What Happened Today: November 21, 2022
Kyrie Irving’s return prompts antisemitic march in Brooklyn; breakdown of rail-worker talks could wreak havoc on economy; Brokenism
The Big Story
A crowd of hundreds of Black Hebrew Israelites marched in the streets near Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Sunday evening in a show of solidarity for Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, who was returning to the court after serving an eight-game suspension for tweeting a link to an antisemitic movie that promoted conspiracy theories and Holocaust denialism. Wearing purple shirts with the name Israel United in Christ, members of the racist and antisemitic Hebrew Israelite group chanted, “Hey, Jacob, it’s time to wake up. I’ve got good news for you, we are the real Jews.” The mob’s antisemitic calls echoed the rallying cry “The Jews shall not replace us” from the 2017 white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. However, unlike that incident, which was widely condemned by celebrities and public figures and covered extensively in the media, the press has paid scant attention to Sunday’s march.
Sunday night was the second time the protestors—who handed out antisemitic literature to pedestrians around the arena—had come to support Irving, who, despite having offered “deep apologies to all those impacted,” made no attempt to condemn the presence of the organized hate group. “I think that’s a conversation for another day. I’m just here to focus on the game,” Irving said in a press conference about the rally in the street.
As videos of the Israel United in Christ rally around Barclays circulated on social media on Sunday night, Jaylen Brown, the Boston Celtics guard and vice president of the National Basketball Players Association executive committee, tweeted the video with the comment “Energy.” The NBA broadcaster and former player Isiah Thomas likewise shared the video with a note, “Let it be known,” a post he later deleted.
The controversy surrounding Irving comes amid a sustained rise in physical assaults and hate crimes against Jewish people, particularly in New York City. On Friday night, two men were arrested in New York’s Penn Station for illegally carrying a large military-style knife and a firearm with a 30-round magazine in what authorities described as a “developing threat to the Jewish community.” Citing comments made online against various Jewish institutions, including social media posts that discussed “shooting up a synagogue,” police said one of the suspects arrested also possessed a swastika arm patch.
Read More: https://news.yahoo.com/black-hebrew-israelites-support-kyrie-163000716.html
In the Back Pages: Brokenism
→ A tenuous agreement brokered by the Biden administration between rail-worker unions and rail operators in September is now on the verge of collapse after SMART Transportation Division, one of the largest rail unions, rejected the terms of the final contract.
The rejection was driven by the union’s rank-and-file membership, which complained before, during, and after the September negotiations that rail operators attempting to maximize profits have chronically understaffed operations and implemented strict rules for sick and vacation days that essentially limit workers’ ability to go to a doctor or plan for family events or milestones.
Union leaders negotiated for salary increases that workers reject as insufficient to dealing with the time-off policies. “This is the best pay package I’ve seen in my career,” said Peter Kennedy, a leader of one of the unions. “If employees are willing to vote that down because of the lack of paid sick time, that tells you something.”
Should the two sides fail to ink a tentative agreement ahead of a December deadline, the unions could strike, potentially undermining critical supply chains across several industries. The research group the American Chemistry Council estimates that a strike lasting one month could take $160 billion out of the economy and possibly tip the nation into a recession.
→ Number of the Day: 7%
That’s how much household incomes are expected to drop in the United Kingdom over the next two years as government officials prepare British residents for life in a recession. Wiping out the past eight years of growth, inflation and rising interest rates will revert wages back to their 2013 levels, according to the latest forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility. The loss in wages will be all the more painful as U.K. taxes are set to hit their highest level since the Second World War—one part of the government’s effort to combat what OBR officials described as a “year of squeezed budgets for households.”
→ At least 162 people were killed after a powerful earthquake struck the main island of Indonesia on Monday. Some 2.5 million people live in the mountain region of Cianjur, where many of the area’s one- and two-story structures and some 13,000 homes were severely damaged during the 5.6-magnitude earthquake. Indonesia’s location along the Ring of Fire, a string of volcanoes and subterranean fault lines, has made it the victim of several major recent earthquakes. Some 100 people were killed by a 6.1-magnitude earthquake in 2021 in the West Sulawesi province. In February of this year, a 6.2-magnitude quake injured hundreds and claimed 25 lives in West Sumatra.
→ Police are still trying to determine if an SUV killing one person and injuring 16 others after crashing through the front window of a Massachusetts Apple Store was an accident on Monday. Photos of a giant hole in the store’s plate glass window circulated online as witnesses described a chaotic scene of the SUV plowing through the store filled with shoppers. "You'd have to really be picking up speed to end up in the storage area at the back side of the Apple store,” one local man shopping nearby told reporters. Police have detained the driver but at the time of publication they have not indicated any findings from their criminal investigation.
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→ Thread of the Day:
Though Elon Musk has reduced his workforce by more than half at Twitter, it would appear that the streamlined engineering team is doing more with less—at least according to this thread from a user named Eliza, a human trafficking advocate who explains how one of the more pernicious Twitter hashtags used to traffic child abuse content has been largely eradicated from the platform since the Tesla CEO’s takeover.
→ Former U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson’s description of China as a “coercive autocracy” at an economic conference hosted by Bloomberg News in Singapore last Tuesday created a mess for the billionaire financier and conference namesake. On Thursday, Michael Bloomberg apologized to the hundreds of guests gathered at the conference who might have been offended by Johnson, saying the former U.K. leader’s comments were “his thoughts and his thoughts alone,” adding that “to those of you who were upset and concerned by what the speaker said, you have my apologies.” Though Johnson’s comments about China’s “candid disregard for the rule of international law” would have been uncontroversial in the United Kingdom and even in Bloomberg’s home city of New York, the business community of Singapore has much stronger, and more sensitive, ties to Beijing—as does Mr. Bloomberg, apparently.
→ It appears that Bird scooters were zipping along a little too fast for their own good: The company told investors last week that an accounting error that has gone undetected by executives since 2020 means that its financial statements for the past two and half years “should no longer be relied upon.” More worrying for Bird investors, there’s now “substantial doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.” One of the more high-profile startups to go public via SPAC investment vehicles, Bird took in a total of $2.1 billion from private investors. Since the books have been cleaned up, however, Bird is worth less than 4% of what investors put in—with a current market cap of $70 million. Much of the problem stems from the fact that company executives had allowed its scooter users to pay for their rides with digital wallets that didn’t always have enough money in their accounts to afford the fare. If the users were short on cash, Bird let them slide, then booked the full fare as actual income. After rolling over revenue figures inflated by as much as 15% for so many quarters, Bird is coming clean with investors, who are now stuck with a stock worth less than a dollar on the open market.
→ At least three dozen people and several local businesses had their bank accounts frozen by a federal judge in Brazil because of their protests against the victory of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the recent presidential election. Citing the “repeated abuse of the right to assemble,” judge Alexandre de Moraes wrote in his judgment that “it is necessary, appropriate and urgent to block the bank accounts of those investigated, given the possibility of using resources to finance illicit and undemocratic acts, in order to stop the injury or threat to law.” Claiming without evidence that the election was stolen, supporters of outgoing president Jair Bolsonaro have been blocking highways and calling for military intervention against his political opponents taking power. Lula da Silva is set to begin his term on the first day of the new year.
TODAY IN TABLET:
Prime Ministers of the Book by Tevi Troy
Israel’s three most significant leaders were also dedicated readers.
Giving Thanks in Synagogue by Jenna Weissman Joselit
In the late 19th century, when Thanksgiving was a new holiday, American Jews created religious services to mark the day. They didn’t last.
SCROLL TIP LINE: Have a lead on a story or something going on in your workplace, school, congregation, or social scene that you want to tell us about? Send your tips, comments, questions, and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The real debate today isn’t between the left and right. It’s between those invested in our current institutions, and those who want to build anew.
By Alana Newhouse
Two years ago, I wrote an essay in which I tried to explore the growing sense, made more glaring during the first year of the pandemic, that whole parts of American society were breaking down before our eyes. The central idea was that we must accept what is broken beyond repair in order to build our communities and institutions anew.
Among the many people who wrote to me in the aftermath was a man around my age named Ryan, who introduced himself as a West Point graduate and combat veteran, biracial and from a multi-generational Black military family. “I’ve lived and traveled all over the world, but I cherish my family’s deep roots in a small town in rural Ohio,” he wrote. “It seems very dark some days, but your closing nails it: ‘It can almost feel easier to believe it can’t be done. But it can.’”
As I did with many others who wrote me heartfelt notes, I reached out to Ryan and asked to meet over Zoom. It turned out we had more in common than either of us had guessed, and we began a correspondence that’s endured since then.
At one point last year, Ryan said something that struck a nerve. “I don’t know what I identify as these days, because everything has gotten so scrambled,” he noted. “I’m not a Democrat or a Republican, I don’t even think I could define myself narrowly as either a liberal or a conservative anymore. The one thing I know that I fundamentally do believe is the premise of your piece, that the dominant institutions of American life—in education, in the arts, in politics—are either totally broken or so weak or corrupt that they’re becoming irrelevant. In a way, the only thing I know that I believe in is … brokenness.”
Ryan went on to explain that, when he gets into political debates with friends and acquaintances these days, those on the “other side” aren’t all liberals or all conservatives or in fact all from any other previously recognizable camp. Instead, they are the people in his life who, regardless of how they vote or otherwise affiliate, remain invested in the institutions and political ideologies that now leave Ryan cold. Many of them acknowledge that there are problems, even serious ones, with universities, newspapers, nonprofits, both political parties, what have you, but they see these as normal, fixable challenges, not signs of fundamental brokenness. To them, the impulse to consign weighty institutions to the dustbin of history feels impulsive and irresponsible—like arson. To Ryan, staying committed to decrepit structures, and insisting to others that they are fundamentally safe when they’re clearly not, is what feels reckless.
Most Americans don’t fall squarely into one of these two camps. Around 40% don’t even vote. But among the people who do engage in debates about this country’s future, the ones doing it most compellingly are not those still stuck in the battle between “Democrats” and “Republicans,” or “liberalism” and “conservatism.” The most vital debate in America today is between those who believe there is something fundamentally broken in America, and that it’s an emergency, and those who do not.
Which is why this is the debate that has, over the past few years, been given center stage at Tablet. On the one hand, we publish stories about what is good about the status quo in American and in Jewish life: what institutions are working, what fears are overblown, which elites are doing good work, and what is decent and right about popular ideas. Half of our readers find these pieces at best silly and at worst naive, even dangerously so.
On the other hand, we also publish stories about institutions and ideologies that may appear to be functioning but are in fact failing in perilous ways, and how to think about developing new institutions, communities, and ideas to replace them. These articles are often marked by a desire to challenge, sometimes aggressively, what was previously considered settled wisdom, and even more so by a deep skepticism about the actions and motives of established institutions and public figures—the federal government, blue chip corporations, the admissions office at Harvard, and so on. The other half of our readership finds these stories crackpot or paranoid, or worse.
To those who wonder why such different kinds of stories are being published by the same magazine, let me explain: We aren’t confused; we are having a fight—and it’s one you might benefit from joining.
Over the past few years, even as Tablet’s audience has grown, some readers have questioned why a Jewish magazine has taken so much interest in topics that, at first glance, appear to have no Jewish connection at all: Russiagate, school closures, content moderation by tech companies, government surveillance, masks, U.S. investment in China, and more. Part of the explanation is that Tablet’s mission was never just to make the world smarter about Jews; it was also to make Jews smarter about the world.
But a related reason has to do with an increasingly dominant sensibility in our pages that, inspired by Ryan, might be called brokenism. At its base, brokenism revolves around the idea that institutions and even whole societies can and do decay—sometimes in ways that are obvious, often in ways that are not.
Now, to observe that a critical mass of American society is broken does not mean that America is falling like Rome or descending hopelessly into chaos like Weimar Germany. This country survived a civil war, the failures of Reconstruction, the Industrial Revolution and its destruction of previous ways of life, plus the political violence of the 1960s and the economic shocks of the 1970s—and arguably came out stronger after these crises.
Which is why many people understandably see our current moment as a wave of change that can be ridden successfully—without overblown diagnoses or radical solutions. These are status-quoists, people who are invested in the established institutions of American life, even as they acknowledge that this or that problem around the margins should of course be tackled. Status-quoists believe that any decline in quality one might observe at Yale or The Washington Post or the Food and Drug Administration or the American Federation of Teachers are simply problems of personnel, circumstance, incompetence, or lack of information. Times change, people come and go, status-quoists believe—this outfit screwed up COVID policy, yes, and that place has an antisemitism problem, agreed. But they will learn, reform, and recover, and they need our help to do so. What isn’t needed, and is in fact anathema, is any effort to inject more perceived radicalism into an already toxic and polarized American society. The people, ideas, and institutions that led America after the end of the Cold War must continue to guide us through the turbulence ahead. What can broadly be called the “establishment” is not only familiar, status-quoists believe; it is safe, stable, and ultimately enduring.
On the other side are brokenists, people who believe that our current institutions, elites, intellectual and cultural life, and the quality of services that many of us depend on have been hollowed out. To them, the American establishment, rather than being a force of stability, is an obese and corrupted tangle of federal and corporate power threatening to suffocate the entire country. Proof of this decay, they argue, can be seen in the unconventional moves that many people, regardless of how they would describe themselves politically, are making: home-schooling their children to avoid the failures and politicization of many public and private schools; consuming more information from YouTube, Twitter, Substack, and podcasts than from legacy media outlets; and abandoning the restrictions, high costs, and pathologies of the coasts for freer and more affordable pastures in the Southeast and Southwest.
Brokenists come from all points on the political spectrum. They disagree with each other about what kinds of programs, institutions, and culture they want to see prevail in America. What they agree on—what is in fact a more important point of agreement than anything else—is that what used to work is not working for enough people anymore.
In fact, both brokenists and status-quoists are attracting people from what was formerly known as the left and the right. That’s how you get left-wing guests on Tucker Carlson, and lifelong members of right-wing royalty making frictionless transitions into mainstream darlings. Marxist thinker Adolph Reed is a brokenist; Cass Sunstein is a status-quoist. Resistance Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Never Trumpers like Liz Cheney—these people are status-quoists. Bernie Sanders and Elon Musk are brokenists, as are the famously leftist Glenn Greenwald and the famously capitalist Marc Andreessen. When I was in elementary school, our gym teacher used to split us into two teams and then, midway through class, divide each side and swap the halves to make two new teams. That’s kind of like what is happening in America today.
And it’s not simply that people are switching affiliations while the political parties largely remain the same. Instead, the parties themselves are changing—and in some cases swapping—what they stand for, a reality that observers from what used to be the right and the left are both starting to grapple with.
One popular explanation for this dynamic is that it’s an example of horseshoe theory—the idea, first posited by French philosopher Jean-Pierre Faye, that extremists from both left and right have more in common with each other than they do with supposedly level-headed centrists from their own parties. But, to be fair, that’s fundamentally a status-quoist argument. Many of today’s brokenists, especially since the spring and summer of 2020, are not fringe fanatics lustily drawn to authoritarianism. They are parents and teachers enraged by COVID school closures and the learning loss their children suffered, especially the most vulnerable among them. They are writers and artists creeped out by increasingly flagrant government surveillance and demands for creative conformity. They are feminists whose life’s work has been grounded in the idea of biological differences between men and women. They are working-class people and families whose livelihoods have been taken from them by a new and rapacious form of turbo-capitalism. They are free speech advocates who can’t figure out why the left no longer feels like home. Brokenists feel certain they were considered ordinary people just a few years ago, but are now routinely accused of being reactionaries or “extremists,” often with real social and professional consequences. Former ACLU President Nadine Strossen, economist Jeffrey Sachs, writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—these people aren’t kooks; they have serious and well-argued concerns about how American society and its political and economic landscape are developing.
For their part, status-quoists believe their side is the one coming together under the banner of righteousness and sanity. The fringes, they say, are fertile soil for radicalism, and radicalism leads to danger. It’s not a surprise, these people argue, that antisemitism is rising in popularity and intensity—and that it’s coming from the extremes of both sides of the political aisle.
And the argument of the status-quoists isn’t simply defensive. They admit that many ideas and institutions are in bad shape, but they believe that change comes best from within—not because they are satisfied with the world as it exists, but because the status quo is the least bad option. Most new endeavors fail, they point out, and the ones that already exist have survived for a reason. Foundings are rare, difficult, and highly contingent—both Jewish tradition and the American constitutional system are based on the idea that what’s old is wise, that the past has a legitimate claim on the present, that change should be incremental and toilsome, and that it’s easier to destroy or run away than it is to remain and reform.
What’s more, they see in history plenty of examples of institutions that have been in advanced stages of decay, only to be transformed in useful and innovative ways. For status-quoists, universities today don’t prove brokenists right, but are instead a prime example of why they’re wrong: In 1900, Harvard and Yale were just finishing schools. Partly because of Jewish assimilation, then the Cold War and government-backed scientific research, they became world-class research institutions during the second half of the 20th century. They retained the superficial traditions of the old finishing schools, but in fact transformed into something approximating meritocracies. They did so because of market pressures, because of geopolitical events, and because the more parochial university presidents were eventually replaced by more broad-minded ones. If you had said in 1930 that the Ivy League was broken, you would have been right: They were hothouses of racism, antisemitism, and anti-intellectualism. But it turned out that there was a way to put their money, real estate, and prestige to productive use. They became impressive institutions—not perfect, but special enough that brokenists now look back at them with longing and nostalgia.
And then there were this month's elections, which the status-quoists rightly see as a win for their side. Brokenists like to think that their own worldview is edgier, braver, sexier, and that they're making more converts than enemies. Perhaps they'll eventually be proven right, but as far as the midterms were concerned, it’s not happening yet.
There is no better platform for a conversation about which parts of society are functioning well, which really are broken, and what can be done to fix them, than a Jewish one. It has long been a basic premise of nearly all Jewish thought, from the rabbis of the Mishna and Talmud to the kabbalists of Safed, that the world is broken. The idea that, on one hand, God should have never created the world, and that, on the other, we are nevertheless commanded to embrace life, is the one point on which the legendary Jewish sages Hillel and Shammai are said to have agreed. The world is cracked, but we still have to live in it—which means that it is important to situate ourselves, mentally and physically, in places where we can have good and safe lives.
But it also means that we must be sensitive to the tremors that warn of impending earthquakes that could make our current homes dangerous. At different points in our history, that place was Spain, England, France, Turkey, Cairo, Baghdad, Beirut, Safed, Vilna, Warsaw, Prague, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, and too many others to count. In all of those places, things got bad at some point; in some of them, so bad that they became irrevocably broken to us. In others, Jewish life went on, and continues to flourish in different ways to this day.
For the last 200 years, American society has been central to global Jewish survival and success. And central to the Jews’ successful integration into American society were many of the institutions currently undergoing radical change. The great public schools, private universities, media companies, publishing houses, law firms, and national corporations—these were the stepping stones to acceptance and success for Jews. What Jewish mother isn’t proud of her daughter or son, the lawyer or doctor, with a degree from Harvard or Yale or Princeton? It’s no wonder that if you walk around Ivy League campuses these days, you see Jewish names like Milstein, Schwarzman, and Bloomberg on so many newer buildings standing proudly alongside older buildings with names like Witherspoon, Harkness, and Eliot. Who cares about the student flyers advertising Israel apartheid week or a few mezuzahs knocked off doorposts? We made it, and we are grateful. Many of us are invested in the credentialing institutions of American life not only because we benefited from them ourselves, but also because we want others—not just our own kids, but kids of other races and religions and from other countries—to have that same privilege.
Perhaps more than many of us want to accept, however, Jewish success in America came not from some big-hearted, multicultural tolerance (which didn’t exist) nor from our ability to “pass” through prejudices and censors (we couldn’t), but from a commodious idea of what an American can be.
Jewish achievement, Jewish survival, and Jewish identity all depend not on radical acceptance—the idea that we have to be celebrated, not just tolerated—but on the specifically Jewish insistence on radical difference. Jews are called upon to eat, dress, pray, work, grieve, marry, and learn in distinct ways that, throughout history, have often made us objects of distrust and hatred. Yet we are required, as Jews, to be willing and able to sit by ourselves—even, if need be, to endure tremendous discomfort. The freedom to be different, while also being accepted as Americans just like anyone else, has for us been the great miracle of this country—and the reason it has been one of the brightest spots in our four millennia of existence.
The value of this American idea has been thrown into question of late, and its future viability is being hotly debated right now. Which is precisely why we should follow the cracks in the foundations of American society not in the way a pundit follows “politics” or “partisanship” or the “culture wars,” but more like a seismologist tracks sudden slips in tectonic plates. Throughout Jewish history, the ability to notice whether and how and when the ground is shifting has been a salient feature of life—or else a lesson purchased at the highest possible cost.
When it comes to American institutions, though not America itself, I am a brokenist—both because of my sense of the problems (which I explored here and here) as well as the possible solutions. The ferment in American life and culture is now on the fringes—among the creative types who are too far gone for the establishment institutions to control, and the outsiders who oppose those institutions, and the builders who are too busy obsessing over their own life project to notice or care much about what the status-quoists think. That’s where the cultural energy is: in innovative new prep schools for young Black men in rural Georgia; in young families quitting the cities for rural areas; in science and biotech landscapes run by swashbuckling pioneers who bob and weave around bureaucratic obstacles, expanding the possibilities for how life is and can be lived, and performing medical and technological feats we’d once have easily described as miracles.
At the same time, as someone who is deeply engaged in Jewish life, who admires and loves many people who work in Jewish institutions, I also embrace the status quo. I know that the dentists and lawyers and bakers and butchers who form the backbone of every living Jewish community don’t currently live on the blockchain, or in self-made communes. They live in an imperfect world that has always been imperfect, and from which people have often been able to generate safety and even beauty by committing to stakes already in the ground.
There is, though, one thing that is nonnegotiable to me. We are in a historic moment of flux. Regardless of your political or religious or cultural allegiances, you must not be surprised by the fact that the world is changing, or that change often spans a spectrum of feeling from uncomfortable to very, very bad. Whether you see yourself as a brokenist or a status-quoist (or neither), you must not be surprised by a world that looks different from what you had grown used to. You must not be surprised when we are considered “the enemy” on an increasing number of college campuses or in the pages of storied newspapers; you must not be surprised when famous athletes or beloved musical artists or crafty politicians want to turn their fans against us; you must not be surprised by election results, or Supreme Court decisions.
This idea is central to our mission now. No Tablet reader in 2022 should scan the news in the morning and find herself shocked. When you wake up and look at your phone and the headlines at least make sense, however bad the news may be—that is when you know you are inside an authentically Jewish conversation. To see the cracks in the building before it collapses—that is a Jewish experience. To argue about whether the building can be saved or has to be evacuated—that is a Jewish debate. To find a way to somehow invent an entirely new kind of building—that is a Jewish act. To dismiss the cracks as unimportant and suppress questions, so that the next day’s news shocks you all over again—I wish you luck in your efforts, but don’t confuse your approach with the values of Jewish engagement.
Once you stop spending your time being outraged, you’ll realize how much energy you have for whatever work you want to do. Leave. Stay. Build something new; invest in current institutions to see if they can be made better. Think bravely and creatively about what America needs for a stable and rich future. Be deliberate about what you're doing, and try to understand those who do and see things differently. What you encounter might seem or actually be misguided or outright wrong, foreign, scary—even dangerous. Engage anyway.
A handful of readers misread my original essay as a downer. As my friend Ryan understood, my goal is not to discourage people, but precisely the opposite: to give hope. The ground is moving again. Everything bad comes from change, but so does everything good.