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What Happened: October 27, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Julian Assange; Trial of Mireille Knoll’s murderers; Marco Roth vs Sally Rooney

The Scroll
October 27, 2021


The Big Story

Attorneys representing the U.S. government made their case in London’s High Court Wednesday for why WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange should be extradited to the United States. The lawyers were appealing the January ruling by British lower-court judge Vanessa Baraitser that Assange could not be extradited to the United States due to concerns over his mental health. The United States wants to try Assange on espionage charges for publishing thousands of classified documents that were leaked to his organization in 2010-2011. But Assange’s lawyers argue that WikiLeaks is a press outlet entitled to the same protections afforded to other journalists, such as the reporters at The New York Times and The Washington Post who published articles based on classified documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. In February of this year, about two dozen human rights and civil liberties organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, sent a letter to the Biden White House urging them to forgo prosecuting Assange. “The indictment of Mr. Assange threatens press freedom because much of the conduct described in the indictment is conduct that journalists engage in routinely,” they wrote. The current effort to overturn the previous ruling rests on convincing the British court that the United States will not impose the harshest penalties on Assange by placing him in a maximum-security prison, nor will present an undue mental health and suicide risk to him. On Thursday, Assange’s lawyers will have their chance to refute the U.S. case.

Read it here:
Today’s Back Pages: Marco Roth on “Conversations with Friends About Jews”

The Rest

-Days after Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused the European Union of “holding a gun to our head,” the European Court of Justice (EJC) on Wednesday ordered Poland to pay $1.2 million per day over a dispute related to Poland’s judicial structure. The immediate disagreement revolves around a newly established disciplinary chamber in the Polish Supreme Court with the power to remove judges, which the EJC says violates its requirements for judicial neutrality. Poland’s PM Morawiecki agreed last week to abolish the court by the end of the year, but that was not soon enough for the EJC. The dispute bears on the larger question of whether Poland’s center-right religious nationalist government will comply with the EU’s supranational ruling body or, following England’s Brexit vote, attempt to break away and reassert its independence. In his statements last week, Morawiecki warned that if the EU “starts the third world war” by imposing financial penalties on Poland, the country would “defend our rights with any weapons which are at our disposal.”
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-The trial began Tuesday in France for two men accused of the brutal 2018 murder of 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll, who was stabbed 11 times before her apartment in central Paris was set on fire. The two suspects in the murder, Yacine Mihoub, 31, and Alex Carrimbacus, 25, are charged with killing a vulnerable person based on religious motives. One of the suspects told prosecutors that he heard the other shout “Allahu Akbar” during the stabbing. Prosecutors appear to have abundant evident in the case, but that’s not always enough in France to seal a conviction for the wanton murder of elderly Jews. In 2017, a year before Knoll was murdered, 65-year-old Jewish pensioner Sarah Halimi was murdered inside her Paris apartment by a neighbor, Kobili Traore, who beat her while calling her a demon and shouting “Allahu Akbar” before throwing her out her window. Prosecutors acknowledged that Traore was motivated by antisemitism but ruled that he couldn’t be tried for the murder because he had smoked some pot beforehand, which allegedly placed him in a “delirious fit.”

-The comedian Dave Chappelle has agreed to meet with protestors who accused him of promoting transphobia as long as they meet certain conditions:

To the transgender community, I am more than willing to give you an audience, but you will not summon me. I am not bending to anybody’s demands. And if you want to meet with me, I’d be more than willing to, but I have some conditions. First of all, you cannot come if you have not watched my special from beginning to end. You must come to a place of my choosing at a time of my choosing, and thirdly, you must admit that Hannah Gadsby is not funny.

-The second and final debate took place Tuesday night between Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa, the two leading candidates in the New York City mayor’s race. Adams, a former city cop with a long history of maneuvering in New York City’s Democratic machine politics, is the clear favorite after winning his party’s nomination by playing to the center—promising to be pro-business and tough on crime while continuing to fund social programs and address racial inequities. But at the debate Tuesday the Republican Sliwa again called Adams current Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “teammate”—fighting words in a city where the disgust with de Blasio cuts across all racial and party lines. More substantively, Sliwa raised questions about Adams’ real address and problems with his tax returns, all of which probably added up to little more than a rehearsal for press conferences held by the future Mayor Adams. The Democrat has locked up endorsements from both former mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city conservative tabloid, the New York Post, making him the odds-on favorite to win next week.

-A memorial was held Wednesday at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. The ceremony commemorated the slaughter there three years ago, when an antisemitic shooter opened fire in the temple, killing 11 people in what is thought to be the deadliest attack on Jews in American history.

-A new analysis of voting patterns conducted by the Democratic data firm Catalist illustrates the Democrats’ increasing reliance on the party’s highly educated, liberal activist base. Key takeaways from the 2020 election results in Nevada and Wisconsin, two toss-up states that Biden won narrowly: “Latinas drifted away from Democrats in Nevada at a higher rate than Latino men compared to the last presidential election; white voters who didn’t graduate from college didn’t help Biden as much in Wisconsin as they did nationally; and first-time voters of color are not necessarily voting just for Democrats.” In Wisconsin, Biden’s gains came from “college-educated whites and their growing share of the electorate.” Politico quotes one of the report’s authors making another interesting point that’s especially relevant for new voters: “People of all races, when they don’t pay attention to politics, don’t have strong ideological patterns.”

-In San Francisco, two former prosecutors have joined efforts to recall Progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin amid a spike in the city’s murder rate. “My decision to resign was the result of a growing belief that Chesa Boudin lacks the desire and willingness to prosecute crime effectively in San Francisco,” said Brooke Jenkins, a former assistant district attorney who left the office last week to advocate for Boudin’s recall. Another former prosecutor, Don du Bain, who, like Jenkins, worked in the DA’s office for seven years and has now joined recall efforts, accused Boudin of selectively enforcing laws “according to his own political priorities and his own concern about public perception.”
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-Your chance to (maybe) own an original artwork by an artist famous for his factory reproductions.

An artist:

(1) bought an Andy Warhol drawing for $20,000

(2) made 999 high-quality forgeries of it

(3) shuffled them together

(4) sold each of the 1,000 drawings for $250 each

“If you pay your $250 maybe you’ll get the original $20,000 Warhol, but you’ll never know.”

— Alec Stapp (@AlecStapp) October 26, 2021

-Mort Sahl, a caustic political satirist and pioneer in the transition from the old-school joke-telling to modern stand-up comedy, has died at 94. Born to a Jewish family in Montreal, Sahl got his start in comedy in San Francisco. “I don’t have the image of myself as a comedian,” he once said. “I just sort of tell the truth, and everybody breaks up along the way.” On Twitter, Albert Brooks wrote that Sahl “was one the few comedians who yanked comedy out of vaudeville type humor into the modern age. One of the very first to just talk to the audience.”

The Back Pages

Conversations with Friends About Jews

Today’s Back Pages comes from co-founder of n+1 magazine and Tablet’s new Critic at Large Marco Roth.

When I first heard of the Irish novelist Sally Rooney’s decision to refuse Hebrew translation of her latest book—or, if we credit her statement, she just refused translation by any “Israeli company that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the UN-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people”—I joked that I’d look forward to her next novel, Conversations with Friends About Jews.

The more I thought about it, the more I figured out that what really bothered me wasn’t Rooney’s selective ethics. It’s true that unlike Chinese or Russians (Rooney’s novels have been translated into both languages, presumably with her full consent) also, for that matter, unlike racist Irish Americans, it’s exclusively Hebrew-reading Israelis who Rooney has decided are a class collectively unworthy of access to her work. But I was perplexed mainly by something else:

A writer with a sense of the moral value of her work would imagine and perhaps rightly believe that someone reading her might be capable of an ethical transformation. That, at least, is the prevailing discourse in the fiction world—the stuff of PEN’s “world voices” press releases and publishers’ uplifting jacket copy—but also the stuff of any humanistic endeavor. She would want to be translated into the language of the “enemy” or “the other” or the “oppressor” because she believed her work might function to change people’s minds in that society. Instead, Rooney has chosen to act like Roger Waters or Patti Smith or any band that might refuse to play Tel Aviv.

Despite various prestigious awards (British Book of the Year, Irish Book of the Year, Booker Prize long list, and the Costa Prize, among others) and fellowships at highbrow-ish institutions such as The New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, Rooney reveals herself as someone who sees literature as only—or chiefly—a commercial relationship between author and audience. The moral value of that kind of work inheres not in “the product” but in the moral righteousness of its creator. In this view, a literary work’s moral value (nevermind its artistic merits) or ethical charge can’t stand separate from the righteous actions of the creator. While this happens to be the prevailing view of authorship in much of the culture, rarely is it so among writers themselves. The work is regarded as insignificant in comparison to the lived life and daily ethical choices of the person who makes it. By her decision, Rooney perfectly expresses and endorses this understanding of authorship that exists side by side but actually in opposition to the idea that literature might be ethically transformative to readers. Deep down, she too must feel that her work could have no transformative social value. Her decision to join with BDS by preemptively “depublishing” herself in Israel is an admission of her own belief in the powerlessness of literature, or at least in her own writing.

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