Press Release issued today by attorney Jason Blank, on behalf of Gary Sheres. Though forceful in tone, it does not seem to suggest legal action is forthcoming at this time. Howard Finkelstein’s response follows.
Several days ago, Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein wrongfully terminated Gary Sheres, a highly-respected Assistant Public Defender. Mr. Finkelstein terminated Mr. Sheres for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech by expressing outrage and revulsion at the atrocious murder of three Israeli students and the celebration that followed. In this regard, Mr. Sheres commented from his personal Facebook account on a Facebook “friend’s” newsfeed. The subject article to which Mr. Sheres’s comments were directed, depicted people of all ages, including young children, reveling in the Israeli teenagers’ deaths with a symbolic three finger salute. The article can be found here: Palestinians Are Celebrating And Praising The Kidnapping Of Three Israeli Teens (Photos).
Mr. Sheres did not disparage people of Arabic or Islamic descent. Rather, he solely expressed disgust at the individuals responsible for the murders and those depicted in the article. The very same disgust shared by millions of Americans, Israelis and conscientious people worldwide over the barbaric acts. In a civilized world, no person can justify these atrocities.
Since wrongfully terminating Mr. Sheres, Mr. Finkelstein has taken this opportunity to inject ethnic discrimination where none existed. A mere 90 minutes after wrongfully terminating Mr. Sheres, Mr. Finkelstein held an office-wide meeting in which he publicly misconstrued Mr. Sheres’s comments before television cameras and reporters present at his request. In the nearly ten years that Mr. Sheres was employed at the Public Defender’s office, regular office-wide meetings were held; however, Mr. Finkelstein never invited the media to attend, record, and broadcast the meetings.
In the days that followed the meeting, Mr. Finkelstein publicly and blatantly lied when he stated that he offered Mr. Sheres the opportunity to apologize and Mr. Sheres rejected that offer. To the contrary, at Mr. Finkelstein’s suggestion, Mr. Sheres prepared a statement apologizing to anyone unintentionally offended by his Facebook comment directed at the atrocities in the article. Instead of assisting Mr. Sheres to disseminate the statement and avoid his comments being taken out of context, Mr. Finkelstein fired him. Then, Mr. Finkelstein embarked on a media campaign amounting to nothing less than a blatant attempt to mischaracterize and misstate the truth and justify his chilling of free speech protected by the First Amendment.
Rather than focusing on his constitutional obligation to defend persons accused of criminal conduct, Mr. Finkelstein, along with C.A.I.R. regional director, Nezar Hamze, have spent the last week maligning Mr. Sheres’s good name. Note, C.A.I.R. – whom Mr. Finkelstein invited as his guest to the televised office meeting – is a controversial organization tied by several sources, including the F.B.I. and U.S. Department of Justice, to Hamas. Hamas, the very same organization responsible for raining rockets down on Israeli citizens, responsible for those specific murders condemned by Mr. Sheres, and classified by the United States and other nations as a terrorist organization. Not the type of group Mr. Finkelstein’s constituents would expect him to align with.
During his media campaign, Mr. Finkelstein has referred to Mr. Sheres’s comments as “hate speech.” Mr. Finkelstein’s misunderstanding and mischaracterization of “hate speech” is particularly disappointing given not only his position as a public official, but as a lawyer. “Hate speech” is the expression of hatred for a particular group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation and the like, particularly where such expression provokes or incites violence. Expressions of disgust directed specifically at those who celebrate the unjustified kidnapping and murder of children is not hate speech. To make matters worse, in an attempt to justify his improper response to Mr. Sheres’s comments, Mr. Finkelstein outrageously equated the comments to the rhetoric expressed in Nazi Germany leading to the genocide of tens of millions of people during the Holocaust. Such an appalling belittlement of one of the most horrific events in modern history, exhibits Mr. Finkelstein’s skewed perspective on the matter and desire to simply make headlines.
Residents of Broward County and the State of Florida must question the motives of a public official who generates controversy time and time again. For once, one would hope Mr. Finkelstein would face reality instead of the cameras.
Howard Finkelstein’s response:
There were no lies from me. Mr. Sheres has yet to apologize to the Palestinian-American, Arab-American, and Muslim-American communities. He sadly still thinks he did nothing wrong and won’t take responsibility for his actions.