Allen Selis
Education is the launchpad for social change

Why do Israeli lawyers defend terrorists?

Providing fair trails amidst a grueling war is a heart wrenching job. (Photo by

The answer says volumes about the soul of this country.

I see Vadim at kiddush every Shabbat, right after morning services. It’s a ritual unto itself. Kiddush, cookies, a shot of middle-grade scotch (I’m partial to Monkey Shoulder lately) and then we talk current events and politics. A few weeks ago, I pulled Vadim aside to speak privately and asked him “how do you manage?”

Let’s back up a bit. Vadim is the head of the Jerusalem Public Defender’s Office at the Ministry of Justice. He grew up in Russia, developed a strong religious and Zionist consciousness as a teenager (which is a miracle for any Jew who lived in Russia at that time) and later made Aliyah along with the rest of his family. Vadim is easy-going, polite, thoughtful and intensely ethical about everything he does. Which lately includes counselling a lot of his staff, some of whom meet with him in tears, about why they need to keep doing their jobs – which is to provide public defenders for terrorists captured on October 7 and after.

Here is a snippet of the conversation I had with him:

“I read that Ben Gvir met with some of the field commanders whose troops captured Hamas fighters on Oct 7. They now sit in Israeli jails awaiting trial. Ben Gvir reportedly asked, ‘Couldn’t you have killed more of them?’ In other words, why waste the jail space and court time. I know this is a terrible question, but honestly, what is the difference between dealing with terrorists on the battlefield and going through the trouble of a trial? Why?”

Vadim’s reply reflects both the quality of his legal mind as well as his profound commitment to justice. “Well, you could have a field trial, but that would be under the IDF legal system, and I would not be involved. You could also…”

I interrupt.

“No, that’s not what Ben Gvir meant and it’s not what I’m asking.”

Vadim smirks because he knows exactly what I’m asking. Then he offers me a quiet answer.

“I know it’s painful to conduct these trials. It’s horrible for my legal staff who have to defend killers. And I understand why you’re asking. Here’s why we invest in a trial with counsel. We want this to be clean, to be ethical, to be just. The International Criminal Court could arrest our soldiers abroad. They could accuse us of war crimes. The international community could accuse us of acting like Hamas. For the sake of history and for the good name of the State of Israel, the process must be pure.”

Vadim goes silent, and the defense rests.

In light of the ICC’s recent actions, I wanted to share this story. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has legal counsel defending terrorists. Or lawyers attached to the war room. Or commanders who call off air strikes because Hamas deployed next to a playground where Gazan kids are playing soccer. If you don’t understand that about Israel, then you don’t know anything about this country. You don’t know why it’s worth fighting to protect. And you certainly don’t know my friend, Vadim.

About the Author
Dr. Allen Selis is the founder of the educational technology startup STEM Crafters. Allen is passionate about great teaching, skeptical about "Startup Nation" hype, and invests personal time and energy in children's learning on a daily basis.
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