“The day is short, the task is great, the master is insistent. It is not your duty to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it….”
—Pirkei Avot, 2:21
I’ve been writing Tikun Olam, one of the earliest progressive Jewish blogs, since February, 2003. It focuses on exposing the excesses of the Israeli national security state.
I wrote a chapter for the Independent Jewish Voices essay collection, A Time to Speak Out (Verso) and will contribute a chapter to the upcoming, Israel and Palestine: Alternate Perspectives on Statehood (Rowman & Littlefield). I currently contribute regularly to Middle East Eye and Mint Press News. In the past, I’ve contributed to Truthout, Haaretz, Christian Science Monitor, Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, Comment Is Free and Al Jazeera English. My work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine. The NY Times featured my reporting about the Shamai Leibowitz FBI tapes on its front page.
Israel was intended to be a safe-haven for Jews of the world. By design it was a place to which Jews could return. It has become in addition to a Jewish homeland, a place of assylum for sex abusers to flee their accusers. Richard Silverstein has taken on the task of holding the State of Israel and its judicial system accountable. LM – June 5, 2016
Israeli Judicial System Miscarries Justice, Protects Accused Sex Abuser
.הבלוגרית לורי שם טוב נעצרה על שעשתה את עבודתה העיתונאית בפרשת חטיפת הילד יהודה כהן
Two particularly disturbing cases are roiling the Israeli judicial system this week. In the first, a court ruled that an Orthodox Jewish former school principal wanted on 74 counts of child sex abuse in Australia (the account of one victim is here), should be set completely free. The Australian legal system has requested her extradition from Israel, to which she had fled in the dead of night, for almost a year.
Malka Leifer, Australian Orthodox Jewish principal accused of 74 counts of sex abuse
Malka Leifer, who was the principal of the Orthodox girl’s school in Victoria, was wanted for questioning regarding the charges. But she absconded with the likely connivance of other school staff and community members. She flew to Israel where she knew she would receive immediate asylum regardless of her criminal charges. Ever since, she’s been feigning mental illness every time a Israeli court date approaches.
She’s received psychiatric evaluations during a hospital stay in which staff reported she was completely normal except when a formal review was conducted that would impact her court case. Then she donned a different disguise entirely.
In a surprise move, the Israeli court, freed her under one condition: that she undergo a six-month psychiatric evaluation process involving a single meeting every month for six months. After that, the court plans to review her status.
The State prosecutor plans to appeal this decision. The Australian government expressed mild shock at today’s decision. Though they will have to get much tougher if they expect any movement from the Israeli political-judicial system.
An Israeli lawyer noted to me that Israeli courts are loath to approve the extradition of Jews within their jurisdiction to their home countries when facing criminal charges. My guess is that it has something to do with a taboo against Jews handing other Jews over to Christian authorities. Jews traditionally have always preferred to mete out justice internally, not knowing how severe the sentence Jews might receive in a non-Jewish system. There is also a prohibition against informing on fellow Jews to the non-Jewish authorities. Of course, in the modern era all this should be considered hocus-pocus in the face of international law and judicial precedent. But apparently not in Israel, where ancient traditions remain alive.
Leifer also plays two other powerful cards. She is a woman and an Orthodox Jew. Israeli courts, in another throwback, often tend to defer to traditional Jewish belief and practice. There is a natural inclination to believe that an Orthodox Jew could not behave in such a fashion. Hence a refusal to take the charges against her seriously.
Manny Wax, himself a victim of sexual abuse at a Chabad Jewish Day School in Australia, calls the decision an outrage. He also supports the claim that Leifer’s posture was an act and that she’d getting away with the equivalent of murder.
This case comes during a period of prolonged tension in Australian-Israel relations which began with the Mossad’s exploiting Australian passports in the assassination plot against Mahmoud al-Mabouh. That led to the expulsion of the Mossad station chief in Australia. Then, the Mossad secretly arrested Australian Jewish agent, Ben Zygier. They imprisoned him in secret isolation, which in turn drove him to suicide. Israel only barely smoothed things over with a $1-million payment to Zygier’s Australian parents and Israeli wife.
It’s hard to believe that the Israeli justice system wants to return to the strained relations that characterized these past two episodes. And how can relations not be strained when Israel is harboring an accused sex offender who preyed on so many Jewish children? Is there any possible justification for this? Given that Australia is ruled by a right-wing government it’s possible it will not fight hard to get Leifer back. If so, that would be a shame. More than that, it would be almost criminal.
In the second case, Israeli family rights activist, blogger and journalist, Lory Shem Tov was arrested by Israeli police (Hebrew; an English story here) for the crime of practicing journalism. A father who kidnapped his son after finding videotapes of his wife beating the boy (Hebrew), contacted Shem Tov, hoping to interest her and Israeli media in his case. Though their names have not been widely reported, I believe it’s important to have full and open discourse on this subject. The father’s name is Roi Cohen, the mother’s name is Batya (Mizrahi) Cohen and the child’s name is Yehudah Cohen.
My hope is that a real child with a real name will engender enough sympathy within Israel for the public and child welfare advocates to rally on his behalf.
Lory Shem Tov with her two sons, who were kidnapped by her well-connected ex-husband.
The police threatened the TV news show that planned to run a story (which cancelled the segment) and arrested Lory. It searched her home and confiscated her computer. The mother’s lawyer succeeded in getting a judge to slap a gag order on the case and no Israeli media outlet can report this outrage and name the victim. The mother claimed she did so in order to “protect her son.” Which is ironic considering that the video shows her beating him. She had earlier claimed it was the father who had beat the boy. This is yet another example of a state whose judicial system embraces opacity, rather than transparency. A state which permits miscarriages of justice on a regular basis.
In court testimony (Hebrew), Lory’s lawyer elicited from police that she was not suspected of committing any crime. She had not conspired to kidnap the child nor had she helped hide the father and son. The police believed that if she was free she might “sabotage the investigation.” Note again that this is not a crime. In fact, it is a form of preventive detention. Arresting someone because you believe they may commit a crime. Except in national security or military justice cases, there is no such concept in Israeli law. Therefore, the police are violating Israeli law. But they may do so because they are the police and the court defers to them, even when they invent it. In any western democracy observing the rule of law, this is a flagrant abuse of state power. Yet in Israel a judge extends her remand in deference to State power.
The Israeli online news portal, Walla!, notes that since former Shabak deputy chief became national police chief, the police have escalated their war against journalists. Earlier, an Army Radio journalist was arrested for requesting comment for a story from a Jerusalem municipal employee, who filed a complaint for harassment. Now here I thought municipal employees were meant to serve the public, not the other way around.😏
UPDATE: In the past few minutes, Lory was released from prison. But the police have retained her computer and other personal items.
Not to mention that Lory is a journalist. Her goal is not to commit a crime or further a criminal conspiracy, but to inform the Israeli public of a great social wrong. In well-functioning societies, the role of activist and whistleblower is valued. Such societies understand that they need reformers challenging the system if it is to transform itself for the good. A society which criminalizes such behavior is one that is dysfunctional and moribund. That is, alas Israel.