Navigate to The Scroll section

What Happened: November 1, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Dead heat in VA; Biden approval at new low; A Torah desecrated

The Scroll
November 01, 2021


The Big Story

Republican Glenn Youngkin has narrowed the Virginia governor’s race to a dead heat with Democrat Terry McAuliffe ahead of an election Tuesday that stands to test the two parties’ appeal to voters going into the 2022 Congressional elections. A poll taken last Friday shows that education has overtaken the economy as the number one issue for Virginians. The surge in education as an issue, up nine points from a poll taken in September, reflects the intensity of clashes in the state between parents and school board officials that have attracted national attention. Grassroots anger among parents over the teaching of illiberal racial doctrines associated with critical race theory and over other divisive elements of school curricula was merged with GOP electoral strategies that boosted the visibility of the school board clashes. The result is a race in which education is both an issue in its own right and a proxy for a broader set of political and cultural values. ​​McAuliffe’s statement in late September—“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach”—seems to have hurt the Democratic incumbent’s popularity among the state’s all-important moderate voters. Youngkin, meanwhile, has had to woo moderates by distancing himself from former president Donald Trump without alienating Virginia’s Trump supporters. Trump will hold a “telephone rally” for Youngkin Monday night. Former president Barack Obama made a visit to the state two weekends ago to stump for McAuliffe.

Read it here:
Today’s Back Pages: Eve Barlow on Why the Outrage Machine Goes Silent when Jews Are Attacked

The Rest

-In a remarkable speech last Friday, John Sopko, head of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), revealed that the Department of Defense “restricted from public release a range of info going back to 2015 on the performance of the Afghan security forces, purportedly at the request of the Afghan govt. This included information such as casualty data, unit strength, training and operational deficiencies.” In other words, the Pentagon prevented information from reaching the public that revealed the Afghan military—the lynchpin of the U.S. war effort and recipient of hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer funding—was a paper army incapable of defending the country. Sopko also claimed that following the fall of Kabul, the State Department pressured him and other watchdog agencies to “temporarily suspend access” to the audit reports on their websites, claiming that these reports documenting the massive fraud and waste in Afghanistan could put U.S. allies in danger.
Read more here:
And here:

-President Biden’s approval rating has hit a new low, according to an NBC news poll that finds 70% of adults, including nearly half of Democrats, think the country is headed in the wrong direction. The worst marks for Biden were on the economy, which almost 60% of respondents said he was mishandling. As of October, the poll finds only 42% of Americans saying they approve of Biden’s performance, with 54% saying they disapprove.

-Brief notes on the true history of commonly misused popular phrases. Last week, Alexander Vindman, the former Army officer and White House national security staffer turned whistleblower and now political operative, tweeted about a forthcoming Tucker Carlson documentary on the January 6th Capital riots: “He is an anarchist; an arsonist of American democracy. How is this different than yelling fire in a crowded theater? Carlson is attempting to incite a riotous mob. He should be censured.” The irony of Vindman calling himself a “defender of the Constitution” in his Twitter bio while demanding Carlson be censured is rich, but the more immediate problem is that Vindman apparently does not know the history of the famous injunction against yelling fire in a crowded theater. While most people think of the phrase as marking the common-sense limit of free speech in a free society at the point in which it incites violence, it actually originated as a means to silence an anti-war activist. The line comes from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ ruling in a 1919 Supreme Court case, Schenck v. United States. Schenck was an anti-war organizer and the head of Philadelphia’s Socialist Party. Holmes’ description of “shouting fire” referred to Schenk’s activity distributing pamphlets that urged Americans to avoid the draft and keep the country out of the European slaughterhouse of the First World War.

-Today we investigate: What does former Swedish prime minister and all-around Davos flunky Carl Bildt know about war crimes? Last week, Bildt constructed a bizarre self-congratulatory tweet on Oct. 24, United Nations Day, celebrating the “indispensable global organization whose rules, efforts, and work we are more dependent on than most of us realize” using a photo of UN tanks in Bosnia that Bildt claimed showed them “saving lives” as part of the peace-keeping forces in the Balkans “during the early 1990s.” There is a missing word in Bildt’s ode to the glorious UN: Srebrenica—the name of the town where more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys were massacred under the watch of the UN. But this seems to be a habit for Bildt, who is described in a 2015 Guardian article as having met the military and civilian leaders responsible for the massacre “while the killing machine was at full throttle, though he seems not to have mentioned the massacre.” Bildt cheerfully tweeting war crimes apologia is the epitome of the “international community’s” moralizing depravity.
Read it here:

-Last August in the midst of the nationwide protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, Texas’ state capital, Austin, instituted thelargest cuts to its police force of any big city in the United States. Over the past year, since the cuts went into effect, murders in Austin have increased by a whopping 71%.
Read more:

-Professor of criminal justice and ex-police officer Peter Moskos suggests that the FBI’s new crime data offers preliminary evidence of a “George Floyd effect,” in which police responded to popular protests and “defunding” efforts by becoming less proactive, which in turn led to the observable spike in violent crime.

Arrests in the US (again with the very important caveats, above) dropped 1% in 2018, 10% in 2019, and then 25%(!) in 2020. That’s shocking. As much as 29% increase in murder. If this is good data, this is very consistent with a “Ferguson” like “George Floyd protest” effect. 3/

— Peter Moskos (@PeterMoskos) November 1, 2021

-Roughly 24,000 essential workers were expected to miss work in New York City on Monday, after vaccine mandates went into effect. Approximately 14,000 city workers have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine since the mandate was announced on Oct. 20, bringing the total number vaccinated to 91% of the overall workforce, according to City Hall. But that still leaves over 8,000 police and 3,700 firefighters, including emergency medical workers, who are currently ineligible to work.

-Mark Zuckerberg, Master of the Metaverse.

One of the wealthiest men in all human history remains so unfulfilled by the material environs his riches can procure for him that he devotes his mind to escaping the material world entirely. It feels too much like a parable to be real.

— Ari Schulman (@AriSchulman) November 1, 2021

-We have just witnessed a historic first: Jes Staley, the CEO of Barclays, became the first person to pay a penalty for an association with Jeffrey Epstein by stepping down from his job before the publication of a report detailing his connection to the convicted sex offender. Shares of the British banking firm and the Brooklyn stadium owners dropped 2% Monday after Staley’s departure was announced. Epstein, who committed suicide in prison in 2019 under highly irregular circumstances while awaiting trial for sex-trafficking underage girls, hobnobbed with some of the most powerful people in the world.

The Back Pages

Why The Outrage Machine Goes Silent when Jews Are Attacked

Today’s Back Pages comes from Eve Barlow, an L.A.-based, Scottish freelance music journalist and Tablet contributor.

This past Saturday night, after Shabbat, a group of vandals broke into a fraternity on George Washington University’s campus in Washington, D.C. They burglarized a room that contained a Christian bible and a Jewish Torah. Ignoring the bible, they singled out the Torah for desecration. They ripped the scrolls apart, pouring thick, blue detergent all over them before abandoning the site. The brothers of Tau Kappa Epsilon, a secular fraternity that kept the Torah and other religious artifacts on hand to swear in new pledges, found the damage the next morning. About a quarter of the members of the fraternity are Jewish.

It’s difficult to conceive of something more sacred to Jewish communities than a Torah scroll. The Torah scroll is so revered, we keep it in its own ornate cabinet; we adorn it with a gold or silver breastplate and a crown; we clothe it in embroidered silk threads; we do not touch its letters with our hands for fear of smearing the ink that has been masterfully inscribed, and instead use a yad (hand)—a pointer—to guide our eyes and mouths over the text as it is read and often sung out to congregations from the center of the synagogue during prayer. Most Jews know that if a Torah is for some reason dropped to the floor, the custom is for the person responsible to fast for 40 days and nights. Even people who have only witnessed the fall of a Torah have fasted for more than a month to alleviate their trauma.

It is Monday afternoon in America, and there is one story on CNN about the current investigation into this incident. One story. We are living in times of heated anguish and outrage over the smallest aggressions; in times when tweets can lead to the ends of careers; in times when university professors are being driven off campuses and out of their lifelong commitment for encouraging inquiry in study; in times when the news cycle can be dominated by the ill-fitting jokes of a comedian who has spent a lifetime making ill-fitting jokes. George Washington University is a typically liberal institution in the United States. It should be a sanctuary for all people. The president of the university, Thomas LeBlanc, has said he found the incident “deeply disturbing.” He was “appalled by the antisemitic vandalism.” Why is nobody else appalled? What will it take for such blatant displays of Jew hate to make headlines in this country? When is mainstream media going to reverse this nagging feeling so many of us share that when it comes to fighting all forms of racism, prejudice, and hatred, Jews just don’t seem to count to the social justice warriors, nor to the bastions of moral purity, nor to the bleeding hearts of humanitarians and academic elitists.

It should disturb any person with a conscience to realize that it’s sexy and virtuous to fight certain forms of racism but conspicuously unsexy to fight others. It’s inconvenient to mention acts of antisemitism. Oh, that again. You know, it’s never the right time, is it? Such an inconvenience to stand up for the lives of the most historically persecuted group of people in the history of humankind. Well, there was the coronavirus pandemic, so that took precedent. And then there was a highly emotional election in the United States, and that required a lot of air time. Plus, the biggest display of protests across the United States that the country has seen in a generation. There was no room for any other discussion then. So what now? It was Halloween. Can’t get in the way of that. Mainstream media doesn’t discuss antisemitism. And certainly not because it doesn’t exist any more. They don’t publish stories about Jew hate because it’s not profitable, it doesn’t sell, and people are done hearing about it. Thousands of years of institutionalized, systemic persecution, alienation, humiliation, and expulsion is a stain on the conscience of the morally pure. All the while, the FBI statistics rise year over year, showcasing that the hatred of Jews constitutes the most religiously motivated hate crimes in the country. Those numbers don’t account for all of it, of course; they leave out times the authorities don’t have the wherewithal to call these acts of terror what they are: hate crimes against Jews.

In an age of victimhood, Jews are the world’s least popular victims. But actual living Jews, thankfully, are too busy surviving to dwell in the court of victimhood. A Torah scroll is written in Biblical Hebrew, a language that dates back to the 10th century BCE. A Torah scroll contains 304,805 letters. Only a trained expert can inscribe a scroll. Each Torah takes a year or more to write. Those who try to spit on us may desecrate our scrolls. We will keep inscribing them. More than a year ago, I wrote an article for this paper as a clarion call to American Jews to wake up to the hatred on their doorstep; to stop fighting others’ fights at the expense of fighting our own. It might be deeply unpopular to stand up for your Jewish heritage, but in a time when we still have the freedom to do so, it is a privilege that many of our ancestors could only dream of. It’s time to decide if you want to fight for a seat at your own table or settle for being a permanent guest whose most treasured gifts are not your own.

Send your tips, comments, questions, and suggestions to

Tablet’s afternoon newsletter edited by Jacob Siegel.

Thank you for reading Tablet.

The Jewish world needs a place like Tablet where varying—even conflicting—viewpoints can exist side by side. Our times demand an engagement with big ideas and not a retreat from them. Help us do what we do.