.

The other is, for example, downloading the status of the Arab language that used to be a formal language alongside with the Hebrew. And now, the

Hebrew - only Hebrew is being anchored as a formal language, actually pushing down in what is being seen as humiliation for the Arab minority in


It also hurts the Jewish pluralism, ensuring, for example, reform and conservative Jews that are a minority in Israel, but a majority in the

world Jewry, in the Jewish communities around the world that feel now less welcome here and many others.

AMANPOUR: So, let me quote to you your justice minister. She said in February of this year in a speech, she basically said, there are places

where the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state must be maintained, and this sometimes comes at the expense of equality.

So, it does actually look like she is agreeing with what you, the critic, is saying, although she's a proponent of this law.

[14:10:02] But let me ask you, for instance, to respond to some of your critics, people like the tourism minister, who has said in "The Times."

"Tell us honestly" - and he's talking about many other people, he's addressing actually the Labor Party - "do you contest the Jewish people's

right to the land of Israel? Is it not our nation state? Is its flag not acceptable to you? There's never been such rejection by the labor movement

of Zionist values."

What do you say to that? Because, obviously, I mean, I know you're not the Labour government, the Labour Party, but nonetheless.

ZANDBERG: Yes. I think that is a total misunderstanding. And I say that to the least - and I think this is also an intentional attack and attempt

of delegitimization of the liberal community in Israel, those who seek equality and see that is not contradictory to the principle of Jewish - a

national homeland.

And I think any one of us, living in a liberal democracy, whether that would be the US, France or any European or other country around the world,

know that our - the fact that we have national identity we are proud of is not in contradiction to our democracy and ensuring rights and equality also

to the minority.


ZANDBERG: And I think this is a true - a break in the principles of the Israeli democracy, shifting and drifting away from a liberal democracy to

being more like trends that we see around the world now, trying to be - to narrow the democratic space for other principles that are less - that would

like to see us less over democracy that ensure equality.

AMANPOUR: Well, it's interesting you say that because, actually, this law was pushed through on the very day that Viktor Orban was welcomed in Israel

by Prime Minister Netanyahu.

And he calls his own country, by his own admission, illiberal democracy. And there has been some ugly anti-Semitism in that country as well, with

the Soros law and all these other issues.

And I'm wondering if you can expand on whether you think, really, that Israel, which has stood as a beacon for democracy for all its history, is

at risk right now?

And particularly, one of the sponsors, Avi Dichter has said, this is also a response to Arabs, both Israeli citizens and those living in the West Bank

who believe that Israel would one day become a bi-national state of all its people.

ZANDBERG: First of all, I have to stress that I was among those rejected the Orban's visit and also the agreement between Prime Minister Netanyahu

and the prime minister of Poland actually giving legitimacy to pure anti- Semitism that Poland is trying to clear itself from the Nazi crimes.

And in the same time, twisting history, the way that Israelis truly cares about the history of the Holocaust and of our people in Europe.

I believe that both Avi Dichter and another - David Bitan, another senior member of Netanyahu's coalition, explicitly say that one of the goals of

this law, one of their aims is to stop, as they say, the spread of the non- Jewish inhabitants, the non-Jewish settlements in the Negev, one of the places in Israel where Jews and Arabs live together and practice mutual

life and coexistence. And these are Israeli citizens, being Jewish and non-Jewish. And this is a real danger vis-a-vis the Palestinian population

in the West Bank.

Surely, the way to ensure the sustainability of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is creating the two-state solution that we seek for so


AMANPOUR: All right.

ZANDBERG: Prime Minister Netanyahu unfortunately constantly refuses to implement.

AMANPOUR: And we will keep watching that. Tamar Zandberg, thank you so much, head of the Meretz Party.

And again, we did offer and we asked proponents of this bill to join us on the air tonight. None of them were prepared to do so.

Now, from fake news to data leaks, Facebook continues to dominate headlines. However, when it comes to teens, only 10 percent of them

actually use Facebook as their primary social media platform. Long ago, they migrated to Snapchat and Instagram and all the performance angst that


The new film, "Eighth Grade," by comedian-turned director Bo Burnham, paints a perceptive portrait of what it means to grow up online. Take a

look at this clip.



[14:15:00] UNIDENTIFED MALE: Kayla, one more week of eighth-grade.


UNIDENTIFED MALE: I said one more week of eight grade, right?





AMANPOUR: Well, Bo was among the first wave of social media teens. At 16, he was a digital guinea pig, posting comedy on YouTube and rising to fame

even before Justin Bieber.

Now, he's 27. His comedy career ranges from stand-up tours to TV specials and even poetry. All the while, he battles high anxiety. I asked him what

solutions his film could offer when he joined me from New York. Bo Burnham, welcome to the program.

BO BURNHAM, DIRECTOR AND WRITER, "EIGHTH GRADE": Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

AMANPOUR: So, you know what? It is odd to see and to talk about a film called "Eighth Grade" that you've made from the perspective of a 13-year

old girl. How did that come about?

BURNHAM: I just wanted to talk about how it was feeling at the time, which was nervous, and I was interested in the Internet and I watched hundreds of

videos of kids online talking about themselves of that age.

The boys talked about video games and the girls talked about their souls. So, it was like OK, it's going to be a girl probably. And also, I wanted

to make a story about - being young, it wasn't nostalgic, it wasn't a memory. And it being a girl, I couldn't project my own experience on to

her. I couldn't pretend like I knew what she was going through. I had to sort of walk her experience with her for the first time.

AMANPOUR: The theme of anxiety, obviously, runs through the whole thing. Maybe that's the whole point of this project. But tell me because,

obviously, Kayla, your subject, is anxious - and we'll get to that in a second - but extraordinarily you have revealed that you also have a huge

amount of anxiety despite your immense popularity, success and performing so visibly.

BURNHAM: Yes. I mean, it was just something I really struggled with in my career as a stand-up comic. I started having panic attacks on stage about

three years ago and had a dozen or so live in front of 2,000 to 3,000 people and it's a very surreal experience.

And it's experience I thought was unique to me in my circumstance. It wasn't until I talked about it on stage that I found that a lot of young

people shared my anxiety. And not only that, shared the source of my anxiety, which was feeling like you had to perform for an audience, even

though they weren't stand-up comedians.

I found that social media has sort of democratized this sort of stresses that they deal with celebrity. Now, everyone gets to feel like they're

their own publicists and they have their own brand and they have to market themselves and show themselves. And that's an anxious, strange, weird sort

of dissociative state to be in.

AMANPOUR: What is it like, what's the experience of having a panic attack, an anxiety attack on stage in front of all those people? What happens?

BURNHAM: Tunnel vision. You feel short of breath. You're also - for me, it's happening within the confines of my written show, which is written to

the word and to the beat. So, it's a strange sort of like groundhog's day stuck in a prison of my own making.

Yes, it's very, very surreal and strange. But I think panic attacks and anxiety make any situation strange. I just happen to be in an already

surreal situation on stage.

AMANPOUR: I'm going to play a little clip, which we've sort of put together to sort of link you and your 16-year old self to Kayla in the

film, her 13-year-old self.


BURNHAM: Hi, gang. Just woke up. So, I thought I'd serenade you with a song. It's about my life. It's something I need to come to realize.

KAYLA: Hey, guys, Kayla back here with another video. OK, so the topic of today's video is putting yourself out there.


AMANPOUR: So, putting yourself out there. I can see you grinning. What's making you laugh?

BURNHAM: Oh, I mean I was such a cringe little loser when I was 16 years old I mean. I didn't see the video, but I know what I looked like in that,

which is I think I had a Shakespeare in the Park t-shirt and a gold crucifix around my neck, which is vintage peak 2006 high school style.

AMANPOUR: Yes. But you know what? It was what it was. And so, are you -

BURNHAM: It continues to be what it continues to be.

AMANPOUR: Right, precisely.

BURNHAM: It's not going anywhere.

AMANPOUR: Well. But what about the youngsters of 13 and your age, all those years ago? Are they cringy teenagers? Is there something cringy

about being a teenager at any stage in life or is now particularly anxious- making and different because of exposing yourself, so to speak, on social media all the time?

BURNHAM: Yes. Well, it's just particularly visible. There's no way to not be visible. Everything is seen. Everything is permanent. And

cringing isn't necessarily bad. Cringing is just a sort of uncomfortable form of empathy.

[14:20:02] So, when you are cringing, it is because you're maybe feeling despite wanting to feel.

AMANPOUR: Well, what do you want people to take away from this film, from "Eighth Grade?" And is it a broader audience that you're looking at or are

you trying to commune and sympathize with those people feeling particularly anxious right now, that age.

BURNHAM: Yes. I mean, not even necessarily at that age. Again, I was writing a story to talk about what I was feeling, and I'm a 27 year old

man. So, it's really anyone that I think is hopefully looking at the current moment a little confused, which I hope is most people. I think

anyone who feels certain about the current cultural moment isn't looking at it hard enough or is lying to themselves.

I think there is way too much commentary on kids in the Internet and not enough just gathering of the raw emotional data. In 20 years, when 13 year

olds grow up to become social scientists, I'll be very curious to hear what they have to say about the Internet.

But until then it just feels like we need to just talk about what's happening from a subjective point of view. How does it actually feel to be

a kid in this moment without saying, oh, the Internet's bad or she should throw her phone into the ocean.

AMANPOUR: So, here's something you said, which was kind of a warning based on your own experience in your last live performance before you decided to

take a hiatus. This is what you said. We'll chat about it in a sec.


BURNHAM: You say it's like the me generation. It's not. The arrogance is taught or it was cultivated. Social media, it's just the markets' answer

to a generation that demanded to perform. So, with the markets that here perform everything to each other all the time for no reason. It's prison.

It's horrific. If you can live your life without an audience, you should do it.


AMANPOUR: And I really think that's profound because those of us who have children, even adults now - there's a new study came out in the UK, saying

most parents are guilty of being online all the time looking at their smartphones, not connecting with their children, affecting that sort of

attachment theory of childhood and personality.

So, I'm really fascinated by this necessity that you identified there, everybody performing all the time, likes, followers, that's their raison

d'etre and their self-validation.

BURNHAM: Yes, it's a bummer. I mean, again, it was because I had a very specific circumstance of being on stage, actually performing for thousands

of kids and feeling like my anxiety was linked to that.

And then, I would talk about that specific circumstance on stage - 14, 15- year-old kids would come up to me after or 23-year-old people would come out to me or 30-year old people would come up to me and say I feel exactly

like you do. I'm not a performer. I'm not - I don't do theater or acting or standup or any of that, but I feel those pressures in the same way you


And I was going what. And I just realized that that's sort of - that there's a performance culture that I think our need to want to express

ourselves, which was like the highest value given to my generation growing up, self express, express yourself, became the sort of currency with which

we navigated the world. And now, it's every moment. Every moment is only valid if it's expressed to people, if it is seen, if it is viewed.

And that's a bummer. That's not just arrogant. That's not just like, oh, this generation is so narcissistic. It's scarier than that. It's sadder

than that.

AMANPOUR: It seems that brains are rewired. And again, I've read many, many of the articles. "Are smartphones hijacking our minds?" I mean, from

that kind of article to then, of course, all the stuff we're reporting on right now, how Facebook and the others have the algorithms that direct you

places and they keep you sort of tied to the umbilical cord.

I'm just going to put up a couple of graphics that we've assembled just to show the massive percentage of people by age who are online and are using

social media. You've got 95 percent of 13 to 17-year-olds and then it goes on down; 88% of 18 to 29, et cetera, et cetera; and the least at 37

percent, 65 years and above.

Have you noticed, because in our introduction to you, you saw the clip that we use, which is Kayla with her earphones in her ears and her father is

trying to talk to her and there's just no connection. Do you feel that people are losing the ability to connect face to face and have real-life


BURNHAM: I think so in part. But the Internet isn't just this dissociative, dehumanizing thing. That's the truth, is that it is both

things. It makes us lonelier, but it also does legitimately connect us. It stimulates us and it numbs us. We can express ourselves or we can

objectify ourselves.

So, if the internet was just bad, it would be so much easier to address. The problem is it's given visibility to groups and led to social movements

we never would have had which is great and it's also set the world on fire.

[14:25:03] So, I don't know what - because there's a world in which a young kid on the Internet, yes, she's not connecting with her dad at that point,

but she has no one at school that has any interest in her and she's able to go online and find a little group of kids from maybe around the world that

she would never be able to find.

I just think it makes things more extreme. It lengthens the head and the tails of what's happening. So, it has potential to really, really isolate

us and hurt us and also has the potential to really connect us and bring us together.

And I don't know where it's going. I think I'm too far in it to know which way it's going to go or the other.

AMANPOUR: So, I just want - I'm curious about you because you started young in this sphere. You've now made this film from the grand old age of

27. And you are - you sort of stopped performing live. Do you think that you will find the peace of mind or the sort of equanimity to go back on


BURNHAM: My fear with my anxiety was - and I came to the realization that I had it very late in life was that, if I said it out loud, it became real.

If I were to speak it, that would make it true and then I would never get away from it. And it is the exact opposite.

So, speaking it and putting it into my work and exploring it in this movie has been the solution, if there's any solution. So, I feel better about my

anxiety than I ever have and I'm talking about it more than I ever have. So, I think those things are hugely correlated, though, for anyone that's

worried about it, speak it.

I think some people worry about certain mental problems that if they say them, they're making them concrete and inescapable, and it is the exact


AMANPOUR: Well, that's a great way to end this conversation. Bo Burnham, "Eighth Grade," thank you so much for joining us.

BURNHAM: I appreciate the time. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And a really unique way to think about all of this. That is it for our program. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.