TEL AVIV — I read with dismay and astonishment Michael Vanyukov’s account of my talk at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law (“Michael Sfard: ‘I don’t care about history,’” April 4). I wondered whether we had both been to the same talk, and if we were, whether my English was so poor as to allow a distinguished professor, like Mr. Vanyukov, to understand “day” when I meant “night” and to hear “black” when I said “white.”
Mr. Vanyukov’s theme is based on my alleged reply to his question at the end of my talk. “Sfard’s response was striking,” he wrote in his guest column in The Jewish Chronicle. “He said, deliberately and clearly, expecting the audience’s reaction, ‘I don’t care about history.’ ” That is it. I do not care about history.
Well, fortunately I remember the exchange with Mr. Vanyukov and I must say that he has twisted my words and taken them out of context to the point that his account is nothing but a demagogic fraud. He reprimanded me for providing legal aid to “the enemy.” He argued at length that Palestinians are not just the enemies of Israelis but the enemies of all Jews, and he referred to the fact that a historic Palestinian leader, Sheik Amin al-Husseini, was a Nazi sympathizer.
To that I replied on two fronts: First, I said, I do not agree that the Palestinians are the enemies of the Jewish people. They have, I said, a conflict with the State of Israel. Second, in reference to why I provide legal representation to Palestinians, I explained that in my work I do not care about the past, I care about the future. I never said that I do not care about “history” as such, and the audience in my talk heard me referring several times to the Jewish history of the 20th century, which, as I put it, “explains very well why Israelis are so concerned about security.” I called for respect to these concerns.
Mr. Vanyukov’s column includes many other false descriptions of my words. I will only address one more: I indeed said that I do not believe in a “Jewish State,” explaining that states are neither Jewish nor Muslim. States are states. I went on to say that I believe Israel should be the homeland for the Jewish people who are entitled to realize the right to self-determination, a fact omitted from Mr. Vanyukov’s account.
Since there were dozens of others in the talk, and thanks to the feedback I have received, I cannot but conclude that Mr. Vanyukov’s misrepresentation of my views and ideas expressed loud and clear at the law school’s main hall were made on purpose and as a means to delegitimize me and my views, while avoiding tackling them on their merits. As such, his column is nothing but political thuggery and that won’t work.
I will keep working for what I believe is the best future for my country and community, and that includes securing the basic human rights of Palestinians living for almost five decades under a nondemocratic, military occupation, which abuses their rights on a daily basis.
Oh, and one more thing: I wouldn’t dare speak, as Mr. Vanyukov has, in the name of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was and will always be a moral role model for me. But it is fair to speculate, given his struggle for civil rights and equality, that if he lived today, Dr. King would not support any policy that allows depriving millions of human beings of their basic civil rights. Policies supported, it seems, by Mr. Vanyukov.
(Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights attorney, spoke at the Pitt School of Law on March 28.)