Israeli Public Defender Moves to Stop Judge's Hard Line on African Migrants

Tel Aviv District Court judge Gurfinkel cites 'national plague' of refugees.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The public defender has asked the Supreme Court to stop a Tel Aviv judge's efforts to impose stiffer sentences on African migrants simply as a deterrent to crime.

The judge, the Tel Aviv District Court's Zvi Gurfinkel, said that when the court is faced with a "national plague" involving a "particular type of population," it must protect the public. "Any argument that this is discrimination or racism should be totally rejected."

The Public Defender's Office has appealed to the Supreme Court over two sentences handed down by Gurfinkel in cases involving asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea.

In the first case in May, the judge sentenced Eritrean Angesom Kabari to four and a half years in prison for aggravated robbery and conspiracy. Three weeks later, he sentenced the Sudanese man, Yusef Bashir, to four years in prison for robbery and obstruction of justice.

The defender's office says the sentences stemmed from a totally mistaken impression that crime and fear prevail on the streets and that asylum seekers are rampant criminals.

In his sentencing, Gurfinkel referred to the two defendants' backgrounds and said they should be dealt with severely.

"The court has encountered isolated cases of robbery or violence by foreign workers, refugees or migrant laborers," the judge said when sentencing Kabari. "But in the past year the phenomenon has greatly increased, and a week doesn't go by without a court hearing in which a foreign citizen has taken part in a violent act or robbery."

According to Gurfinkel, "City streets have become unsafe. Law-abiding citizens are afraid to leave their homes out of fear of violence." He called for stiffer sentences as a deterrent to foreign migrants.

"In light of the increase in the number of incidents and the need to deter the [migrant] population, it appears the range of punishment should be increased and set between three and six years in prison."

In sentencing Bashir, Gurfinkel also referred to the refugee issue.

"It's true that the situation for refugees to Israel isn't easy, but it should be remembered that they have come of their own free will and not by force. They came not directly but via Egypt; only when they realized that their quality of life did not meet their needs did they decide to come to Israel."

In the appeal to the Supreme Court, Tal Aner of the defender's office argued that Gurfinkel's approach was flawed by assuming that people belonging to a certain population group should receive stiffer sentences as a deterrent.

Aner also claimed that the judge's determination that asylum seekers are disproportionately responsible for crime is also not based on fact "and is in no way relevant to sentencing." The defender's office says the judge's findings are based on an "anecdotal impression," as the crime rate among asylum seekers is about half that of the national average.

Migrant children eating in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park.Credit: Daniel Tchetchik
Judge Zvi GurfinkelCredit: Court Website

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