What Happened Today: March 14, 2023
DeSantis takes stance on Ukraine; Puerto Rico takes down Israel, in baseball; EPA cracks down on forever chemicals in your water
The Big Story
Describing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “as a territorial dispute,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement broadcast on Tucker Carlson’s show on Monday night that “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not [a vital national interest].” The sharp critique of President Biden’s foreign policy puts DeSantis, a likely frontrunner for the 2024 GOP nomination, in close alignment with Carlson himself, who’s been one of the most outspoken opponents of U.S. support for Ukraine. It also serves as a break with many of the leading GOP candidates and top Republican lawmakers, Republican Senator and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and former Vice President Mike Pence included, who’ve said Biden should more aggressively back Ukraine.
DeSantis putting daylight between himself and the rest of the field of potential GOP candidates moves him closer to the antiwar position staked out by frontrunner Donald Trump, who’s been aggressively arguing for a peace deal while out on the campaign trail. At a rally in Iowa on Monday, Trump won the crowd with commentary on culture war issues like transgender rules in sports and critical race theory in schools but his jabs against DeSantis fell flat. The tepid response could point toward a weariness of interparty squabbles among the Republican base, or signal the power of Carlson’s influence—as the Fox host has pointedly kept Trump off his program while making DeSantis a regular presence.
In The Back Pages: How Can Jews Support Ukraine After the Holocaust?
→ An unmanned American military drone crashed into the Black Sea after a collision with Russian fighter jets on Tuesday. “Several times before the collision, the [Russian jets] dumped fuel on and flew in front of the [drone] in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner,” U.S. European Command wrote in a statement. The episode was the most recent incident in what EUCOM described as “a pattern of dangerous actions by Russian pilots while interacting with U.S. and Allied aircraft over international airspace.”
→ Quote of the Day:
To see this debate go to the dark places, the dark edges, where it has gone on both sides of the aisle, has been deeply disturbing.
That’s from Nancy Mace, a Republican in the South Carolina House, reacting to a new bill, which would change the state’s criminal code to make women who have an abortion eligible for the death penalty. The South Carolina Prenatal Equal Protection Act, which would notably lack exceptions for rape or incest, has so far received endorsements from 21 of Mace’s Republican colleagues. Given the difficulty South Carolina has had in obtaining chemicals for lethal injections, a woman sentenced to death for an abortion would either die by firing squad or electric chair.
→ Though the five teams in World Baseball Classic Pool D each enjoy something like a home field advantage playing this month in Miami, on Monday night Puerto Rico’s edge was just a bit sharper than Israel’s after Puerto Rico’s four pitchers combined to throw a perfect game in a 10-0 rout that ended after eight innings because of the league’s 10-run mercy rule. Israel will be the underdog on Tuesday night against the Dominican Republic as it hopes to build upon its 1-1 record to advance into the second round of the Classic.
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→ The Biden administration’s rescue of the collapsed Silicon Valley Bank has rallied crypto prices, with Bitcoin and Ethereum surging by 20% or so compared to prices on Friday. Both SVB and the other failed bank saved by the government, Silvergate, were popular with companies in the crypto space, which otherwise has been pummeled with criticism and threats of regulation from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. “They didn’t intend to bail out crypto,” Ram Ahluwalia, chief executive of Lumida Wealth Management told the Financial Times, but “the Fed and others have indirectly helped to avert yet another crypto crisis.”
→ Mark Zuckerberg has declared 2023 the “year of efficiency,” though it might just mean 12 months of slashing the headcount at Meta’s Facebook and Instagram operations, after Zuckerberg said on Tuesday that 10,000 workers would be laid off and 5,000 open positions withdrawn at the company. Combined with layoffs at the tail end of last year, the total reduction amounts to about a quarter of the entire company, a trend that’s spread out over the entire tech sector where, according to the latest Layoffs.fyi figures, 483 tech companies have fired 128,200 employees in the first quarter of 2023 alone.
→ Thread of the Day:
Pointing to the grand downsizing across the tech sector, Cooper Lund notes here that “Silicon Valley’s problem is, in large part, that they’ve stopped fixing the average person’s problems.” Innovation has slowed as tech has broadly integrated itself into mainstream legacy institutions, Lund argues, which has left consumers cold toward Web 3, virtual reality, crypto, NFTs, 3D printing, and other marquee Silicon Valley initiatives.
→ Britain’s universities can boast some of the world’s leading scientists and their grade schools have increased the number of students who move into higher education, yet fewer than a fifth of all 25- to 64-year-olds in the U.K. have any formal vocational training. That rate lags far behind other rich economies like Germany, where the number is closer to a half. The skills shortage among working-age Brits has become a rallying cry for lawmakers to increase training opportunities as companies report a record breaking number of vacancies. British industry groups say existing government efforts need to widen the number of apprenticeship programs offered and upgrade them to be more aligned with the high-tech demands of the economy; without any changes, they say, 9 out of every 10 workers will need to be retrained within the next decade.
→ Antitrust regulators will now be digging into Pfizer’s offer to buy top tier cancer drug maker Seagen for $43 billion, the largest deal in the pharmaceutical sector since 2019. Though flush with revenue selling its COVID-19 vaccine and medications, Pfizer will soon see patent protections expire on several of its marquee drugs, which has prompted the pharma giant to aggressively expand its cancer drug program. In the coming years, Seagen’s library of pioneering tumor treatment medications could account for a sizable chunk of the $375 billion market for cancer treatment drugs worldwide.
→ Water utilities will be legally required to remove so-called forever chemicals from drinking water after the Environmental Protection Agency said on Tuesday that perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl could be dangerous to humans at levels “much lower than previously understood,” citing an EPA study from last year. Part of the class of chemicals known as PFAS, the synthetic chemicals are described as forever because they cannot break down and have become so prevalent they’re now detected in the bloodstream of most Americans. The rule would go into effect later this year, though some critics say it will create an unfair burden without government aid in rural areas where resources to overhaul water infrastructure is limited.
TODAY IN TABLET:
Israel’s Tech Resistance Took Their Money, and Put It Where? by Liel Leibovitz
In SVB, of course
Call Me by My Grandfather’s Name by Jamie Betesh Carter
Esther Levy-Chehebar explains Sephardic traditions around names in her new children’s book
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How Can Jews Support Ukraine After the Holocaust?
An exchange between Bernard-Henri Lévy and Natan Sharansky, from the recent Tablet event in partnership with the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine
Questioner: I know there’s a lot of sympathy for the Ukrainians right now —there’s the country that’s been invaded, with innocent children and the women. But as a child of Holocaust survivors, a lot of people that I speak to can’t dredge up much sympathy for the Ukrainians and how they were chewing gum as they shot us in the mass graves at Babi Yar.
Natan Sharansky: Thank you for saying it because it was just a topic that I wanted to raise and there was no time. There’s so many people who died in the Holocaust in my family, and I am the chairman of the Babi Yar Memorial. I’m dealing all the time with the victims. And I hear all the time from very good people and some of my close friends that they have sympathy to the suffering of every child. But they cannot make themselves feel solidarity with Ukraine as a state or Ukrainians as a nation knowing what a terrible history there was there, first with the Chelminitsky pogroms, which were terrible, and of course with the Holocaust. And I can tell you my answer.
First of all, antisemitism is not something which was specific for Ukraine or any other land. Antisemitism is the most ancient hatred, which rises regularly whenever people need to hate the other.
So even if you think about some nice places in the Alps in Switzerland, remember that the whole Jewish community were burnt alive in order to avoid plague there. And if you enjoy traveling to Spain, the thing that you see is Ferdinand and Isabella, big heroes of today’s history of Spain, who exiled half of the Jewish people. Or think about Provence, a great place, I enjoy it there very much. Only think of what Crusaders did there, the terrible massacres of entire Jewish populations.
So if we Jews will start building our relationship with the world on the basis of what they did to us, we should move to another planet.
Second, our sages are giving very good advice. I am not a rabbi, but I was advised to read this comment of Rashi on the chapter when Hagar and Ishmael are sent to the desert, and Ishmael almost dies from thirst. He has no water.
And then God says to Hagar, “Don’t be afraid. I’ll help your son as he is,” and he helps Ishmael. And then the comments of our sages is that the angels of the heavens revolt and said, “Ah, you’re helping him? Don’t you know how many awful things his people will do to our people?” And God says to them, “Now at this moment, is a child innocent or guilty?” And they say “innocent.” So I’ll judge everybody in his time and that’s our way. It means that we have to deal with the people at this time.
The people of Ukraine at this time, not only, as Bernard said, by the way, have the lowest level of neo-Nazis in Europe. You have to understand that when these neo-Nazis that Putin speaks about so much, when they tried to go to election, they didn’t get 1%. They didn’t get one-tenth of 1% of the vote.
And think about many countries in Europe where it is different. And of course half of the Ukrainian government is Jewish, and openly Jewish. And Zelensky is not only speaking about his Jewishness, but about his deep love for Israel. And they were all elected in free elections.
And above and beyond all this, it so happened that God, providence, history, has put Ukraine and its people in the unique position of being defenders of the free world. So let’s judge Ukraine in this time, as God told us.
Questioner: I agree totally that we have to close an eye about the past of Ukraine, because today what is very important is freedom and democracy.
Bernard-Henri Lévy: No, no, no. That’s not enough. Of course, the questions of democracy and freedom are important. But if the Ukrainians were still the antisemites of the past, which they would have been if they did not have done the work of memory, of mourning and of sorrow, which they did do, I would certainly not support them as much as I do. One of the reasons why I support them with all my heart is because they did the work. Because they looked in front of their past. They considered the crimes of their grandfathers or fathers. They decided though difficult and painful as it is, to look at them in the eyes and to do the work that ensures that such crimes will not to be repeated.
I had the honor to be there to represent my country the day of the inauguration of the Babi Yar Memorial. I’m not a fan of the way the Babi Yar Memorial is conceived and built, but there is a memorial, and I was there. It was the day before the burial of the late President of Israel Shimon Peres. There were the president of Germany, the president of Israel, the president of Poland, President of the EU Donald Tusk, and a few others. And I was representing my president, of France. I was there for a few days before, and I interviewed the leaders of the Jewish communities, the leaders of the parties, people of the civil society, and so on, and so on, and then I delivered a speech there in the name of myself and of my country. You can find it on YouTube.
And what I said, and what I really believed is that there are few examples of a nation doing so thoroughly and so quickly the deep work of digging in the darkest depths of its own crimes, and putting them into light, and doing the job necessary so as not to repeat them. This is Ukraine today. This is Babi Yar.
Another thing which goes in the same sense. I was on the Maidan, the central square in Kyiv, in 2014, during the Revolution of Dignity, the great popular uprising. And as in all popular uprisings, people say exactly what they want. There is an absolute freedom of speech. I spoke twice on the Maidan, once in February, another time in March. And I spent a reasonable amount of time there. I saw and I heard what people were saying, and I tried to read the graffiti which were written on the walls. And as I expected, every wise thing could be read on the walls, like in May ’68 in France. Great slogans, great popular imaginations—and huge stupidities were written as well, of course. As in all moments of complete freedom, everything is said.
I observed a very strange thing. The only stupidity which I did not hear, the only stupid or crazy or mad slogan which I did not read on the walls, was antisemitic slogans. In these moments, February, March of absolute freedom, where the freedom of expression was total, the only free expression which did not pop out was the antisemitic one.
This was very strange. Maybe such slogans were written after I left, maybe they were there before I came. But I can tell you that during these two months, all craziness except this one were all present, and all wise courageous words also. And among the craziness, this one was not heard. And as a result, as Natan just said, when the extreme right and antisemitic parties run for election, they have the lowest levels of approbation and votes in the polls of all Eastern and Central Europe, and much less than in France. The extreme right-wing party is 15 times weaker in Ukraine than it is France, to our shame.
On the opposite side, if you look at Russia—I’m sorry, but it‘s a fact—this work which is half done, maybe three quarters done by Ukraine, is barely touched. They are very far from understanding of their own criminal past. They are very far away on the road. Since 1989 and ’91 Russia did not even start understanding her own past. The work is not even on the way.
By the way, last point, I don’t know if it is well known here, when the Russians say that the Red Army liberated, or contributed to the liberation of Europe from Nazism, it is true. But what they never say is that inside the Red Army you had all components of the Soviet Union, including Ukrainians, of course. Those who liberated the camp of Auschwitz were the First Ukrainian Front, which was not only composed of Ukrainians, but a majority of whom were Ukrainians.
And the soldier who had the terrible dark privilege to enter first into Auschwitz, to first look into what was left of the eyes of the detainees of Auschwitz, was a Ukrainian Jew called Anatoliy Shapiro, I think. He was a tankist, and he was a Ukrainian Jew. He was one of the first to enter and to liberate Auschwitz.
So all of that has to be taken into account when a Jew tries to reflect on this situation and to act properly. And when I decided to engage myself so strongly, to devote all my time, to put part of my life at stake in the cause of Ukraine, all that I’m saying now was in my mind.