The Great Nanny Hunt

This modern nanny hunt employs methods of spreading suspicion and intimidation that would not have been out of place in the U.S. McCarthyism of the 1950s.

There's a new enemy of the people: The nanny. In a country addicted to threats and danger, when the guns fall silent and terrorists rarely commit suicide, there immediately arises a desperate need to create a new existential danger, or at least the appearance of such a danger. The first to respond to this need are the nannies.

The wave of horror reached a crescendo a week ago and has quieted a bit only because, sadly, there was a terrorist attack. But only hours before the terrorist blew himself up near the Tel Aviv seashore, when it seemed that terror had come to a halt, the frightening headline in Yedioth Ahronoth still screamed: "Dangerous" in giant letters, as if describing a suicide bomber.

This imaginary danger descended upon the public in the person of Galina Goratzkin, a 31-year-old nanny whose picture - with her face hidden behind dark sunglasses and a scarf - only served to heighten fears. Several days earlier, a tape was broadcast on television showing Goratzkin cruelly beating helpless seven-month-old twins she was supposed to be protecting. Luckily the twins were not injured, but this crime captured on video was enough to generate a witch hunt.

The press made a huge fuss and the court responded with shameful populism, helping to stir passions by sending the nanny to jail for the duration of the proceedings against her, a punishment usually reserved for accused murderers and rapists, but not, for example, for someone who stabs another. (Several days earlier, a 17-year-old boy who was released to house arrest, despite suspicions that he would stab someone, murdered Tzachi Ya'akov, 28.) It took the Supreme Court to rectify the injustice done to Goratzkin, and she has been released, for now, to house arrest.

Since then, three other cases of nannies suspected of abusing children under their care have come to light. Hardly a day passes without a videotape; no home is without a hidden camera and hysteria runs wild. The two largest newspapers immediately mobilized on behalf of parents, ostensibly: "The baby is crying, should you suspect the nanny?" - "How do you install a camera?" - "How do you choose a nanny?" and also, "Not taking any more chances." In short, there has been a flood of inflammatory headlines stirring needless fears. A chance visitor seeing these terrifying headlines would become convinced that the nannies constitutes a new national threat.

The response of the legal system, which is supposed to be free from the pressures of the masses and the media, is even more troubling: Ludmila Larkov, a 54-year-old nanny who was filmed slapping a six-year-old girl, was sent to jail for five days late last week, even before the suspicions against her were fully investigated. Why? To placate the media and public opinion. This is a much more dangerous trend than abuse by nannies.

But every cloud has a silver lining. Perhaps now parents will use the hidden cameras they install in their homes to document their own behavior. Perhaps they will suddenly realize, because of the cameras, that they also have outbursts of violence and abuse against their children in moments of stress. Perhaps they will realize that their behavior is sometimes much egregious than that of the nanny.

But the nannies are weak and vulnerable. Most of them come from a lower socio-economic background, making it easy to conduct a witch hunt against them. It is much harder to conduct a campaign of intimidation against abusive parents. Settlers who drag their children to wallow in the mud at demonstrations and expose them to the everyday dangers of the territories have not been the focus of videotapes and a campaign of incitement. They endanger their children's well-being much more than the most violent of nannies.

This is precisely how witch hunts are managed. An imaginary collective enemy is targeted, preferable someone especially weak, the media is mobilized, the courts dances to the tune of public hysteria and no one stops for a moment to ask if the accusations are exaggerated.

Are the level of public fear that has been generated and the incitement against nannies justified? While 20 people were executed in the Salem, Massachusetts witch hunt in 1691 for allegedly causing an epidemic, the current nanny hunt involves incitement against thousands of dedicated nannies, most of them innocent of any wrongdoing. This modern nanny hunt employs methods of spreading suspicion and intimidation that would not have been out of place in the U.S. McCarthyism of the 1950s.

The videotaped actions of the four nannies should not be taken lightly. They hurt helpless children and their parents' responses are understandable. These nannies deserve to be punished, but only them - and in proper proportion. There is a big difference between this and incitement against an entire group of people. Thousands of nannies raise our children with love and dedication, and they do not deserve to be branded with a mark of shame. Most of them work for minimum wage, and sometimes even less, and they give our children a great deal of warmth and love. One can assume these nannies are now living in fear and shame. They deserve our appreciation.

The blatant injustice against the nannies who care for our children is like the hunt for illegal foreign workers, where our society cruelly abuses those who devotedly nurse our elderly. From now on, every nanny is suspect unless proven otherwise; a camera is ready in every corner. Soon, the storm will subside. The handful of nannies who were caught will be punished and forgotten, and in the absence of terrorist attacks we'll find another enemy for ourselves.

One can guess that it will again be from a weak part of society, people who pose much less of a threat than the real maladies: Increasing violence, organized crime, a collapsing health system, a shaky education system, the corrupting occupation and widening class disparities. These dangers threaten our children, much more than the terror of the nanny.