Slippery Slope

Recent violence against non-Jews in Israel, culminating in the horrendous firebombing of a home in the Palestinian village of Duma — which resulted in the death of a toddler and, this week, her father — aroused justified outrage and calls for the security forces to “do something” about Jewish terrorism.

But doing something doesn’t mean throwing out all the rules of democracy. It doesn’t mean turning Israel into a police state and allowing young people to “disappear” for six months at a time because the police and security services are incapable of doing their job.

It means providing the security forces with additional resources so that they can apprehend criminals and obtain solid evidence that will hold up in court. It means pressing the judicial system to mete out maximum sentences that will serve as effective deterrents.

Eighteen-year-old Mordechai Meyer, whose parents moved to Eretz Yisrael from the United States, was the first of three Jewish youths to be taken from his home by security officials wielding administrative detention orders.

“They knocked on the door, showed a document stating that they were taking him to jail for six months without suspicion and without explanation,” his father related. “Suddenly. And now we find ourselves with our son in jail and do not know anything. We thought there were courts here.”

Meyer is suspected of involvement in the June 18 arson attack that badly damaged a church on the Kineret, as well as attacks on other Christian properties. If he’s guilty, he should be punished. But he should also have an opportunity to defend himself, to know what he’s being charged with and what evidence the authorities have against him. And he should certainly be represented by a lawyer who can advise him of his rights.

Instead, Meyer and the other two young people have “disappeared” for six months. No evidence has been presented in open court to justify their extended remand in custody. According to the lawyer of one of the other suspects, the youths are being subjected to illegal harsh interrogation methods, including shaking.

Again, those who break the law or are suspected of doing so should be dealt with using the full severity of the law. The police must be given all the tools they need to do their job — be it electronic surveillance or more sophisticated evidence-gathering techniques — so that those who perpetrate these dastardly crimes will feel that it isn’t worth their while to continue to do so.

But what’s happening with these three has nothing to do with apprehending guilty parties. Not only is Meyer’s father convinced that the police “had to arrest someone and Mordechai was the scapegoat,” but so is the spokeswoman for B’tselem, an extreme left-wing organization that has no sympathy for the likes of Meyer.

“These recent government actions look more like an attempt to divert attention and appease public outrage following this terrible attack in Duma than a real effort to enforce the law on settlers who attack Palestinians,” Sarit Michaeli told The Jerusalem Post.

No one is above the law, but then no one is beyond the protection of the law, either. Once the authorities allow themselves to use administrative detention orders — what Michaeli calls “the worst tool in the toolbox” — against “hilltop youths” in Yehudah and Shomron, they’ll use them against chareidi youngsters in Meah She’arim who burn garbage dumpsters. It’s a slippery slope.

Again, the deeds currently under investigation are wrong and dangerous and must be stopped. They have the potential to serve as the spark that ignites widespread violence throughout the region. But it’s also wrong to go from one extreme to another, from an intolerably permissive attitude toward miscreant behavior to an intolerably harsh one that breaks all the rules of democracy and transparency.

That’s not to say that there are never situations that call for a democracy to break its own rules. Clearly, in the case of a “ticking bomb,” when the authorities have reason to believe that a suspect has information that can save lives, it is permissible to bend the rules.

The police have to work harder. More importantly, educators and parents must take extreme care not to encourage the breaking of the law for a “higher cause,” even against an enemy that has exacted a very high price in blood.