Tag Archives: Free Speech

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Sue the SOBs? It’s Harder Than You Think

8-15-16

Are you one of those Americans who say it’s too easy to file a lawsuit? As I can tell you from personal experience, it’s anything but. The canard that U.S. courts are jammed up by litigious jerks is based on anecdotes spread by corporate propaganda.

We do need “tort reform” — but we should make it easier to sue, not harder.

What about all those “frivolous lawsuits” you’re always hearing about? You hear about them because deep-pocketed corporations run TV ads complaining that they’re being victimized by predatory trial lawyers. The truth is, big companies don’t want to be held accountable in the courts for their misdeeds.
What most people don’t know is that judges are good at ferreting out frivolous lawsuits before they get very far. If you get sued, the first thing your defense lawyer will do is file a “motion for summary judgment” — a request that the judge throw out the case because it’s weak. Between this and other methods of winnowing out bad cases, at least 95% of civil claims never make it to trial.

The dirty secret is that American courts have created so many hurdles to sue that it’s become daunting for all but the most determined plaintiffs to pursue justice. My case against The Los Angeles Times illustrates how hard it is for an individual to sue a large entity.

The Times fired me as its editorial cartoonist in July 2015, apparently as a favor to LAPD’s police chief, whom I had mocked in my cartoons.

Neither I nor Times readers were aware that there was a conflict of interest between the paper and the fuzz: the LAPD’s union pension fund was a major shareholder of the Times’ parent company.

It ought to be illegal for a government agency or an entity associated with a government agency to buy stock in a media company — but it isn’t.

The Times published an article accusing me of having lied in a blog post. I was able to show that I’d told the truth. But after I sent the Times the exonerating evidence — which attracted worldwide media attention and calls for my reinstatement — instead of issuing a retraction and giving me back my job, Times executives doubled down, publishing a second piece reaffirming the first one. In March 2016, I filed suit in LA Superior Court against the Times for defamation, wrongful termination, blacklisting and other charges.

As I expected, the Times’ defense attorney filed a motion to dismiss my case on the grounds that it was not meritorious. The judge denied.

After that, California’s legal and financial hurdles became nearly insurmountable.
When free speech groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation get behind something, I’m usually all for it. The First Amendment is my religion. But speech advocates’ support for a federal anti-SLAPP law is wrong — and terrible for freedom of expression. Perhaps they haven’t thought this all the way through.

Twenty-eight states and D.C. have passed anti-SLAPP laws. On paper, they sound great. A “SLAPP” (strategic lawsuit against public participation) is a lawsuit the plaintiff doesn’t think he’ll actually win. The purpose of a SLAPP is to harass you by forcing you to hire a lawyer and tie you up in court. It’s an intimidation tactic sometimes used by big companies to silence individual whistleblowers and critics. Is the problem really widespread? No one knows. No one has done a serious study.

If you get sued in a state with an anti-SLAPP statute, your anti-SLAPP motion is a powerful tool. Discovery (depositions, subpoenaing of evidence) halts. If the judge rules in the defendant’s favor that a suit is frivolous, the case gets tossed and the plaintiff pays the defendant’s attorney fees. This is supposed to make jerky plaintiffs think twice before filing a SLAPP.

There are two big problems with this theory.

First, anti-SLAPP isn’t likely to deter frivolous SLAPPs filed by wealthy companies and individuals. Wealthy entities have more than enough money to litigate anti-SLAPP and to absorb the potential awarding of attorney’s fees to defendants. In fact, proponents have never come up with any statistical evidence that anti-SLAPP laws deter frivolous lawsuits.

Second, the intent of anti-SLAPP laws — to protect the little guy from the big guys — is constitutionally prohibited. You can’t grant rights to some defendants but not others; there are plaintiffs and defendants, period. So there’s nothing to prevent a rich megacorporation from using anti-SLAPP against Joe Schmoe.

Which is how the LA Times, the fourth largest newspaper in the U.S. and part of a $512 million media conglomerate, was allowed to file an anti-SLAPP motion against a $300/week cartoonist. In other words, the Times censored my cartoons and tried to ruin my journalistic career for their owners, the police. Then they accused me of violating their First Amendment rights!

Starting with their anti-SLAPP motion, Times’ lawyers have unleashed a barrage of tactics to delay my suit and harass me. And it’s worked — for nearly a year, I haven’t been able to question Times editors or LAPD officials under oath or subpoena documents that would help me build my case — or my defense to the anti-SLAPP motion. I’ll get my case before a jury in 2018 or 2019 — if I’m lucky.

Or I’ll be broke.

Three days of anti-SLAPP hearings in Rall v. Los Angeles Times begin February 28th in LA Superior Court. My attorneys spent many hours preparing our opposition to that motion. Legal fees aren’t cheap, so the expense of defending against an anti-SLAPP filing before the case even begins is enough to deter some plaintiffs from filing valid lawsuits.

If the judge rules for the Times, I’ll be ordered to pay the Times their legal fees. The Times told the court their bills would be at least $300,000. If she rules for me, the Times can and probably will appeal to the Court of Appeals. That means more work for me and my lawyers and months, maybe another year, of delay — and justice delayed is justice denied. If the appellate court agrees with the Times, my case gets thrown out and I’ll have to pay the Times’ bills — which by then will be significantly higher.

I know I’m right. And I think the law is on my side. But by filing a lawsuit in an anti-SLAPP state, I’m risking bankruptcy. How many would-be plaintiffs get scared away from pursuing their legitimate claims? How many defendants get away with illegal behavior by abusing anti-SLAPP laws?

Anti-SLAPP opens the door to unfair defense tactics. LA Times lawyers invoked an obscure California statute to require me, as a non-California resident, to post a cash bond to guarantee the Times’ legal bills if they win on anti-SLAPP. They asked for $300,000; the judge knocked it down to $75,000. Just to keep my case going — before it begins, really — 75 grand was the cost of entry.

Thanks to concerned readers who gave to my GoFundMe campaign, I raised the $75,000. After I turned over the money to a bond company who filed it with the court (more fees there), the Times tried to get the case thrown out on the ground that the form hadn’t been filled out perfectly.

Still think it’s too easy to sue?

There’s hope for change. In 2015 Washington State became the first state to find its anti-SLAPP statute unconstitutional because it denies plaintiffs their fundamental right to a trial by jury. Anti-SLAPP, the Washington Supreme Court ruled, “seeks to protect one group of citizen’s constitutional rights of expression and petition — by cutting off another group’s constitutional rights of petition and jury trial.” Minnesota and D.C. may do the same.

Congress should pass a federal law about this — one that bans anti-SLAPP laws.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

You Did It! $75,000 Crowdfunding Effort Succeeds, LA Times Court Bond Filed

YOU DID IT!

746 people.

$75,390.

Thanks to you, we beat back the Times’ despicable attempt to deny me a chance to prove my case in court.

Thank you so much.

Below I am posting an image of the bond filed at LA Superior Court. Amazing that so much money buys you such a crappy piece of paper! I was expecting a wax seal and gold embossing.

Here’s what happens next:

Additional donations up to $80,000 will help cover the 5% GoFundMe fee of $75,000 x .05 = $3750, plus the $1250 bond company fee, for a total of $5000.

Donations over $80,000, if any, will be applied to legal expenses such as flying from New York to Los Angeles to consult with my attorneys and to attend hearings.

At a hearing on Tuesday, August 23, the judge will be informed that we filed the required bond. That means the case moves forward. Thank you!!!

The Times’ anti-SLAPP motion is currently scheduled to be heard in March 2017. (The court could change the hearing date.) We will use the months between now and then to draft our defense to their anti-SLAPP motion.

If the judge rules for the Times, I will be hit with a judgement for the Times’ legal fees, which are expected to reach hundreds of thousands of dollars. The $75,000 bond would be applied toward that balance. The Times will go after me for the rest.

If the judge rules in our favor, the Times has the right to appeal to the Court of Appeals. Given their contemptuous behavior so far, we expect them to do that. We don’t know how long it would take to get a hearing date.

Again, if the Court of Appeals rules in the Times’ favor on anti-SLAPP, the Times will go after me for their legal fees.

If the Court of Appeals rules for me, however, we move forward toward trial in LA Superior Court on the fundamental issues of this case: wrongful termination, blacklisting, defamation, etc. We begin discovery, depositions. Finally, there is a court date.

After a verdict, of course, the  system provides for appeals to higher courts.

I am prepared for a long fight against an intransigent and unrepentant adversary, a corporate conglomerate without a conscience. I am mentally and physically strong. I have stamina and a lot of energy. Most of all, I have the truth on my side.

I want two things:

Accountability for Austin Beutner, Nick Goldberg, Paul Pringle, Deirdre Edgar, the Times, and Tronc. No one should be allowed to get away with what they did.

Exposing the corrupt relationship between the Times and the LAPD, and more generally between the press and the police, and government. In our system, you have to be rich or have (as I do) a public platform in order to get justice. It’s incumbent upon those few Americans who have the chance to fight back to show people what the system is really about: cozy backroom deals by the elites, who are determined to protect their privilege at the expense of the rest of us.

======================================
Here is the court filing document, filed Tuesday at LA Superior Court. When we realized that it would take 2-5 business days for GoFundMe to release funds and perhaps an additional full business day for the bond company to issue the bond and get it filed, a very generous friend of a friend stepped forward with a very short-term loan so we could get it filed by today’s deadline. He was certain that this fundraiser would succeed. He had blind faith — in you, in me, that justice would prevail.

He’ll be repaid by early next week, after the GoFundMe money hits my account.

Bond

BondStamp

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

Jihadi Art Critics Circle

Garry Trudeau, creator of the comic strip “Doonesbury,” gave an acceptance speech for a Polk journalism award at which he criticized the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists for creating work that was insensitive to Islam, crossed the line, and thus brought a “world of pain” upon France.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

The Religion Exception

American news media outlets refused to show the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that provoked the slaughter of 12 people in Paris last week on the grounds that their policies forbid the depiction of imagery that intentionally mocks religion. Which opens up a great loophole for politicians in trouble.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Will the Next 9/11 Arrive via Drone?

Aggressive Drone Wars Set a Dangerous Precedent

There’s no denying it: we Americans, we have a lot of nerve.

We love to pick fights, but when someone punches back, man, the whining never stops. And boy, do we love to escalate. Nuclear weapons? We invented the suckers, used them not once but twice – the only country that ever has – the only anybody who ever has – yet we have the balls to slap economic sabotage on the Iranians and North Koreans and smear them as “rogue states” for even thinking about trying to get their own. Which these nations only want – irony alert – because they’re afraid of us.

You know the pattern. We escalate the arms race with some nifty new gadget devilishly designed to kill and maim more efficiently and effectively, then we deploy brute economic and military force (along with wildly hypocritical propaganda about how we’re nice and peaceful and the most trustworthy bunch around) to keep those fancy new weapons all to ourselves for as long as possible. Like cyber warfare. We started it.

The first major state-against-state – completely unprovoked – first strike in cyberspace was the Stuxnet virus unleashed against Iranian nuclear power facilities. A joint American-Israeli effort, it wasn’t enough for us to mess with the Iranians. We had to gloat.

Now it’s drones. Beginning in 2004 with George W. Bush, the drone warfare program against the peoples of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia and God knows where else was greatly escalated by an Obama administration marketing itself as a regime ending two wars in public (though not really) while it secretly expands America’s military footprint.

And jokes about it.

Operating as usual in full-on bully mode, the U.S. blithely acts as though it’s entitled to the perpetual exclusive right to invade other nation’s sovereign airspace at will. Rather than assume the dignified posture of silence or the embarrassed sheep business of a kid who got caught in the cookie jar, Obama officials even had the gall to get all sassy and file a formal diplomatic protest after the Iranians shot at one of their spy Predators in November. In a different world, one where Iran had the world’s largest military and was the world’s undisputed number-one arms dealer, the Islamic Republic could have made a credible case under international law for war against the U.S.

In an ideal world – i.e., the kind of society people of goodwill work to create – these devices would be illegal under international law. Like landmines, drones do a lot more harm than good. You’d might as well declare the First Amendment dead and gone now that private corporations, the FBI, CIA, local police and just about anyone else can scan the crowds at antigovernment protests and identify demonstrators with facial recognition software. Who is going to dare to make a radical statement now? As it is, you can’t count on cops not to shoot unarmed African-American men. How many more innocent civilians are going to die due to the faulty judgment of a drone pilot miles away? As the first country to develop drone technology, the U.S. had the chance to keep this genie stuffed inside its bottle; instead, we let the monster loose and told it to run wild.

It doesn’t take a genius military strategist to worry about drone weapons proliferation. The technology is relatively simple and cheap, so cheap that soldiers occupying Afghanistan use throwaway six-pound mini-drones slightly larger than paper airplanes to see what’s around the next mountain.

The FAA is rushing to approve licenses to “tens of thousands of police, fire and other government agencies able to afford drones lighter than traditional aircraft and costing as little as $300,” reports The New York Times, including everything from “remote-controlled planes as big as jetliners to camera-toting hoverers called Nano Hummingbirds that weigh 19 grams.” Police departments from Seattle to Gadsden, Alabama have already bought these creepy devices. And it’s now possible for a private citizen to buy his own drone for $300. A peeping Tom’s dream!

It was only a matter of time – not much time – before other countries followed suit. Which prompts two questions.

What’s to stop a hostile nation-state from attacking the United States with drones?

What if terrorists get drones?

Answer to the first question first: Nothing can stop a nation from Hellfiring us. While there are practical and economic barriers to entry that reduce nuclear proliferation, even the poorest nations can develop a scary drone program. Israel and its American ally claim to be terrified of the prospect of an Iranian nuclear attack against Tel Aviv, but the threat of a conventional weapons attack via drone is really what should be keeping policymakers up at night. Iran unveiled its Shahed 129 drone plane, a device that can fly 24 hours in a row, in September. That’s the one they plan to export. In September an Iranian drone launched from Lebanon successfully took pictures of Israeli military facilities.

The trouble isn’t just the drones themselves. It’s how the United States uses them: aggressively, prolifically, violently and with little concern for legal or diplomatic niceties. “Skip the drone debate, just kill the terrorists before they kill us,” reads the headline of a FoxNews piece by Erick Erickson, one of the Right’s most reliable cretins. But it’s not that simple. When the United States, the first nation to develop and deploy drones for surveillance and military attack purposes, asserts the right to “defend” itself by looking anywhere it wants and blowing up anyone it feels like, including its own citizens and people who have never expressed the slightest desire to attack the United States, it sets a precedent.

“More than 50 nations have or are trying to get [drone] technology,” notes The Times. “The United States will set the standard for them all.” Osama bin Laden said he wouldn’t have hesitated to use a nuke against the U.S. because Hiroshima and Nagasaki were civilian targets. Using the same reasoning as the Obama administration, why wouldn’t the government of Yemen be legally justified to deploy Yemeni drones over American airspace and use them to blow up any Americans or anyone else they felt like?

We don’t hold back. Why should anybody else?

While a nation-state might feel constrained by the international community, its allies or domestic public opinion from attacking civilian targets in the United States, an underground resistance organization would be far less likely to refrain from using drones to make a political statement and/or wage remote-control guerrilla warfare. Even terrorist groups care about PR – but, like bin Laden, they could easily make the case that we have it coming.

Though some commentators – mainly and interestingly, liberals aligned with the Obama administration, which makes one wonder if they’d change sides after a GOP electoral sweep – pooh-pooh the terrorist drone threat, this is one time when the smoke rising from the ashes of buildings in an American city isn’t a remote (no pun intended) possibility created by a fevered theorist but rather an absolute certainty. It isn’t a matter of if we’ll get hit by drones. It’s a matter of when.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Political Violence? Stop Violent Politics

Media Spokesmen Move to Stifle Violent Speech

The shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 11 other people is tragic. But it is not shocking. It isn’t even surprising.

What is surprising—weird, even—is the response of the corporate-owned political and media establishment. They’re coming out against violent rhetoric. Not real violence. They want to stop talk about violence.

Liberals accuse right-wingers of creating an atmosphere of hatred that fuels incidents like the Arizona shootings.

“We need to put the gun metaphors away and permanently,” urged MSNBC’s Keith Olberman. If he gets his way, a lot of people in Hollywood are going to be out of work.

Violent-rhetoric-causes actual-violence-is-a-liberal-meme. “Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin,” tweeted Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos after the Tucson shootings. Moulitsas noted that the website for Palin’s PAC featured an image of Rep. Giffords’ district with crosshairs over it. There is, however, no evidence that the accused gunman ever saw Palin’s website.

Righties counter that the really inflammatory rhetoric comes from the left. From, for example the likes of me: “Left-wing cartoonist Ted Rall’s most recent book calls for a violent response from the left against the right,” Erick Erickson of RedState whined after Giffords was shot. “The point of all of this is not to blame Ted Rall,” he then backtracked. Like hell.

The cognitive disconnect between reality and self-perception in American society and politics is bizarre and frightening. Whenever there’s a school or workplace shooting spree, Americans act shocked! shocked! shocked! To hear media commentators, you’d think this was a peace-loving nation of Dalai Lamas rather than a bunch of brawlin’, trash-talkin’, gun-totin’, foreigner-bombin’ yahoos who drive around Iraq shooting people while listening to death metal.

“Violence, or the threat of violence, has no place in our democracy,” said Keith Olberman. Does he live in America? Americans worship violence. Kicking ass is our national religion. “Violence and threats of violence” are part of our daily lives. As a kid, I got beaten up by bullies. As an adult, I collect death threats in response to my cartoons. When I ride my bike, motorists try to run me off the road. Most of my female friends have been raped.

When I served jury duty in New York prospective jurors were asked whether they or someone close to them had ever been the victim of a violent crime. Down the line they went, 50 at a time. They went through 150 people. Every New Yorker there had suffered the effects of a brutal assault or the murder of a loved one.

The first time I felt any self-respect was when I sent a high school bully to the hospital.

Sorry, Keith. Violence has plenty of place in our lame excuse for a democracy. Remember how Bush became president in 2000? He hired goons to assault Florida election workers and had a representative threaten a coup on national television.

“Such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society,” chimed in President Obama. Who was either coming from or en route to a meeting with Pentagon generals to discuss America’s wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, or perhaps the occupation of Haiti, or expanding the new concentration camp at Bagram. How many assassination orders have you signed so far, Barry? How many extraordinary renditions? How many torture memos?

As I recently explained to an interviewer: “The reason I oppose this particular regime is because it is so aggressively violent.”

And I’m not talking about gun violence.

I’m talking about the wholesale over-the-top violence of neo-colonialism abroad, fueled by a cult of militarism here at home. U.S. forces are currently engaged in combat operations and propping up puppet regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and many other countries. They are hated and reviled there. Here every other car’s bumper urges us to “support our troops.”

We kill so many civilians we can’t be bothered to count them; not even America’s wimpy phony Left opposes the killing of “enemy” uniformed soldiers who die defending their homelands. Military action is America’s default response to every major news story. The 9/11 attacks? Kill them all—even if we’re not sure who “they” are. Hurricane Katrina? Send in the troops—not help. Indian Ocean tsunami, earthquakes in Pakistan or Haiti—anything and everything is an opportunity to invade, corrupt, pillage and murder.

The young man accused of shooting Rep. Giffords is portrayed as sick, deranged, and fond of oddball conspiracy theories. In these things, he is a typical American. “Typical” Americans, after all, believe in angels and creationism and that Bush found the WMDs in Iraq and trickle-down economics. Typical liberal Americans think it’s perfectly fine to give trillions to bankers while millions lose their jobs and get no help whatsoever.

The Tucson gunman is accused of an act of “senseless violence.” Here, too, he is just another face in the crowd. We all pay our taxes. None of us loses a minute of sleep as those taxes are used to make bombs and hire men and women to drop them on innocent people, who then blow into bits of flesh and bone.

Then there is the covert violence all around us: the tens of thousands of Americans who die annually because they can’t afford to pay for a doctor’s visit, the millions of children who go to bed hungry every night, the millions evicted from foreclosed homes (tell them it’s not an act of violence), the hundreds of thousands who sleep outside and the millions who couchsurf with friends and relatives because shelter is too expensive. We don’t even think about getting serious about solving these problems.

Like terrorism, political violence is a relatively minor issue. And as guys named Lincoln and Garfield and Charles Sumner—who was nearly beaten to death by a fellow member on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1856—could attest, it is not a new one.

The brutality being carried out by the political system and its corporate sponsors is responsible for the equivalent of tens of thousands of Tucson-level shooting sprees each year in the U.S. alone. For example, a peer-reviewed scientific study published in 2005 found that the death toll directly attributable to income inequality is “comparable to the combined loss of life from lung cancer, diabetes, motor vehicle crashes, HIV infections, suicides and homicides.”

But the ruling classes doesn’t want us to think about reality. They want to make us shut up. Thus their calls to ramp down high-octane political speech.

Political violence? We should be much more worried about violent politics.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

SYNDICATED COLUMN: First They Came for the Cranky White House Columnist

Helen Thomas Learns That Free Speech is a Myth

This is why a lot of people think Jews control the media.

Not me. I’ve worked in the media most of my life. So I know that the media is controlled by morons.

Still, what happened to Helen Thomas will feed the rants of wild-eyed conspiracy theorists.

On June 7th the professional life of Helen Thomas came to an end. The acid-tongued “dean” of the White House press corps since the Kennedy Administration got fired by her newspaper syndicate, dumped by her speakers’ bureau, and disinvited by a Bethesda high school that had asked her to address its commencement ceremonies. The White House Correspondents Association condemned her. President Obama took time out from not doing anything about unemployment or the Gulf oil spill to weigh in.

Chastened, reviled and subjected to the kind of national opprobrium normally reserved for international terrorists and blind baseball umpires, Thomas apologized and announced her retirement.

All in one day.

So what did Thomas do to merit such derision?

No, it wasn’t that journalistic career killer, plagiarism.

Actually, in America today, stealing people’s words and ideas and pretending they’re yours is A-OK. Mike Barnicle, fired by the Boston Globe for ripping off a column from a George Carlin book in 1998, landed on his feet at the New York Daily News and now works for the Boston Herald. And he’s on MSNBC. Monica Crowley, who plagiarized in the Wall Street Journal in 1999, is now at Fox News and The Washington Times. (Jayson Blair has yet to reappear in print, but that’s different. He’s black.)

No, Helen Thomas didn’t participate in the attempt to throw a presidential election.

Unlike George Will. The right-wing columnist may or may not have stolen President Jimmy Carter’s 1980 debate briefing book and handed it over to the Reagan camp, as Carter has claimed. But Will did admit in a 2005 column that he had seen the purloined document at Reagan economic advisor David Stockman’s house during the campaign. Will had a legal obligation to describe what he had seen to the police, and an ethical duty to his readers to report a blockbuster story to his readers. He did neither. Yet Will still works for Newsweek and the Washington Post, publications whose readers must not care about the truth.

No, Thomas didn’t say anything racist.

But racism doesn’t get you fired from journalism. Just ask Pat Buchanan, another MSNBC regular.

Here’s what killed Thomas’ illustrious career: “Tell them [Israelis] to get the hell out of Palestine,” she told a rabbi in a spontaneous video interview. “Remember, these people [Palestinians] are occupied, and it’s their land; it’s not German, it’s not Poland’s.” Asked where Jewish Israelis should go, she replied, “They should go home” to “Poland, Germany… America and everywhere else.”

No doubt, Thomas’ comments were simplistic. Three generations of Jews have made their homes in Israel. Asking them to back up and “return” to places where they’ve never visited, much less lived, would be inhumane, not to mention impractical. Of course, this is no different from current U.S. immigration policy, which calls for the arrest and deportation of undocumented people whose parents brought them here as small children.

Her words also demonstrate historical ignorance. Surely Thomas, who is 89, ought to know that most Israeli Jews were born there. As for the rest, many came from the former Soviet Union, not Poland or Germany (which murdered most of their Jews during, and even after, the Holocaust).

But are these remarks so beyond the pale that their utterance ought to mean the end of your professional life?

Ari Fleischer, who ought to be in prison for defending torture and concentration camps as press secretary for George W. Bush, called Thomas a fan of “religious cleansing.” Equating opposition to Israel with anti-Semitism, ex-Clinton spokesman Lanny Davis called Thomas “an anti-Semitic bigot.”

“If she had asked all blacks to go back to Africa, what would White House Correspondents Association position be as to whether she deserved White House press room credentials —much less a privileged honorary seat?” Davis asked.

Davis is entitled to his opinion. But so is Helen Thomas—not that you’d be able to tell by reading the avalanche of self-righteous yowling by politicians and editorialists.

Thomas isn’t unusual. Like it or not, supporters of the State of Israel should understand that Israel’s creation was and remains highly controversial—and not just among anti-Semites.

The postwar decision to establish a Jewish homeland by seizing land from Arabs who had nothing to do with the Holocaust—instead of, say, Germany—continues to bewilder. The fact that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are living in refugee camps, where old men and women still wave the deeds and keys to their old homes when they see a reporter, attests to the freshness of the wound. Feeling sorry for them and taking the position that they have a right to be compensated doesn’t make you a Jew-hater.

Moreover, the might-makes-right tactics of Israeli political leaders doesn’t make them any friends in the world. Acting above the law, they ignore resolutions issued by the same U.N. that made their country possible in the first place. Dissembling about their own “secret” (and illegal) nuclear weapons, they bomb an Iraqi nuke plant and threaten to do the same to Iran. Mossad operatives traveling to Dubai to assassinate political opponents.

Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians turn off a lot of people who don’t have a bigoted bone in their body.

Settlements in the occupied territories, apartheid-like economic planning, bulldozing the homes of the relatives of accused Palestinian terrorists, the Berlin Wall-esque “security fence,” and now the outrageous blockade of Gaza have angered millions of Americans. What makes these acts even more appalling is that Israel, as the number-one beneficiary of U.S. foreign aid, is America’s de facto representative in the Middle East.

Lanny Davis’ attempt to draw an analogy between Israelis and African-Americans is historical nonsense. Blacks were brought to the U.S. forcibly as slaves. Israel is occupying Palestine, and not just in Gaza and the West Bank. Eventually, the world—even Muslim countries—will come to accept the existence of the State of Israel as a fait accompli. But that will require the passage of time, as well as Israeli politicians who work harder to accommodate themselves to the Arabs inside and outside their borders.

So is Helen Thomas an anti-Semite? I don’t know. I do know that her comments were not inherently anti-Semitic.

The bigger question is: What if she were? Should she have been fired?

Of course not. Free speech must be defended no matter what—even that of cranky anti-Semitic columnists (if that’s what Thomas is/was). Unless we are truly free to say what we think—without fear of reprisal—free speech is not a right. It is merely a permission.

Besides, if every American columnist or politician lost his job over bigotry, what would that mean for all those “family values conservatives” who bash gays, not to mention the nativists who attack Latino immigrants and Muslims?

We owe Helen Thomas an apology.

(Ted Rall is the author of the upcoming “The Anti-American Manifesto,” to be published in September by Seven Stories Press. His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone