Two assistant public defenders were fired Tuesday from their Broward County positions after reportedly posting incendiary statements on Facebook about Palestinians, including likening them to “filthy swine” and “cockroaches.”
One of the two Florida attorneys maintains that a relative using his Facebook account posted the inflammatory words and slammed his boss for dismissing his constitutional right to free speech.
The decision to fire the two came following a report in the Sun Sentinel newspaper in south Florida, which revealed that the lawyers, Bruce Raticoff and Gary Sheres, had posted comments on their personal Facebook pages in response to a story about Palestinians celebrating the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers last month.
“They are the filthy swine they don’t eat. Their ignorance to the world bewilders the dumbest people I have ever met,” Sheres posted according to the Sun Sentinel.
Raticoff’s account later responded, “That’s why the Palestinian people are considered the cockroaches of the world. Reprehensible and despicable with utter disregard for civility and humanity. Burn them to the ground.”
Sheres clicked “Like” in response to that comment, the Florida newspaper reported.
Sheres later said that his comments were directed only at Palestinians who celebrated murder.
“You can’t engage in hate-filled speech that interferes with the mission of this office,” their boss Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said according to the NBC Miami television station. “It sickens me. I didn’t agonize over this because we represent equal justice.”
The two public defenders maintain Finkelstein was incorrect in firing them.
Jason Blank, Sheres’ attorney told the Sun Sentinel, “Mr. Finkelstein wrongfully terminated Gary. We will address the matter in an appropriate forum.”
Raticoff maintains that he didn’t write the cockroach comment at all, that a relative using his Facebook account had, CBS’s Miami affiliate station reported. Raticoff told the Sun Sentinel that his lawyer presented a sworn affidavit from the mother of the person who posted on his account to Finkelstein, but the latter did not believe him.
“My boss turned around and decided I’m a liar,” Raticoff said.
Raticoff recounted the conversation when his boss called him at home where he was recovering from the flu.
“I said, ‘At least I won’t be the public defender who wiped his ass with the First Amendment to the Constitution on Independence Day,’” Raticoff said. “Men and women have died in various wars throughout the history of this country defending free speech. He spit on the graves of those men and women.”
CBS noted that the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for an investigation into the Facebook posts.
“We are extremely concerned that two public officials have such deep hatred for Palestinians and are appearing to advocate violence by asking people to ‘Burn them to the ground,’” said Nezar Hamze, regional operations director of CAIR-Florida. “Somebody with that hate can’t possibly treat people equally.”