Does Free Speech Stop with the Nation State of Israel?

EASTSIDER-Now, I’m just a third generation country boy from California, so maybe I don’t understand all the nuances of this big deal Washington debate over who’s anti-Semitic.

After all, Israel is about 7500 miles from California, so their politics don’t seem that big a deal to me or most folks I know. Israel has its own government. Although come to think of it, Washington’s about 3000 miles, and they seem to have their own peculiar government too. 

I am, however, a proud 1960s UC Berkeley type who takes the issue of freedom of speech in the United States Constitution seriously, as readers of this column know. It is not a coincidence that the First Amendment says: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 

So when Congress member Ilhan Omar (D-MN) evidently said something which prompted the House Democrats to put forth some kind of “Anti-Semitism” measure for their caucus to vote on, I started to get worried about political correctness (whatever that is) stampeding all over the Constitutional protections of our freedom of speech. That’s not ok. Ever. 

As to the actual background, I guess back in February, Omar made a comment about The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and donations. As Politico reported:  

“…the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee is a non-profit that doesn't donate directly to candidates. AIPAC, however, does relentlessly push a pro-Israeli message on Capitol Hill and inside the executive branch, and its members donate to pro-Israel lawmakers and candidates while seeking to defeat those it considers a threat to U.S.-Israeli relations.” 

Then a few days ago in March she evidently implied that some pro-Israel lawmakers hold allegiance (whatever that means) to a foreign country. Again, according to Politico:   

“Omar, who is Muslim, later said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” 

Well, the Democrats certainly had to do something about this, yes sir. So they decided to have a resolution on anti-Semitic speech, and it promptly morphed into a resolution calling out “most imaginable forms of hate speech and bigotry,” as the Washington Examiner  put it. 

Only in Washington. 

The Context 

In some ways, this all seems like a sideshow, livin’ out here on the Left Coast. I love living in California, which is now a majority minority state, and I like that fact as well. We are all constantly finding ways to try and get along wherever we live in the State, and as near as I can tell, it’s working. At least a bunch better than Congress. 

With all this Congressional bruhaha, I started to try and figure out what the whole deal is with Israel anyway. Honestly, I hadn’t paid much attention in recent years, so off to the internet to refresh my recollection and see exactly how Israel currently fits into the nations of the world. It turns out that Israel isn’t like other nation states. 

They act like a nation state, but evidently, they don’t even have a formal constitution, which seems pretty odd to me. I checked with the source, Israel’s Knesset, their legislature. You can view the whole article here 

“Israel has no written constitution. Various attempts to draft the formal document since 1948 have fallen short of the mark, and instead Israel has evolved a system of basic laws and rights, which enjoy semi-constitutional status. This provisional solution is increasingly inadequate for Israel's needs, and the necessity for completing this historic task has never been so urgent.” 

Moving right along, I then discovered that in 2018 they passed a new Nation State Bill, which is way beyond the scope of this piece, other than you would think that Israel must not be too sure of its exact status in the world of nation states either, or they wouldn’t have felt the necessity to pass the Bill. A fairly complete explanation of all this is posted by Wikipedia, under Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.  

If your head is hurting by now, you’re not alone. The place must be an absolute feast for lawyers.  

Much Ado About Nothing? 

What I do know is that Israel is not a part of the United States of America, just like all the other countries in the world aren’t part of the United States either, unless my college education slipped up somewhere.  

Anyhow, it also appears that the current contretemps with one congress member being accused of making “anti-Semitic” remarks, which is another overused and not so easy to understand phrase, also involved a big-time lobbyist group. Not to mention a snotty comment about that paragon of truth and honesty, Kevin McCarthy, who maybe should spend more time in his Bakersfield District and less time in Washington D.C. 

OK, so with all this context, a bit of clarity starts to emerge. Everybody I know (other than elected officials) know for a fact that in our one dollar one vote era, Lobbyists own the United States of America’s political system. Both parties, both houses. So why would sayin’ the nasty that AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) lobbies and unduly influences politics in Congress surprise or excite anyone?  

Maybe I’m naive, but I thought this stuff was mostly old history. I do know that my parents’ generation had plenty of anti-Jewish creeps in Orange County, and I saw some folks in El Cajon who were downright scary, but that was their generation and a long time ago. 

I thought back in the day that the JDL (Jewish Defense League) had driven most of the whack jobs out or underground. My generation’s rise and the free speech movement showed us that everything speech should ultimately be fair game (excluding physical violence or the incitement thereof). Heck, you should have heard Lenny Bruce’s monologues for some raw stuff. Really. 

Actually, back in the day, yours truly was called anything from a Bohunk to a German to a Gypsy to a Jew (and often a Bolshevik Commie back in the Berkeley days). The only one I ever responded to was the Commie one, and that was to clarify that I thought Commies were a bunch of wimps.  Depending on which family story you listened to, any of the recollections could have been true, so who cares. This was before Ancestry.com and DNA tests. 

The Takeaway 

The only thing I do know is that since the Presidency of Donald Trump, all kinds of bad, nasty, vulgar characterizations of people are popping up, most of which emanate from the President’s very own lips. Go ask him to tone it down if you dare. Oh yeah, we tried that. 

He also went way beyond guaranteeing the continued integrity and existence of Israel. My goodness, Jerusalem has to be the seat of government for Israel? Jared Kushner is an “honest broker” for peace, while he sucks up to Arab nations for money? 

Here in California, nobody’s a majority of anything, and that’s a good thing to me. As for the Congressional Democrats taking a knee for a lobbyist group called AIPAC, what’s new? The only difference I see between AIPAC and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is that the Saudis were smart, bypassed Congress, went to the top, and bought the President and his ethically challenged son-in-law. Didn’t need a motion. 

So, let’s all take a chill pill and get back to trying to run the joint. Also, seems to me that mealy-mouthed say-nothing-votes like the recent one on hate speech are pathetic.


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.