Monday, July 9, 2012

"But Israel punishes its haters"

Arab and Muslim leaders often say and do outrageous things that affect the Jews and Israel. Conversely, Jewish leaders often say and do outrageous things that affect the Palestinians, both the ones holding Israeli citizenship and those living in the Occupied Territories.

The standard Hasbara answer to the latter uncomfortable reality is that Jewish haters are punished by the state of Israel. Every time a rabbi spews his racist venom or an Israeli soldier beats a prisoner with a camera somehow managing to record the incident, the Hasbara troupe points to the fact that the affair is being investigated and, if found guilty, the perpetrators will be jailed. This is very reassuring of Israel's commitment to law and order -- in stark contrast with its Arab neighbors.

Or is it. An interesting experiment is to keep track of the "investigations" that are started, and see whether they ever result in a conviction. A Ynet story from two days ago would suggest otherwise. Under the headline Incitement case against Safed rabbi dropped, the story describes the acquittal of rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who was reported some time ago to have made overtly racist remarks against Arabs. These included:

"Arab culture is very cruel."

"Arabs have a different codes and norms that have become ideology. Such as the agricultural thefts, which have become part of Arab ideology."

"Their behavior is unpleasant. An elderly Arab lady who recently moved into our Amidar neighborhood has already become a nuisance. Every Shabbat 10 cars filled with Arabs visit her. They play music, make noise."

"Arabs treat their women according to social norms that are supported by the Quran which allow them to hit women – and with them these are not mild blows. These are blows with chairs –abuse that ends with the woman being admitted to the hospital."

"A Jew should not run away from an Arab. A Jew should chase away Arabs."

"Expelling Arabs from Jewish neighborhood is part of the strategy."

An "investigation" was started by Israel's attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein. At the time, the rabbi's supporters did not deny these statements -- nor did the rabbi himself, who instead moaned: "Journalists have freedom of press. Am I the only one subject to the law?" The investigation took into account that that in 2006 Rabbi Eliyahu struck a plea bargain with the State to avoid trial on incitement to racism charges over anti-Arab remarks he had made. The rabbi agreed to retract the statements attributed to him in the indictment and apologize to those who may have been hurt by them.

Fast forward to two days ago, and the AG has finally found Eliyahu not guilty. It suddenly turns out that the evidence is insufficient:

Weinstein decided to throw out the case at the request of the State Prosecutor's Office after investigators found no evidence that the quotes "correctly reflected the statements that were actually made."

Among other leads, the investigators probed the journalists who quoted Eliyahu; none had recorded his speech. According to the statement, some reporters admitted that they could have tweaked the content.

The prosecution therefore could not rule out the possibility of a discrepancy that could have occurred between Eliyahu's actual remarks and they way they were quoted.

The story also points out that:

The comments were purportedly said in support of an edict issued by Eliyahu and 50 other rabbis, warning followers against renting or selling homes to anyone who isn't Jewish.

Surely this is also cause for starting an investigation? Not so, according to the Attorney-General, who had dismissed that possibility from the beginning:

As for the halachic ruling, AG Weinstein said he decided not to launch a criminal investigation because it would be difficult to prove that the ruling was issued with the intent to incite, as required by law. Weinstein also mentioned that the rabbis would benefit from the protection the law provides in cases involving the use of quotes from the scriptures. The AG said that in general he tries to avoid criminal proceedings when it comes to halachic rulings unless they sanction physical violence on the basis of race.

I.e., Israeli law protects hate as long as it's Torah-based and it doesn't involve physical violence.

As I read that I recalled an incident that took place in 2008. An Israeli soldier, St.-Sgt. Leonardo Correa, had shot a bound and blindfolded prisoner in the foot with a rubber-coated bullet, with his commander, Lt.-Col. Omri Burberg, holding the prisoner's arm and looking on. The incident was videotaped by a Palestinian girl:

It occurred to me to find out whatever had happened to that soldier and officer. An investigation did get started. After failing a polygraph test, the commander admitted he had ordered the soldier to fire. The soldier also admitted to receiving the order and heeding it. Buried in his story, however, were these two striking paragraphs:

At the time of the shooting L. did not know it was being documented by a B'Tselem video camera. "There was an inquiry in the brigade. I explained the misunderstanding that occurred, the things I misunderstood, my mistake and it ended with that. Two weeks past (sic) and nothing happened, I thought I may go to jail, but no one said anything," he said.

After the video appeared in the media, the IDF quickly demanded an explanation from the regiment commander.

I.e., although the incident had been looked into within the brigade, it was only after the crime was exposed by the media that a public investigation was started, which makes one wonder how many similar events may go unreported, simply because there was no camera to film them.

To make a long story short, the investigation ended in January 2011. A Tel Aviv military court decided not only not to jail Burberg, but also not even to demote him. Some of the arguments were pretty ridiculous:

The soldier, St.-Sgt. Leonardo Correa, claimed that Burberg had ordered him to fire, but the officer told investigators that all he had told the soldier to do was “shake his gun” to scare the detainee who was lightly injured in the foot.

How you can scare a blindfolded person by shaking a gun goes beyond my comprehension.

Sgt. Correa, who heeded a clearly illegal order, wasn't thrown into jail either. Instead, he was demoted to the degree of corporal.

So that yes, Israel does investigate its haters. But punish them? Give me a break.