July 21st, 2017

People who know me know that I am a rabid supporter of the First Amendment of our Constitution to the extreme that I think we do have a right to shout fire in a crowded theater. There is no more vital right of an American citizen that that of free speech. That is why I am appalled that my senator, Robert Jones Portman, is a cosponsor of S. 720, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act which would would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel, which was launched in protest of that country’s decades-old occupation of Palestine and impose a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

That’s a fine of $1 million and 20 years in prison for exercising your constitutional right to free speech.

All Americans, regardless of party must be horrified at this bill.

Glenn Greenwald, writing in U.S. Lawmakers Seek to Criminally Outlaw Support for Boycott Campaign Against Israel for The Intercept, concludes:

This pernicious bill highlights many vital yet typically ignored dynamics in Washington. First, journalists love to lament the lack of bipartisanship in Washington, yet the very mention of the word “Israel” causes most members of both parties to quickly snap into line in a show of unanimity that would make the regime of North Korea blush with envy. Even when virtually the entire world condemns Israeli aggression, or declares settlements illegal, the U.S. Congress—across party and ideological lines—finds virtually complete harmony in uniting against the world consensus and in defense of the Israeli government.

Second, the free speech debate in the U.S. is incredibly selective and warped. Pundits and political officials love to crusade as free speech champions — when doing so involves defending mainstream ideas or attacking marginalized, powerless groups such as minority college students. But when it comes to one of the most systemic, powerful, and dangerous assaults on free speech in the U.S. and the West generally—the growing attempt to literally criminalize speech and activism aimed at the Israeli government’s occupation—these free speech warriors typically fall silent.

hird, AIPAC continues to be one of the most powerful, and pernicious, lobbying forces in the country. In what conceivable sense is it of benefit to Americans to turn them into felons for the crime of engaging in political activism in protest of a foreign nation’s government? And this is hardly the first time they have attempted to do this through their most devoted congressional loyalists; Cardin, for instance, had previously succeeded in inserting into trade bills provisions that would disfavor anyone who supports a boycott of Israel.

Finally, it is hard to put into words the irony of watching many of the most celebrated and beloved congressional leaders of the anti-authoritarian Resistance—Gillibrand, Schiff, Swalwell, and Lieu—sponsor one of the most oppressive and authoritarian bills to appear in Congress in many years. How can one credibly inveigh against “authoritarianism” while sponsoring a bill that dictates to American citizens what political views they are and are not allowed to espouse under threat of criminal prosecution? Whatever labels one might want to apply to the sponsors of this bill, “anti-authoritarianism” should not be among them.

Toadies works for me.

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