The Case of a Palestinian Accused of Raping a Child Proves the Strength, not the Weakness, of Israeli Democracy

In May, Mahmoud Qatusa, a Palestinian, was arrested on charges of raping a seven-year-old girl who attended the Jewish school where he worked as a janitor. His lawyer compared his case with that of Leo Frank, a Jew from Atlanta who in 1913 was accused of raping a thirteen-year-old Christian. After Frank was convicted and sentenced to death, the governor of Georgia—because of the cloud of anti-Semitism hanging over the case—commuted his sentence to life in prison, only for a mob to break into Frank’s cell and lynch him. The comparison appeals to those fond of bemoaning the imminent death of Israeli democracy. But, writes Evelyn Gordon, the two cases are different in every important way, and Israeli democracy is as healthy as ever:

After [Qatusa’s] indictment hit the headlines on June 17, social media erupted with anti-Arab incitement, including from several politicians who accused him—with zero evidence—of intending the rape as a terror attack. But then, Israeli democracy’s self-correcting mechanisms kicked in. Senior officials from Israel’s independent police and prosecution, who weren’t previously involved in the case, reviewed it and discovered numerous problems. The country’s free press investigated and reported additional problems. On June 25, after top law-enforcement officials concluded the evidence was insufficient, charges were dropped, and Qatusa was freed.

Additionally, while anti-Arab racism undoubtedly exists in Israel, it doesn’t seem to have been a factor in Qatusa’s case. Even the senior legal officials who withdrew the charges remain convinced that a rape occurred and that some evidence points to him, just not enough for criminal conviction. Moreover, he was just one of several Palestinians employed at the girl’s school; many others worked elsewhere in [the Jewish town of Modi’in Ilit]. Relations between [the town and Qatusa’s village, Deir Qaddis] were good, as evidenced both by the Modi’in Ilit residents who publicly protested Qatusa’s arrest and by those who danced at the wedding of Deir Qaddis’s mayor’s son on June 13.

What distinguishes democracies from dictatorships is that democracies have self-correcting mechanisms to address [their] problems. And Qatusa’s case shows that despite a real problem of police incompetence, Israel’s self-correcting mechanisms work; consequently, Leo Frank-style travesties of justice don’t happen. Nor, incidentally, do lynchings.

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More about: Israeli democracy, Leo Frank, Palestinians, West Bank

 

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship