When Vandals Are Allowed to Vandalize

The law-enforcement authorities are too liberal with regard to people who threaten judges, and thus it is impossible to put an end to this violence, according to retired judge Gershon German.

"The law should ban demonstrations outside the homes of judges, and people who make improper remarks about judges should be tried for contempt of court," declares Dr. German, who recently retired from the Family Court in Ramat Gan, which he helped to establish, after 20 years. The judge also recommends suing people who slander or libel judges in certain cases.

Speaking with Haaretz, German said, "There is a direct line between the permission granted to demonstrate outside a judge's home and the burning of the car belonging to District Court Judge Moshe Gilad [last week]. The moment that violence erupts and the vandal is allowed to vandalize, he does not distinguish between a righteous person and an evil one. If the system does not stop this phenomenon, it will not stop on its own."

The judge added that he was not surprised when a shoe was hurled last month at the president of the Supreme Court, Dorit Beinisch. Nor was he surprised to hear that the man who threw the shoe, Pinhas Cohen, blamed his anger concerning the legal system on Philip Marcus - a judge in the Jerusalem Family Court. German said is very familiar with the intense feelings expressed in the courtrooms and outside in the corridors, with the threatening calls made to judges at home and the blunt language of letters of complaint against them. He related how a colleague from the Family Court was chased in the street once by someone shouting curses and abuse at him.

German too was once the victim of violence. A few years ago, a group of men demonstrated outside his home in central Tel Aviv with burning torches and banners denouncing what they called his discrimination against men. One of the banners was held by, "A bereaved father of a living child" - a bitter expression related to the judge's rulings in favor of women with regard to custody of minors. One of the demonstrators almost hit German's wife when she went out to document the event by taking pictures.

When the demonstration became raucous, German called a senior court official asking that the court guards and police be sent to disperse the demonstrators. The official made a few inquiries and then telephoned German back and informed him that the law does not ban demonstrations outside the home of a judge.

"The law-enforcement system acts too liberally toward people who threaten judges. A judge is not a public servant. The aim of a demonstration like that is to influence the judge to rule against one side in favor of the other," German said. "So the system really cannot say we are talking here about the freedom to demonstrate."

However, this was not the only protest that German has experienced during his career. He was apparently the first judge in Israel against whom a claim of negligence was submitted - for the vast sum of more than NIS 10 million. The claim was presented in a custody battle by a man who charged that German had agreed to grant his divorced wife and daughter the right to leave the country without posting suitable guarantees. The mother abducted the child and flew to Russia. The father submitted his suit to the Tel Aviv District Court in 2002, claiming that German's ruling was handed down at a time when it was already clear the mother was in a deep crisis over the decision to allow the minor to sleep at her father's house, and that the mother would do everything possible to sever any ties between father and daughter. In July 2001, the father learned that the minor had been taken out of the country.

Five years later, the suit was rejected out of hand by the District Court on the basis that the judge had the right to immunity. Furthermore, the court ruled that German's decision had been made in good faith, and without malicious intent or negligence.

Even today, seven years after being sued, German does not feel he made a mistake nor does he regret the decision, despite its tragic results.

"Freedom of movement is a basic right," he explained. "If I had discussed the mother's request to leave the country in the presence of both sides, I would have allowed her to leave the country with the daughter in return for depositing some form of security. One forgets that in this case, the father never requested that an injunction be issued against the mother, forbidding her to leave the country - but she requested such an order so that the child would not be able to leave with the father. Ultimately it was the mother who in the long run requested that it be rescinded."

Same-sex family issue

Gershon German is considered to be the Family Court judge who has shown the most obvious abhorrence of same-sex families. In 2008, he raised a public storm when he ruled that the law preventing violence in the family does not apply to same-sex couples, and refused to issue a legal-protection order for a man who claimed his former partner was beating him.

That was not the first such ruling German made: Some 13 years earlier, in 1995, it was he who rejected an appeal by Adir Steiner against the army's decision not to pay him the benefits of a bereaved spouse, and not to recognize him as the common-law spouse of his late partner, Col. Doron Maisel, even though their relationship was a matter of public knowledge.

To this day, German is of the opinion that families with two mothers or two fathers are not "natural" families: "A natural family is one consisting of a man and a woman. So long as the legislator has not decided otherwise, any recognition of a 'new family' is contrary to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, and to the definition of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state ... Such a family is not in keeping with this legislation - and it is a Basic Law."

German said he doesn't know how he would rule if a lesbian couple were to come to his courtroom and one of the women were to ask to adopt the other's biological children - a situation which has already been formally recognized by the Supreme Court. If the good of the child had to be considered, he said, he would have difficulty rendering such a verdict.

"These people do not look at the good of the child. They have created their own framework for themselves and want to add the children into this framework. I don't know whether they think it's good for the child, or whether it's just for their own good. I say: Prove it - do psychological and social studies to see what influence it has on the child. I think that if it's not natural, it harms the child."

When homosexual couples came to German to ratify a prenuptial or other monetary agreement between them as a couple, he sent them home: "Whoever wants can make as many agreements as he wants. They are not a family," he declared.

German said he is proud to have expanded the definition of family violence. For instance, he issued orders barring men from going to the homes of their spouses when they had merely engaged in verbal abuse or minor acts of physical abuse. Examples he gave of such verbal abuse were "threats, curses, constant exaggerated insults"; and of minor acts of violence, "pushing a woman against a wall."

He realizes that he is known for ordering men to pay a great deal of alimony. "I had yeshiva students who told me they did not have enough to support a family because they were studying. I would quote the Gemara on this issue, which asks: 'If he has a millstone round his neck, should he study the Torah?' One must study the Torah not at the expense of one's minor children and one's wife. Anyone who wants to say that I am pro-women, can say so. That is how I am."

German mused that it's possible that when male plaintiffs saw he is religious, they complained that their spouse was unfaithful so he would side with them against the woman, even if there was no evidentiary basis for this. "Maybe they thought my world view would not see this in a favorable light and it would cause me to be disgusted with the other side," he said.

There are also attorneys who have tried to win the judge's heart by saying in their appeals that the husband is violent toward his wife. "If a man hit his wife, it does not mean that we will rule that he has to pay more or less in alimony. Generally speaking, these claims did not have any significance in cases with which I dealt," German added.

While a significant number of his colleagues who helped to establish the Family Court were promoted to the District Court, German - who was a candidate for such promotion several times - was never advanced. He is asked whether the fact that he is religious may have been a reason for being overlooked, as perhaps the committee for selecting judges decided he would bring his views and principles into the District Court.

"It is possible that there were people who were afraid of that," he replied. "I don't have an explanation. No one ever said anything to the contrary. My world view, which has an 'external appearance' and it is possible they were afraid of that, but it is possible that they were not. However, I was disappointed."