Judicial ombudsman Eliezer Goldberg has reprimanded a Magistrate's Court judge for insulting Israel's Black Panther movement in a recent ruling.
In a decision distributed to senior judiciary officials this week, Goldberg wrote that judges have the right to cast aspersions on the reputations of people and organizations, but only if the criticism is relevant to the matter at hand. Goldberg said that criterion was not met in a July verdict sentencing Yisrael Bundak, a veteran of the 1970s protest movement seeking social justice for Mizrahi Jews, to two years in prison for running a pirate radio station playing Mizrahi music.
"The 'struggle culture' of the Black Panthers, or to be precise, this subculture, is long outdated, even if it ever had a place," wrote Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge Alexander Ron. "Spreading the value of Mizrahi culture by circumventing the law and demonstrating contempt for the institutions of the state only damages its content and public status."
Goldberg, a former Supreme Court justice, said the verdict indicated that Ron was not motivated by racism. All the same, he wrote, there was no justifiable reason to include the comment on the "subculture" of the Black Panthers, adding that Ron had insulted the plaintiffs unnecessarily.
Bundak tried to launch a public campaign to protest the verdict, but to little effect. He also appealed to the Jerusalem District Court, which reduced the sentence to 18 months and added a fine of NIS 25,000. Bundak began serving his prison term earlier this month.
Bundak enlisted the help of a fellow Black Panthers veteran, Charlie Bitton, and the two launched a formal complaint with Golberg that accused Ron of expressing a racist worldview, contempt for an important social struggle and a humiliating misrepresentation of the movement.
Ron told Goldberg that this was a defendant's attempt to take revenge on a judge. He said Bundak and Bitton have taken his words out of context in an effort to turn the verdict into a social issue.
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