Gerald M. Steinberg

Attorney Michael Sfard’s Disreputable Allies

Atty. Michael Sfard speaks at JVP & SJP event. These two NGOs participate in or lead almost every single anti-Israel campaign taking place in the US (screenshot YouTube)
Atty. Michael Sfard speaks at JVP & SJP event. These two NGOs participate in or lead almost every single anti-Israel campaign taking place in the US (screenshot YouTube)

Outside of Israel, particularly among groups and individuals who promote BDS and the “war crimes” campaigns, Michael Sfard is a particularly prestigious and influential figure. An attorney, Sfard represents groups like Yesh Din and Breaking the Silence, as well as engaging in his own political and legal activism, even serving as a paid expert witness for the PLO.

But for someone who claims a pure moral agenda, he’s not very careful about his allies. In speaking at an event sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Sfard crossed blatant moral red lines (Yishai Friedman, Makor Rishon, 11/08/17). These two NGOs participate in or lead almost every single anti-Israel campaign taking place in the US.

Recent JVP campaigns have morphed into direct and unmistakable anti-Semitism — which should make Sfard and his funders, both American and European, denounce any contacts or cooperation. JVP’s “Deadly Exchange” platform seeks to sabotage joint Israeli-American security training programs by alleging that they are implicated to the mistreatment of minorities by US law enforcement officials. To suggest that Israel is in any way responsible for the sometimes centuries-old tensions surrounding policing in America is not only willfully ignorant of history, but in parallel to the KKK, exploits the image of a villainous Zionist cabal.

JVP takes this conspiracy one step further and bizarrely attacks American Jewish organizations for these collaborations. The group’s “Deadly Exchange” website even urges its supporters to “Hold accountable the Jewish institutions who run and fund the deadly exchange.”  The suggestion that the American Jewish community makes policy for local and federal law enforcement agencies, and is therefore responsible for abuses in Ferguson or Standing Rock would be laughable if not for its dangerous scapegoating of American Jews.

SJP — JVP’s partner and co-host of the Sfard event — also contributes more than its share to anti-Semitism. An October 2016 Brandeis University study found that on many US campuses, “One of the strongest predictors of perceiving a hostile climate toward Israel and Jews is the presence of an active Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group on campus.” SJP closely connected to the Americans Muslims for Palestine, which, according to 2016 Congressional testimony by Jonathan Schanzer, is part of the funding mechanism for a terror organization.

While Sfard is comfortable headlining an event for two of the most radical groups in the US, he also takes pot shots at “enemies,” such as NGO Monitor, for having the temerity to provide detailed research about his activism’s European funding, as well as about many of his legal claims. Without any evidence, Advocate Sfard refers to NGO Monitor – an independent research organization — as a “gang linked to the Prime Minister’s milieu.” Providing expert information and analysis to Israel’s democratic leaders, as well to journalists, civil society and European officials is, in Sfard’s view, an illicit act.

In 2015, Sfard testified as an expert witness for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) before the Southern District of New York federal court, a case related to damages sought by families of terror victims killed by PLO attacks between 2001 and 2004. Sfard had previously provided paid testimony on behalf of the PLO (Saperstein v. Palestinian Authority 2010).

He also served as an expert witness in the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in Barcelona — a kangaroo court that found Israel “guilty” and promoted the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement; he worked with Al-Haq, a leading anti-Israel “lawfare” NGO funded by European governments, on a lawsuit filed in Canada seeking a judicial declaration of Israel’s guilt in committing “war crimes” (2009); and authored a European Union-funded report “No Home, No Homeland” (2011), on behalf of fringe (and now defunct) Israeli organization the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD).

Ideological blinders may prevent Sfard from seeing it, but allying with purveyors of anti-Jewish hate does not advance the cause of human rights. Perhaps Sfard should consider a more moral and consistent approach. After all, ideology is a poor substitute for facts.

About the Author
Gerald Steinberg is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Bar Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor. His latest book is "Menachem Begin and the Israel-Egypt Peace Process: Between Ideology and Political Realism", (Indiana University Press)
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