Moshe Ben-Ivgi and a tale of farcical furloughs

Bitter experience ought to teach our law-enforcers that it’s better to err on the side of caution than treat given prisoners with the benevolent indulgence they palpably do not deserve.

May 20, 2010 07:55
3 minute read.
Moshe Ben-Ivgi and a tale of farcical furloughs

moshe ben-ivgi 248.88. (photo credit: Channel 10)


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The good news applauded in our midst this week was that Argentinean cops had at long last nabbed absconded Israeli convict Moshe Ben-Ivgi, who escaped abroad six years ago. His whereabouts had been unknown for the past year. He had disappeared, right under the Buenos Aires police’s supposedly watchful eye, after extradition proceedings were resumed.

Israelis want Ben-Ivgi behind bars – perhaps more than any other felon. The senseless murder of taxi driver Derek Roth, which he co-committed in 1994, still elicits much emotion here. It’s tempting to blame the slip-up of the Buenos Aires constabulary for the bizarre plot’s recent convolutions. But this shouldn’t excuse the series of eminently avoidable blunders made here, which facilitated Ben-Ivgi’s initial flight and the ensuing failures to extradite him.

This has to be regarded as one of the more disheartening chapters in Israel’s judicial annals. Most distressing is that it’s not unique.

The Roth shooting – by two Herzliya 14-year-olds – sent shivers down the nation’s spine. Ben-Ivgi and Arbel Aloni were each sentenced to 16 years. Despite all the distinct displays of extreme sociopathy, both youths were allowed leave from prison. During a 1998 furlough, they jointly held up a grocery and sadistically battered its elderly proprietors.

Although sentenced to five additional years each, and although thereafter wardens and psychologists ruled against further furloughs, the violent robbery didn’t prevent one judge from granting Ben-Ivgi leave. During a May 2004 furlough, Ben-Ivgi fled overseas with a false passport, having of course solemnly promised the court that he would stay home under parental supervision. His known accomplices were never tried.

Ben-Ivgi eventually made it to Buenos Aires, and, after Israel tipped the Argentineans off, they temporarily detained him. Although Israel has no extradition treaty with any Latin American state (most countries don’t), Argentina nonetheless agreed to extradite Ben-Ivgi for robbery, though not the murder committed while he was a minor. Israel refused. Moreover, extradition was denied because Israel’s request lacked a judge’s signature. After Argentina’s Supreme Court afforded Israel the opportunity to file another extradition application, Israel incredibly managed to miss the 30-day deadline.

Meanwhile, Ben-Ivgi, unjailed and sporting a new surname – Sagui – married, fathered a child and lived well in Argentina till last year’s getaway.

THE SEQUENCE of Israeli bureaucratic bungles is indefensible. Still worse, however, is the initial lenience which countenanced vacations for an untrustworthy convict like Ben-Ivgi, after he had already exploited one furlough to commit serious crime. No conceivable justification existed to allow him the benefit of another doubt.

Similar cases of easygoing judicial liberality have also ended horrendously. It’s a dismal record. Lifer Rafi Nahmani assassinated Judge Adi Azar while on furlough in July 2004. Since Israel imposes no capital punishment, Nahmani had nothing to lose. Common sense should have denied him leave.

In May 2005, 15-year-old Ma’ayan Sapir was raped, sodomized and murdered near her Rehovot home by a juvenile convict with a particularly vicious past. He was freed on regular furloughs from a closed, maximum-security correctional facility. Given his ultra-brutal history, he should not have been set loose.

Some vacationing prisoners don’t voluntarily return to confinement. “Southern rapist” Meir Assur, who once terrorized the Negev, was allowed time-out, too, despite the high recidivism rate of sex-offenders. For too long he evaded capture.

Furloughs are even granted routinely to violent husbands convicted of severe domestic abuse. Many revisit home to kill.

The choice in certain instances mustn’t be rehabilitation versus punishment. Public safety must be the paramount concern. Dangerous offenders must be isolated from society so they won’t imperil ordinary citizens.

Israeli law defines furloughs as a perk, not a right. Bitter experience ought to teach our law-enforcers that it’s better to err on the side of caution than treat given prisoners with the benevolent indulgence they palpably do not deserve.

Israel’s courts must protect the law-abiding populace. Gullibility is a perilous gamble. It’s high time our judiciary’s scale of values was ruefully reassessed – in the light of the enduring Jewish adage which emphasizes that “he who is merciful to the cruel will eventually be cruel to the merciful.”

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