Allan E. Shapiro
1st October 1927 – 12th April 2011

"Baruch Hagever" and Sara the wife

Allan E. Shapiro The Jerusalem Post 05.12.1997 03:50
"Baruch Hagever" and Sara the wife

Last Friday's newspapers carried two items that deserve much more than the brief mention they were accorded. On their face, there is no connection between them. Actually, both raise fundamental issues involving freedom of expression in Israel.

The first is the sentence of eight months' imprisonment for Michael Ben-Horin, the editor of “Baruch Hagever," praising Baruch Goldstein, who carried out the massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The title, "Baruch Hagever," is itself a play on the name Baruch. On the one hand, it means "Blessed be the man." On the other, "Baruch," that is, Baruch Goldstein, "the mensch."  The second is the decision of the Ramat Gan Family court, as reported in The Jerusalem Post of November 28th, "to hear behind closed doors Sara Netanyahu's petition to bar her former husband Doron Neuberger from publishing a book about her. The court ruled that the dispute between the two was a family matter and not a business dispute, and thus the proceedings need not be made public." The court's ruling seems to involve a play on the word "family."

The eight-month sentence on Ben-Horin was meted out for violations of the laws against incitement to racism, which carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, and the post-independence anti-terrorism ordinance, promulgated after the assassination of the Swedish UN mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, the maximum penalty for which is three months imprisonment. The mildness of the sentence should raise eye-brows. Ben-Horin's defended of Goldstein's indiscriminate mass murder of Arabs kneeled in prayer in a site sacred both to Jews and to Moslems. He called Goldstein's act "holy" and that he was to be remembered in the same breath with Moses, Saul, and David.

Ben-Horin's encomium of Goldstein included a reprint of an article by the Hebron Rav Ido Alba, entitled "A Discussion of the Halachot [religious legal rulings] on the Killing of A Gentile." Alba's article had been intended for dissemination among yeshiva students. Ben-Horin's book contained the Alba article, in addition to Ben-Horin's additional praise of the massacre. It was intended for the general public. In fact, it is reportedly circulated at the quasi-shrine in the Goldstein Plaza in Kiryat Arba, where Goldstein is buried.

Alba was sentenced to imprisonment for two years and an additional suspended sentence of two years. The sentence was meted out by the highly respected Jerusalem magistrate, Judge Ayala Procaccia. It was affirmed on appeal to the Supreme Court.  

If incitement to racism and praise for terrorism is criminal, then Ben-Horin went farther than had Alba, both with respect to the contents of his book and his target audience. Although he was convicted of additional counts, should not Alba's sentence have constituted a lower limit for Ben-Horin?

As reported in this newspaper, the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge Ya'acov Tzaban, in sentencing Ben-Horin to eight months in jail and his two advisers in the preparation of the book, Yoel Lerner and Yosef Dayan, to two months' suspended sentence and a fine of NIS 3,000, declared that “there was no difference between what the three did and Moslem zealots praising Hamas suicide bombers." It is not clear from the brief Itim report whether this statement was meant to justify the mildness of the sentence.

Moving from "Baruch Hagever" to Sara, the wife, it is perfectly understandable why Netanyahu's lawyers opted for the Family Court. That tribunal, a recent addition to our judicial landscape, was created to provide a discreet forum for the resolution of family discord. Aided in its deliberations by trained social workers, the Family Court's discretion is buttressed by holding its hearings behind closed doors.

True, Sara Netanyahu has a right to privacy, which arguably applies to communications with her ex-husband. In this case, however, it appears to conflict with the public's right to know, let alone freedom of expression and of the press. Pinning the label of "family dispute" should not constitute a determination on the merits. Indeed, when such weighty constitutional issues are involved, it is questionable whether the Family Court is the appropriate tribunal, just as it is doubtful if the "fighting family" of Herut could be helped by trained social workers, in the aftermath of the recent Likud convention.

Among the other unintended consequences of the law for the direct election of the prime minister, the wife of the prime minister has become, at the very least, a public figure. At most - which is what Sara apparently would prefer - she has become our First Lady. In either case, her present status undoubtedly affects her right to privacy.

This is particularly the case if, as her former husband, Doron Neuberger, apparently contends, her aggressive and domineering traits assure her a significant role in the decisions of her husband, the prime minister, which, he is prepared to document, on the basis of his personal experience, poses a real danger to the public interest. Moreover, Neuberger's manuscript reportedly contains interesting information on the prime minister himself. Suppose, as seems to be the case that Sara had communicated with her ex-husband after she was married to Bibi Netanyahu, in order to let out her feelings about the way Bibi was treating her.

Even the prime minister would be constrained to agree that this would be a matter of legitimate public interest. He seemed to agree that this area of behavior was within the scope of the public's right to know, when he went on TV to tell it all, spurred on by the false report of the "hot cassette," purportedly documenting his marital infidelity. He wasn't exactly shouting "Haida Sara!" <Hurrah for Sara!>, let alone fighting to protect her privacy.

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