Despite the fact that I seem to collect many similar stories of Israeli democracy and justice gone awry, this story came close to leaving me at a loss for words. One of the finest Israeli NGOs exposing the shocking inadequacy of Israeli military justice is Machsom Watch. In fact, it was through a Machsom Watch report that I learned important details about the detention of Omar Said and Ameer Makhoul. Their volunteers attend every possible hearing they can. They act as a witness to prevent the worst miscarriages of Israeli justice or to watch the train wrecks as they unfold if you’re more of a pessimist.
Here is what the group’s legal observer wrote about one such hearing:
The detainee, who is forbidden contact with his attorney, is brought into the chamber. The attorney then leaves the room. The judge asks whether the detainee has anything he wishes to say. He answers in the negative [and then departs]. We are left in the hall for the second half of the performance [or “play].
It seems that Israeli military judge Jordan Barak has taken deep personal offense to this characterization of his er, performance. In fact, he was so degraded, humiliated and insulted that he wrote to Machsom Watch:
Calling the legal process I conducted a “performance,” is a defamation of the court and an insult against me as a military judge…which is liable to, nay will humilitate me in the eyes of others. It is also liable to make me the object of hatred, ridicule and disgust, and thus shames me as a judge. Therefore it damages my office, as military judge, which is a public position. Therefore, I demand that you cease publication of such lashon ha-ra [a halachic form of personal “defamation”], apologize herewith for such damaging publication. To properly ensure that I am not so damaged, I demand that you transfer to me 100,000 shekels [$25,000].
I’ve heard of judges doing wacky things before and I’m sure many have done worse, but in all the years I’ve followed justice in this country, Israel and elsewhere, I’ve never heard of a judge demanding personal damages for a single published word that was allegedly defamatory. I’m not saying it doesn’t or hasn’t happened. It’s just a phenomenon I find astonishing, not least that Barak intended the payment to go into his own pocket.
Barak apparently hasn’t heard of freedom of speech or the right of NGOs to defend such freedoms as they see fit regardless of how insulted judges may see it. If I were Im Tirzu I would sign this guy up as a member. In fact, Ronen Shoval is so litigious perhaps he might want to lend Barak the same attorney who threatened to sue Didi Remez for a couple a million shekels for besmirching its reputation.
To its credit Hagit Shlonsky, it spokesperson, responded firmly and unyieldingly to Barak’s letter:
The report was not meant as a personal attack on the judge, but rather on the process of justice itself being conducted as little better than a “performance.” The actors sometimes change, but the roles and text always remain the same. All the detainees are arrested on a suspicion of “endangering the security [of the state]. The actor playing the role of officer/investigator never details what is contained in the secret investigative file that rests on the table before the judge. Occasionally, an attorney is even appointed for a detainee, but always forbidden from meeting with the client while investigations are underway. The defense, playing its role in the performance, can ask the investigator questions. The investigator answers every question with “the answers are found in the secret file.” The judge concludes the proceeding by assigning the amount of days of detention or its conclusion, usually assigning fewer days than the officer has requested.
Barak, in responding to the questions of Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson, dug himself an even deeper hole. The irony of course is totally lost on him:
I deal in very serious matters and try to conduct justice as well as possible, in the most objective way possible according to the proper standards, and to relate to all the accused as if they were in Israel [say what?]. I seek to relate to every one as he would be treated in any court in the world. And then these women come and say the whole thing is a performance. It hurts and pains me.
The IDF spokesperson released a patently self-evident falsehood saying that the matter had never come to its attention.
Gee, I don’t know what more that I can add to this parade of self-parody and self-delusion. If I point out the levels of sheer ludicrousness in the judge’s statement won’t I be beating a dead horse? Perhaps I should just let the thing speak for itself as they say in Latin.
H/t to reader, Dina Hecht.