I went to Michael Sfard’s lecture last week at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law with a heavy heart.
Why? Because even though Sfard, a young Israeli attorney, is called a “human rights lawyer,” his clients are mainly Palestinian Arabs. He defends their rights — and not from fellow Arabs. For instance, not from the Palestinian Authority, which sentences to death those who sell land to a Jew.
The human rights of the Jews are not under his purview, unless those Jews are anti-Israel.
Why did I go then? To ask the question that had long preoccupied me: Why would somebody choose to speak for an enemy population — where murder of Jews and Americans is celebrated — against his own state that protects him?
I prefaced my question with saying that as a refugee from the Soviet Union, it was particularly strange to me to hear that in the “oppressive” Jewish state it was usually sufficient for a Palestinian Arab to petition the court in order to get a satisfactory solution. I also briefly reminded Sfard of the Arab violence toward the Jews that had long preceded the recreation of Israel.
Sfard’s response was striking. He said, deliberately and clearly, expecting the audience’s reaction, “I don’t care about history.” I, too, thought there would be an immediate reaction, that this educated audience would now rise in indignation. Shouldn’t they all have been familiar with George Santayana’s maxim, “Those who forget history are destined to repeat it?”
No need to be a historian to understand how dangerous that forgetfulness would be — for the Jews in particular. We keep being promised genocidal repetition by the likes of the Arab League at the creation of Israel, Nasser in 1967, and Ahmadinejad today.
Alas, no objection arose from this audience of future and present lawyers. To the contrary, Sfard was applauded, especially when he said that he did not believe in the Jewish state. That prompted me to interject, “How about ‘Judenstaat?’” (Theodor Herzl’s book “The Jewish State.”) He did not know what it was, the foundation of modern Zionism.
Of course, Sfard’s not believing in the Jewish state leaves him not believing in the state he lives in. It seems, when people don’t care about history, they don’t care about the present either.
It is hard to briefly summarize Sfard’s talk, misinformation by both omission and commission. As usual, it started with the terminology. Long gone are the times when the disputed territories were called Judea and Samaria in general parlance. Those historic names have been ethnically cleansed into meaningless “West Bank,” adopted from Jordan that illegally occupied those lands. Even “West Bank,” however, is too neutral for Sfard, who used the word “occupation” to describe the territories. According to him, Israel began to “colonize” that land only in the 1970s. Never mind that Israelis only by then had restored Jewish access to the heartland of the land of Israel, including the Old City of Jerusalem. While no law except Jordanian has ever prohibited Jewish settlement on that land, the world has forgotten that Jordanians murdered and expelled the Jews from there. This is how east Jerusalem was turned into the “Arab East Jerusalem” of today’s media. Never mind that this part of town until the 20th century was the only Jerusalem, with a Jewish majority until the Jordanian murderous invasion in 1948. It is also through bloody pogroms that Hebron, the first capital of ancient Israel, and other parts of Eretz Israel became Judenfrei “Arab cities.” But Sfard does not care about history.
His main problem is the security barrier. He misnames it “separation wall,” despite the fact that of this largely chain link fence, less than 3 percent is actually a wall. Never did he mention that the only reason for the fence was the terror war that Arafat started in 2000. Only in 2002, before construction started, terrorists from the territories murdered 457 Israelis. There were no fatalities in 2012. Sfard does not care about security; he derisively calls it a “Jewish obsession.”
Needless to say, the “oppressors” did change the fence’s route as per Sfard’s petition, and he told the truly horrific story how an Israeli officer thanked him for letting know about an inconvenience to Arab farmers, since remedied. In fact, Sfard intimated, the evil authorities satisfy his clients’ grievances even without any court rulings, “in a shadow of the court.” Why? Because, to his satisfaction, they are “willing to barter land for legitimacy. Legitimacy is in very short supply.” How much does U.S. legitimacy depend on the route of its security barrier built on its Mexican border — with no terrorist threat?
I do not know why this annual lecture has been renamed from The Martin Luther King Lecture to Lawyering For Social Change, but I think Dr. King would be happy that his name is no longer associated with it. The social change it stands for is not consistent with Dr. King’s vision of Israel “as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of … how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”
Peace through security is exactly the human right that Sfard, the “human rights lawyer,” denies his compatriots and, ultimately, his Arab clients as well. As for the Pitt law students, they were denied truth, and with their $25 education credits for this “lawyering” lecture received not education, but anti-Israel ideological indoctrination.
(Michael M. Vanyukov is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, School of Medicine and Graduate School of Public Health.)