The first post tells why. It may be too little, but hopefully not too late.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Antisemitism by other means: Lecturing against the Jewish state*

I went to Michael Sfard's lecture** with a heavy heart. Why would I be hesitant about listening to this young and famous Israeli lawyer? Because of his fame's source: Sfard is what is called a "Human Rights Lawyer". In other words, so that nobody gets confused, his clients are mainly Palestinian Arabs. The human rights of the Jews are not under his purview, unless those Jews, like he has eventually done himself,  refuse to serve in the Israel Defense Forces or are otherwise anti-Israel. He defends Arabs' rights - but surely not from fellow Arabs. For instance, not from the Palestinian Authority, which sentences to death those who sell land to a Jew, an act of "national treason", and whose courts sentence journalists to jail for "insulting" Mahmoud Abbas by a cartoon on Facebook. As Sfard informed the audience, the PA has merely "the power of a city council", executions notwithstanding. 

Why did I go then? To ask the question that had long preoccupied me: why would somebody choose to defend members of an enemy population - against his own state that protects him and has been under attack from that population for as long as his state existed? The population whose leaders have been financiers, planners and perpetrators of terror, where murder of innocent Jews and Americans is celebrated and schools and stadiums are named after the murderers, where the murderers' families are congratulated and their enormous portraits adorn city walls. I prefaced my question by saying that as a Jewish refugee from the Soviet Union, it was particularly strange for me to hear that in the "oppressive" Jewish state it was usually sufficient for a Palestinian Arab to petition the court with a help of a lawyer in order to get a satisfactory solution to his or her problems.  I also briefly reminded Sfard of the Arab violent animosity towards the Jews that had long preceded the re-creation of Israel, the history that included Amin al Husseini, a major Nazi collaborator and Arafat's and Abbas's hero. 

The response was striking. Sfard said, deliberately and clearly expecting the audience's reaction, "I don't care about history." I too thought there would be a reaction. I thought, this educated audience , albeit visibly sympathetic to the speaker, would now rise in disbelief and indignation. After all, shouldn't they all have been familiar with George Santayana's maxim, "Those who forget history are destined to repeat it"? One does not need to be an historian to understand how dangerous that forgetfulness would be - for the Jews in particular. Some aspects of our rich history are better to stay in history - but we keep being promised their genocidal repetition, by the likes of the Arab League at the creation of Israel, Nasser in 1967, and Ahmadinejad these days. Alas, no objection arose from the future and present lawyers. On 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'?" No, he did not know what it was, the title of the foundation of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl's book "The Jewish State". Of course, Sfard's not believing in the Jewish state leaves him not believing in the state he lives in, created as "a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel", according to the Israeli Declaration of Independence of 1948. It seems when people don't care about history, they don't care about the present reality either.

It is really 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 the meaningless "West Bank", adopted from Jordan that  illegally occupied those lands from 1949 to 1967. It is also forgotten that Jordan annexed Judea and Samaria to its own east bank  - of the Jordan river, which is, interestingly, the Jewish name, appropriated also by the Arab state created by Britain's fiat in Eretz Israel, which was entrusted by the League of Nations to the UK for the "close settlement by Jews on the land". Amazingly, the UK had no trouble recognizing annexation of Judea and Samaria by Jordan, which captured that territory in a war of aggression. Even "West Bank", however, is too neutral for Sfard, who prefers calling it "Occupation". According to him, Israel began to "colonize" that land in the 1970's. 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 with its Western Wall and Temple Mount, the most sacred site for the Jews. While no law except Jordanian ever prohibited Jewish settlement on that land, the world had no qualms when Jordanians murdered and expelled 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 there 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". If, as is often repeated, the territory cannot be obtained in conquest, why should this rule start being implemented with Jews who captured it in a defensive war, and not with Muslims, who took it in aggression from Crusaders, who took it from Muslims, who took it from the Roman Empire that violently took it from the Jews and exiled them from their land? Let alone the many contemporary examples of the land captured in the defensive war and kept, like  the Kuril Islands or Sudetenland. But Sfard does not care about history.

His main problem is the security barrier. He misnames it "separation wall" - despite the fact that the wall is less than three percent of this largely chain link fence. Never did he mention that the only reason for the construction of the fence that began in 2002 was the terror war that Israel's "peace partners" headed by Arafat started in 2000, after he rejected another Israeli proposal that would create an Arab state. Only in 2002, before construction started, terrorists from the territories murdered 457 Israelis. Already in 2006, before the construction of the fence was finished, the number dropped to 10, and to no fatalities in 2012. Sfard does not care about security -  he derisively calls it a "Jewish obsession". His only focus is his clients' inconvenience, as he shares their conviction that Israel's goal for the barrier is land grab. He lamented that while discussing changes in the "separation wall"  route, the main concern of the Israeli officials was security. Needless to say, the "oppressor" did change the route as per Sfard's petition, and he tells the truly horrific story how an Israeli officer thanked him for letting know about the 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." Just how much legitimacy of the Unites States depends on the route of its security barrier built on its Mexican border - with no terrorist threat?

There is no doubt in Sfard's mind that Israel is oppressor in regard to the Arab population of Judea and Samaria. Never mind that this oppression has resulted in the immense growth in the Arabs' longevity, education, and living standard that is higher than in the surrounding Arab countries. Never mind that no military would be needed in Judea and Samaria, or in entire Israel for that matter, if there were no constant and thousands of times realized threat of death from the Arab population. The threat that is maintained by the incessant antisemitic and anti-Israel brain-washing that Arabs undergo from the beginning of their lives. 

As to the question I asked Sfard, I still do not know the answer. The phenomenon of a Jew crossing to the enemy side, while rare, is not new, however. It used to require apostasy, and the apostate could become an inquisitor burning Jews at stake, or a blood libeler, inciting lethal pogroms. Nothing as dramatic as apostasy is needed nowadays, when religion has largely become for many merely a slightly embarrassing tradition - at least, among the progressive intelligentsia. Today's secular apostates merely defend those who attack the Jewish state's security measures that not only protect Israelis - Jews and Arabs alike - but also obviate the need for military action and casualties that would inevitably result from it, if terror acts were not prevented. Sfard did not see it that way, all the lynchings of random Jewish victims who fell into Arab hands, terrorist suicidal massacres and other murders notwithstanding. A possible motivation used to be the apostate's conflict with the community, or the desire to break from the persecuted minority. These days, all it takes is to become a "Human Rights" lawyer like Sfard. In Israel, this ecological niche is unique enough to avoid competition with other lawyers, kept out of it by their conscience. In that rarefied niche, even a mediocrity can earn his bread and butter - perhaps, with caviar and international travel on top.

I do not know why this annual lecture cycle 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 his vision of Israel, so dramatically different from Sfard's: "Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, 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 for their $25 education credits for this “lawyering” lecture received not education, but anti-Israel ideological indoctrination. 

*The published version of this entry is in  The Jewish Chronicle, titled "Michael Sfard: 'I Don't Care About History'". There is also a prior entry in this blog, related to Sfard, "Champion Of Displacement".
** “Can the Occupier Provide Justice? The Dilemmas of Human Rights Litigation in Israeli Courts,”  7 p.m. March 28 in the Teplitz Memorial Moot Courtroom of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, 3900 Forbes Ave..


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