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"According to your bill, it makes more sense to kill elderly people than injure them," MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) yesterday told his colleague from Yisrael Beiteinu, David Rotem, as the Knesset was preparing to pass the first reading of a bill to double the legal punishment for assaulting the elderly.

The bill passed, but Khenin had a point. Manslaughter has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Rotem's bill proposes a minimum of 20 years for anyone who injures an elderly person. Assault against elderly victims would carry a minimum of 10 years in jail, if Rotem's bill is passed into law.

The bill's passing in the first reading was the culmination of what can be dubbed "Stiffer Sentencing Day" at the Knesset. The day kicked off with an announcement by the Justice Ministry saying that it supported somewhat harsher sentencing for people convicted of assaulting elderly people.

Then, the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee passed a bill proposing to double sentencing for felons convicted of assaulting old people. At a meeting with the lobby for fighting crime, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said the problems with crime management stemmed from lenient judges, not problems with legislation.

Rotem's bill passed unanimously, even though all those who spoke at the plenum harshly criticized it. "It's insane. You're making a mockery of the law book," said the head of the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, Ophir Pines-Paz.

Former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) warned that judges would rather acquit felons who attacked elderly people than sentence them to 20 years in prison. Even Nissim Ze'ev of Shas, who is arguably the most right-wing MK, said that "we must not overdo it."

Eventually, everyone voted in favor after Rotem promised to compromise and tone his bill down by the time it reaches a third reading. He is willing to cut the 20 years mandatory prison service to 10 and set the minimum punishment even lower.

In other words, Rotem is willing to combine his bill with that of Moshe Sharoni from the Pensioner's Party. Sharoni's bill is not as extreme as Rotem's, but it can hardly be seen as lax.

It was Rotem who orchestrated the conference by the members of the crime-fighting lobby. Dichter took the opportunity to say that the sentences currently in the books are just fine. The problem was that the judges weren't making good use of them. "Unfortunately, sentencing is very much removed from the letter of the law," Dichter said. "The gap is too wide."

According to Dichter, a survey commissioned by his office found that property offenders rarely got more than three years in prison. Impressive as these data may be, they have nothing to do with the assault of old people, or violence for that matter.

Touching closer, Rotem said that judges were handing down "ridiculous sentences for felons convicted of assaulting elderly people" and that the judges were "lenient and forgiving." Pines-Paz begged to differ. "We are seeing a substantial increase in the severity of sentences for assaulting elderly people.

"One of Ita Fogel's attackers got 11 years in jail. That's no light sentence," Pines-Paz said, referring to the case of a 68-year-old woman from Haifa whose 19-year-old attacker early this year poured bleach over her and tortured her with an electric-shock device. He was also convicted of a series of other Haifa robberies and of possession of stolen property.

Yesterday afternoon, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and House committee chairman David Tal (Kadima) visited an elderly lady by the name of Aliza Ben-Aliyahu in Jerusalem's Sha'arei Tzedek Hospital. She had been assaulted by a robber and needed surgery on her leg. "It was gruesome," Tal told the Knesset.