Chino Hills Council Desperately Seeking To Shut Down Criticism Of Israeli War Effort

I and all the world know
What all schoolchildren learn
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
                       -W. H. Auden
On a continuous basis since January, Chino Hills City Council meetings, against the wishes of the council members, other city officials and many of the attendees, have been turned into impromptu fora with regard to the violence that has been taking place more than a third of the way around the globe following Hamas’s October 2023 testing of Israeli authority in Gaza.
While the creation of the Israeli state has been a controversial issue since before that country’s founding in 1948, in the United States, given the affluence, influence and prominence of the Jewish population within scientific, legal, informational, entertainment, political and social contexts, Israel has been, while not immune from criticism, favored generally by the American people throughout the country. The firm, that is to say oftentimes ruthless and brutal, policies employed by Israel in its dealings with its surrounding countries and even those non-Jewish citizens living within its borders, has for 70 years been a reality the vast majority of those living in the United States have been willing to overlook, particularly given the recognition of the atrocities visited upon European Jewry during the Second World War. Regardless of what liberties its founders might have taken in establishing their country, Israel has forever since been surrounded on three sides with nation states and non-nations states unrelentingly hostile to it.
From the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, throughout the 1950s and both the Suez Crisis and Lebanon War, the Palestinian Fedayen Insurgency, the 1960s and the Six-Day War followed by the War of Attrition, the 1970s and the Yom Kippur War followed by the Palestinian Insurgency in Lebanon, the 1980s and the Intifada and the Lebanon conflicts, the 1990s and the Second Intifada, the 2006 Lebanon War and the 2008-09 Gaza War, the 2014 Gaza War proceeded by operations in the Gaza Strip and the Iran-Israel conflict that grew out of the Syrian Civil War, Israel had the advantage of U.S. governmental backing, the exception of the Suez Crisis notwithstanding. Moreover, Israel has enjoyed relatively strong popular American support with the balance of the U.S. media drowning out whatever dissenting voices there were that took the side of those against whom Israel was militating and warring.
The Israel-Hamas War has proven a radical exception. From its inception in October 2023, when the vaunted Israeli military and intelligence/security services were caught flatfooted as never before, Israel and both its Jewish and non-Jewish supporters in the United States have been dealing with the entirely uncharted phenomenon of both vocal support at the street level as well as written and videographic support within the media for those ethnic groups other than Jews who must live within the confines of 8,019-square mile Israel or who live under Israeli occupation of the 503-square miles surrounding that country’s periphery. After having been rocked back on its heels by a well-coordinated and stealthily executed insurgent action launched on October 7 in which Hamas killed 1,139 Israelis and foreign nationals including 766 civilians and 373 military members and taking hostage another 253 Israelis and foreigners, the Israelis, slowly and gradually at first and then with greater confidence and aplomb have brought their superior force and firepower to bear to more than even the score. Israel in relatively short order cleared from its territory the Hamas-led Palestinian militants who had breached the Gaza-Israel barrier, while simultaneously tightening its blockade of the Gaza Strip, before launching one of the most intense bombing campaigns in modern history, thereafter undertaking a ground invasion aimed at rooting out Hamas and taking control again of Gaza.
The Israeli campaign has been complicated by Hamas’s ability and practice of blending in with the indigenous Gaza population, which has led to wide-scale and repeated casualties among the non-combatant Palestinian population.
In the meantime, supporters of the Palestinians and Israel’s opponents have said that the Hamas uprising and its military actions came in response to generations of Israeli domination of the indigenous, non-Jewish population in the region and the continued Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the plight of Palestinian refugees and prisoners, the blockade of the Gaza Strip, the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and the Israeli desecration and further threats to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Such statements of support of the Palestinians and their cause had never been heard with such frequency and intensity throughout the United States before, and as more and more expressions of support of the Palestinians were made, those making such statements grew bolder still, to the point that it was becoming clear that a substantial minority within the Democratic Party throughout the United States, which has traditionally been highly supportive of Israel, had sympathies that lie with the Palestinians. Along the way, this signaled a progression toward the potential or eventual dissolution of a key element of Israel’s fundamental strength, its reliance upon U.S. military and political support.
Israel’s tightened blockade and attacks on infrastructure within Gaza continued unabated, leading to a humanitarian crisis, which included damage to the Gaza Strip’s medical institutions and its hospitals, together with a famine that remains ongoing. At present, Israeli forces have destroyed close to two-thirds of the housing in Gaza. Because of the blockades and the impoverishment of Gaza’s residents, many are trapped in an area where they are subject to continuing reprisals directed toward Hamas but which fall upon them.
Throughout the Israeli operation in reaction to the October 7 Hamas attack, to date more than 33,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, including over 14,000 children and 9,000 women.
There have been protests nationwide in the U.S., as elsewhere in the world, by various groups calling for a ceasefire and an end to the Israeli occupation. Some such requests have emanated from those who have previously been supporters of Israel, including staunch advocates on that country’s behalf, many of whom believe that one atrocity does not justify another atrocity, nor should one set of atrocities begat another set.
It is the case that sentiment against Israel’s continue operations in Gaza runs as heavily in Chino Hills as does it elsewhere. Chino Hills qualifies as San Bernardino County’s most affluent city, measured by per capita and household income of its residents, with a median household income of $103,473. Chino Hills is also a haven for a substantial number of foreigners, both naturalized and ones who are on track toward U.S. citizenship, as well as those on extended visas.
Fully thirty percent of the adult population in Chino Hills is foreign-born. While 29 percent of the population identifies itself as “white,” according to the 2020 U.S. Census, the Asian population had reached 40.5 percent four years ago and the Hispanic populace, who may include themselves in any race, stood at 28.2 percent, with African Americans accounting for 4.2 percent of the city’s 78,411 population at that time and 0.8 percent calling themselves native Americans, 0.2 percent Pacific Islanders and11.3 percent falling into some other category. The Arab population in Chino Hills stands at an even 1 percent, compared to 0.83 percent in the state of California and 0.65 percent in the nation. The Persian population of Chino Hills, at least 8 percent of which is Jewish, stands at 1.6 percent. The population in Chino Hills, including those foreign born, are relatively well educated, with 52.4 of adults in the city holding bachelor’s degree.
With foreign born individuals in Chino Hills attempting to live into the American Dream and the free speech principle embodied in the First Amendment, they naturally are anxious to participate in voicing their beliefs and opinions on current topics. As cities such as Chino Hills have a “representative” form of governance, many perceive City Hall as a “town hall” or “civic forum” at which they can make their feelings known. Lost on some is the distinction between the various branches or phases of government, such as the administrative, legislative and judicial or the levels of governance, such as federal, state, county or municipal. As cities such as Chino Hills have a “representative” form of governance, many see a city council meeting as synonymous with a town hall, and some blur the distinction between the differing jurisdictions.
In this way, many residents of Chino Hills seeking to lodge a protest against Israeli policies in Gaza have come to believe that the city council meetings that take place on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at 6 pm in the Chino Hills City Council Chambers at 14000 City Center Drive are an ideal forum for doing just that.
From the outset of the current year, beginning with the council meeting on on January 9 and again on January 23, February 13, February 27, March 12 and March 26, multiple individuals acting independently as well as ones who have been acting in concert with one another have used a portion or even all of the three minutes normally allotted to members of the public to request that the city use its authority to do something – anything – to bring the hostilities in Gaza to an end. Those acting in unison on this issue have included the group Chino Valley 4 Palestine. Its members have repeatedly requested that the city council approve a resolution endorsing a cease-fire on the Israel-Hamas War to bring what they say is genocide in Gaza to a close. On February 13, March 12 and March 26 at least one person requested that the city council not refrain from adopting a resolution in favor of a ceasefire in Gaza.
City officials have endeavored to explain to the public that they have no charter and no authority to intercede in international affairs and that their influence over events political extends merely to the running of the City of Chino Hills and the 44.8 square miles within its city limits. Several city residents, however, have expressed their belief that the city government exists as a representative of and mouthpiece for the city’s current 77.430 residents and that the council members, collectively and on behalf of the city’s residents can pass such a resolution asking Israel to consent to the ceasefire or to call upon the U.S. Government to intercede in bringing a ceasefire to bear.
In some cases, some residents have become irate to the point of shouting, expressing their belief the city is shirking its moral responsibility to address injustice no matter where it occurs.
On March 12, the council held concurrently with its regular meeting that day a special meeting at which it discussed the practice of “utilizing the Brown Act limitation (Government Code Section 54954.3) which allows the city to restrict public communications to city business [those being] matters that are within the city’s subject matter jurisdiction and return to enforcing Administrative Policy and Procedures Policy No. 1.4, Section 3.3, which limits public communications to city business.”
City Attorney Mark Hensley propounded that there is a clear provision in California law, Government Code 54954.3, which can be used to limit what a member of the public can speak about during a council meeting. Hensley said a council meeting is not an open-ended and unrestricted venue but is considered a “limited public forum” in which citizens have the right to address the city council about matters that fall within the city’s authority.
Hensley quoted Government Code 54954.3, which states, “Every agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body’s consideration of the item that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body, provided that no action shall be taken on any item not appearing on the agenda unless the action is otherwise authorized by subdivision.’
Hensley said that the waging of wars or bringing them to a conclusion is a matter that falls under federal rather than local jurisdiction. He said no matter how passionately city residents may feel about any number of national and international issues, the city does not have the legally constituted reach to impact those issues.
Insofar as activity within the city, such as hate crimes vectored toward individuals based upon their ethnicity and/or religious beliefs, the city does have jurisdiction in addressing those to the point that the city’s police department can address them and the city can use its bully pulpit of public communications to discourage such behavior.
Fora for residents and all citizens to express their views exist within the city of Chino Hills, but city council meetings at which business relating to city operations is agendized and discussed is not one of those, Hensley said.

At the March 12 meeting, the city council also tweaked the city’s administrative policy and procedures manual to prevent residents speaking on any unagendized item during the public comment period from using the city’s audiovisual equipment to augment their comments. The change did not extend to those seeking to offer input on agendized items. The change was intended to prevent members of the public, as had been the case previously, from using the city’s audiovisual equipment, to show videos or photographs of horrific scenes of mayhem or protest against the war in Gaza.
Unspoken is the concern that Chino Hills officials have that a continuation of the pro-Palestinian advocacy at the city’s council meetings, which has been far more pronounced in Chino Hills than all of the county’s other 21 cities and two incorporated towns combined, will awaken the constituents of Calvary Chapel, a local congregation headed by Pastor Jack Hibbs, into an activist mode.
At Hibbs’ prompting, Calvary Chapel attendees have flexed their political muscle by electing, since the early 2000s, one after another, members of the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees. By 2012, members of that church constituted a majority of the school board, whereupon the district instituted a number of “Christian-friendly” policies, such as a curriculum including Bible study and Christian prayer within district functions and fora. For reasons both known and unknown, Hibbs has refrained from bringing what he calls his “denominalationist” approach to bear in seeking to influence the decision-making process exercised by the Chino City Council or the Chino Hills City Council.
Were he to vector his congregation to attend the Chino Hills Council meetings and begin weighing in on the Israel-Hamas War, its members’ statements most certainly would be ones in support of the Israeli position. This would set up a circumstance in which there would be significant numbers of attendees with diametrically opposite sentiments at the council meetings, a potentially explosive situation that officials would rather avoid. As it has stood since January, the lion’s share of those in attendance at the Chino Hills meetings have been pro-Palestinian, a touchy arrangement given that there have been a few pro-Israeli partisans among the crowd, but no overt acts of hostility or violence manifested.
-Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply