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Justice in Israel

August 05, 1985

The following conversation transpired at my breakfast table on July 24: "W" represents my wife; "H" represents me:

"W: Dear, take a look at The Times editorial on 'Israel's Selective Justice' at the bottom of the editorial page and let me know what you think."

H: (Pause) It seems to be unnecessarily critical of the Israel justice system.

W: More than that. To me, The Times is simply looking to criticize something pertaining to Israel. Didn't you tell me that Israel has the best judicial system in the Middle East and possibly the Third World?

H: I did, and it does. The essence of The Times criticism is that three Israeli terrorists received life terms, but a dozen others found "guilty of lesser but still major felonies were treated with relative leniency." What The Times does not seem to appreciate is the fact that in very few countries would the country's own citizens be even put on trial for such activity. Further, the judges in the sentencing procedure would take into account such personal factors as prior contributions to the welfare of the country and the community, and so forth. We do that all the time in this country and in our federal courts, for example, many judges (if not all), will sentence a first offender more leniently if that person has served honorably in the armed forces, and so forth.

W: Would The Times reporter in Israel have access to what you call "pre-sentence reports"?

H: I doubt it very much. They're not available here and from what the Israeli attorneys tell me, they're not really available in Israel.

W: The Times, then, seems to be criticizing without the benefit of all of the information and their deploring "Israel's commitment to democracy and the rule of law" seems unduly harsh.

H: The sentencing process is an extremely delicate one and in my judgment, the editorial is simply insensitive to that process in Israel and here, and therein lies the tale.

W: There is something wrong here. The mere prosecution of those people and the fact that three got life sentences since there is no capital punishment in Israel speaks rather loudly for Israel's commitment to democracy and the rule of law. Why does The Times nit-pick, without adequate information, a friendly government's adherence to the rule of law?

H: Editorial writers love to criticize, to be the gadfly, and sometimes they're just plain wrong. He could have made the point in a much more constructive manner and they should have applauded the initial prosecution as the ultimate commitment to democracy."

BRUCE I. HOCHMAN

Beverly Hills

Hochman is president of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los

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