The Meaning Of Free Speech

The First Amendment to the Constitution speaks to three things: freedom of and from religion; freedom of speech and the press, and; the freedom to peacefully assemble and petition the government.

These “freedoms” come with their own restrictions as well. We cannot violate other laws while practicing our beliefs; we cannot intentionally publish falsehoods or yell “Fire” in a crowded room and; we cannot riot in the streets to make a political point.

What we can do is openly complain about our government and the influences of political organizations, committees and lobbyists on our political system.  We should be able to do this without consideration of our religion, political affiliation or social standing. This is why I am questioning the actions being taken by senior congressional leaders against Minnesota freshmen Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Like a lot of Americans, I recognize Israel’s right to be a sovereign nation and its people the ability to live in peace. I also recognize the difference between the people of Israel and the Israeli government; the Palestinian people and the Palestinian government. It is the governmental policies in which I have a problem.

I also have a problem with the influence money being spent by political committees and lobbyists on our politicians and political system. This is why, as many of you, I voted for the Clean Missouri amendment last year. This is why I am fighting the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission.

This brings me to the plight of Rep. Omar. She and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., are the first two Muslim women to be voted into Congress. Omar believes that “a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, (think) that everything we say about Israel (is) anti-Semitic because we are Muslim.” What she wants is a reasonable debate concerning the plight of the Palestinian people and the actions taken by the Israeli government against them.

This is a result of her criticizing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for their money influence over members of Congress. AIPAC is a lobby organization whose mission “is to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel.”

AIPAC is a 501(c)(4) organization and donations to AIPAC are not tax deductible. A 501(c)(4) organization “may engage in an unlimited amount of lobbying, provided that the lobbying is related to the organization’s exempt purpose.” However, A 501(c)(4) may not contribute to a political candidate’s campaign.

AIPAC is not only supported by many American Jews, but also by many evangelical Christians who see the return of Israel as part of their religious prophecy for the second coming of the Jesus. Because of the influence of these two constituencies, AIPAC hold a lot of political power in the U.S.

Omar criticized that influence because it is preventing a meaningful debate concerning the humanitarian, political and military situations in Israel. Because she criticized a Jewish organization and because she is a Muslim, she has been labeled as anti-Semitic.

In support of her criticism of AIPAC, several hundred influential Jews signed an open letter in support of Omar’s discussion.

“There is absolutely nothing anti-Semitic about calling out the noxious role of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), which spends millions each year to buy U.S. political support for Israeli aggression and militarism against the Palestinian people… (AIPAC) has played an outsized role in producing nearly unanimous congressional support for Israel. It has organized a national campaign to suppress Palestinian activism on campuses, made the Israel Anti-Boycott Act a legislative priority, and for decades has boasted about their power to make or break political careers. To point out this reality is not anti-Semitism.

“We thank Ilhan Omar for having the bravery to shake up the congressional taboo against criticizing Israel. As Jews with a long tradition of social justice and anti-racism, AIPAC does not represent us.”

So where is the line drawn as between criticisms of Israel as being a political or an anti-Semitic statement? When is public or private speech a violation of the ideal of the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause? It really depends on the statement and the listener to determine if the line has been crossed.

With the rise of white supremacy movements in America over the past two-years, we have seen a rise in true anti-Semitism. Omar voicing her concern for plight of the Palestinian people is not anti-Semitic, but true patriotism, pointing out the influence of unbridled money in American politics.

About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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