Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Three Heroic Drug Smugglers

Thanks to a local organization, I received a free copy of Mishpacha magazine this week. I've never read it before but I've heard great things about it. This week's cover story is about a group of activists who are working tirelessly to free three yeshiva boys who were caught smuggling drugs into Japan (link - PDF).

When I read newspapers and magazines, it is usually online articles from secular sources. Maybe that's why this article bothered me so much. The language was so superlative and laudatory, the issues were so black and white. It's nauseating. One picture caption refers to an activist as "an angel in human garb." There are references to various rabbis who are famous for their "command of legal nuances" or "giving freely of his medical expertise." In other words, superhuman bundles of brilliance, knowledge and righteousness. I suspect that some people actually believe these exaggerations.

Click here to read moreAdditionally, there is no impartiality whatsoever in the article. One section is titled "Indisputable Innocence." Is it really indisputable? Is it so inconceivable that yeshiva students would knowingly smuggle items and then pretend to be innocent? It's possible, although I choose to assume that it is not the case here. But is their innocence indisputable?

From what I can tell, and maybe I'm mistaken here, the entire story was taken from these activists working on behalf of the accused. Was there any effort made to verify their accounts? Was there any fact-checking done at all? These are the kinds of articles and speeches I've also heard on behalf of Jonathan Pollard. A rabbi or "reporter" goes to speak to him and then repeats whatever Pollard tells him. Did they do any independent verification? Invariably, the answer is no.

But that is all beside the point. From the article and everything else I've seen about this case, it seems that these kids stumbled into this mess by making some naive but not terribly malicious decisions. It makes sense to me that their friends and relatives should be trying to free them from a very long and difficult jail sentence over these crimes. And if their friends and relatives cannot do this, then other members of their communities (i.e. other Jews) should step in.

But when you make this a global crusade, when you organize prayer rallies and publicize it widely, when you give frequent updates to popular frum news websites (link), you are sending two bad messages:

1) To our children and ourselves, we are glorifying the accused as heroes and demonizing the Japanese justice system as evil. They aren't. The kids are stupid and they committed crimes, and the Japanese police caught them smuggling drugs and are trying them accordingly. The kids did everything wrong. Again, I agree that their suffering should not be incommensurate with their crimes -- hence the efforts to free them -- but they are certainly not heroes.

2) We are telling the world that we, the Jewish community, are in favor of drug smugglers. We are turning a Chillul Hashem into a massive Chillul Hashem. We, as a community, will stand by other Jews even when they commit crimes that negatively impact the world, such as drug smuggling.

How about keeping things on the down low and working behind the scenes? Why would we want to publicize the issue? We should be embarrassed about these boys and hang our heads in shame over them. Keep up the good work in helping them attain the best defense possible, and also work to transfer those convicted to Israeli prisons where they will be able to serve their terms with full religious freedom. But why turn this into a communal crusade?

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