Israel, a country I love, admire, and treasure, suffers from misplaced kindness as it relates to the treatment of child abusers or individuals against whom there are credible abuse allegations. Sadly, it has become a haven for sex offenders worldwide, who are welcomed with open arms under “The Law of Return” — and who are delighted that Israel has no available public sex offender registry. To add insult to injury, Israel allows convicted sex offenders to sue child safety advocates for slander.
The unfathomable and infuriating saga of Malka Leifer’s treatment by the Israeli criminal justice system is a case in point. Leifer, who stands accused of 74 counts of child abuse in Australia, fled to Israel in 2008 to avoid prosecution for her alleged crimes. Indeed, Mrs. Leifer was in Australia to begin with having reportedly fled there from Israel two decades ago, accused of sexual misconduct at the school in Bnei Brak where she had been a teacher. For the past few years, she has fought extradition successfully by claiming to be mentally unfit to stand trial. During that time period, however, there was credible accusation of her abusing yet another child she was tutoring.
Adding to the fires of infuriation, there was a “pidyon shevuyim” (loosely, “freeing from captivity”) charity campaign launched recently to raise funds for Leifer’s legal defense.
While Leifer is certainly entitled to legal representation, running a public pidyon shevuyim campaign is a grotesque distortion of Halacha (Jewish law), and one that sends very dangerous messages to members of our community. As such, this inexplicable disregard to her alleged victims and “turning a blind eye” to what is true and just needs to be condemned in the strongest language.
The halacha/Jewish law of pidyon shevuyim, which our sages rank among the highest priority for charity-giving, applies to people whose lives were quite literally in jeopardy as a result of being kidnapped by bandits or jailed in an unjust legal system — none of which applies to Leifer.
Moreover, even a cursory reading of our Chumash/Bible and the words of our Nevi’im/prophets would lead one to the inescapable conclusion that we should be standing with the victims and not the alleged abusers. The Torah that mentions the importance of treating strangers kindly 36 times — more than any other commandment — and the words of our prophets Jeremiah (Yirmiyahu) and Isaiah (Yeshayahu), who condemned ostensibly religiously pious Jews, but who treated the weak and voiceless poorly, should have us raising money for the therapy of victims, not for the legal fees of their alleged abusers.
To be sure, it is goes ever much deeper. The misapplication of pidyon shevuyim as it pertains to Leifer, reinforces the notion that the authorities who are holding accused or convicted sex offenders in prison are “the other,” akin to the anti-Semitic regimes our people suffered from during parts of our long and troubled history in the Diaspora. The logical corollary of this thinking is that today’s abusers should not be reported to the authorities, but rather dealt with internally — a tragic, failed policy that has caused countless abuse victims untold pain and tortured lives.
Our sages predicted that “people who are kind to the cruel end up being cruel to the kind” (Koheles Rabbah 7:16). Those who are giving aid and comfort to alleged abusers have a topsy-turvy moral compass, are committing acts of cruelty to abuse victims, and are placing children at greater risk.
To them I say, “Get your head straight! Protect children, not their abusers.”