Innocent Until the Money Runs Out

B. Michael
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Protesters outside a hearing in Benjamin Netanyahu's trial, this week.
B. Michael

On Monday we returned to the playing field of the game. Not just any game, apparently, but a rigged game. Because only money will rule in Bibi’s trial. Not the law, not justice. Only money.

The cynical-halakhic comment of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 61a) that “money purifies mamzerim" comes to mind (mamzer means bastard in Hebrew; mamzerim is the plural).

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There is much sober understanding in these words. People are attracted to money, they love to have contact with it, they admire its possessors. And due to the intensity of their desire to crowd into its shade, they are even prepared to purify a mamzer of his unworthy status. Rabbi Yehoshua was referring to mamzerim in the halakhic ense, but his saying is all the more accurate when applied to the popular meaning of the word mamzer. Such as, for example, the wily and frightened mamzer who has been driving an entire country mad for several years just to evade indictment and a thorough examination of his finances.

This week, after countless delays, the rigged game returned to the courtroom, dwelling place of the mill of justice. Ostensibly, the mill is supposed to be grinding now. In fact, presumably, its gears have been jammed to a standstill. Experts have been hired to save the defendant. Masters at throwing a wrench in the works, skilled at posing pointless questions, champs at employing nitpicky nonsense, bringing all their talents to bear on putting the situation on hold and wasting time.

The services of skilled time-wasters cost a fortune. The fee for one day of work by a top lawyer could support a large family for a month. Only a very wealthy person could afford this. And Bibi, despite being wealthy enough, has managed to one-up Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi: He wants to purify himself using others’ money. Talk about a mamzer…

And so, as long as Netanyahu can afford to pay for unrestrained legal nitpickers, the proceedings won’t budge. And as long as the justice system retains its overly polite manners and avoids putting the delayers in their place (by shouting, “Enough!” for example), the bullying will continue. And ultimately, money will purify the “mamzer.”

Another 20-30 years of legal pestering, one more postponement while the elderly defendant gets a replacement Filipina caregiver, and everything will finally be taken care of, and if the defendant has passed on by then, the defense will argue that sentencing arguments only be heard after the year of mourning, to spare the grieving family’s feelings.

And before our eyes, a revolting and sad legal norm takes firm shape: Someone who is rich enough enjoys total immunity from prosecution. Or, put another way: He is innocent until the money runs out.

Only one hope can come out of this trial: that Netanyahu will put on another show with his flock of marionettes and, as he always does, curse out the corrupt and underhanded justice system. This way he will really help Internationial Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda argue that the justice system in Israel is corrupt and underhanded, as the country’s prime minister confirms, and therefore Israeli war criminals should be tried in The Hague.

To finish off, here’s an old chestnut about lawyers. Not to generalize; some of my best friends are lawyers, many are people of real integrity, some are truly righteous figures. Nevertheless ...

Two psychology professors meet and one says to the other: “Did you hear? In our research labs we’ve stopped using rats and started using lawyers.” “Why?” his colleague asks. “Two reasons,” the first professor says. “First, there are more lawyers than rats. Second, there are some things even a rat won’t do.”

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