Just Like Iraq

About a year and a half ago, Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw a pair of shoes at then U.S. president George W. Bush to protest the American occupation of his country. He was given three years in prison, the minimum sentence for this offense under Iraqi law.

Our Pini Cohen threw only one shoe at Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch. But he was also given three years - the maximum penalty Israeli law prescribes for the offenses with which he was charged.

Only one straight line connects al-Zaidi with Cohen: the trajectory of the flying shoe. And now, a similar line connects Israel and Iraq: the same punishment for a flying shoe. We have become like Iraq.

Cohen, a violent and embittered man, obviously deserved punishment, but three years in prison is outrageous. Perhaps Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge Shimon Feinberg wanted to curry favor with the Supreme Court president, or perhaps not. But Cohen never had a chance.

The judge declared that Cohen challenged the entire justice system. But his verdict endangers the foundations of justice every bit as much as Cohen's assault did. At the very least, it creates an appearance of arrogance and inequality. For this reason alone, the sentence should have been lighter.

Just imagine what the parents of Amir Balhassan, who lies in hospital in a vegetative state, must be thinking today: The couple that ran him over as he rode his scooter, left him wounded in the road and then tampered with evidence are about to cop a plea bargain entailing the same sentence as the shoe-thrower got.

Both the court's dignity and that of president Beinisch must be preserved. Those who attack the court must be fought - especially the politicians now engaged in a dangerous war against the court system. But not at citizen Cohen's expense. Once again, the court has proved that it is strong - but only when confronting the weak.