Breast-beating over Rose

Israel is a self-critical society. But this time we need to cut ourselves some slack.

little rose 248.88 (photo credit: Israel Police)
little rose 248.88
(photo credit: Israel Police)
Not often - except, God forbid, in wartime - are most of the evening news programs on all three TV channels devoted to a single story. Not often do the tabloids dedicate most of their news pages to that story, which captures Israel's attention across class and sectoral lines and won't let go. We may be far from knowing exactly what happened to Rose Pizem - the little girl no one wanted during her short life, who posthumously ended up tugging at our heartstrings. Reported police suspicions of a plot to do away with the child that involved others besides the 45-year-old grandfather/stepfather are yet to be substantiated. But whether her death was an accident, manslaughter or cold-hearted murder, the saga is titillating enough to have made headlines both locally and overseas. Here, it also evoked Jewish guilt and collective breast-beating. Pundits, jurists, social scientists, welfare professionals and psychologists have reacted to the tragedy by demanding instant new legislation. They claim Rose's death reflects a communal failing, that we are all somehow guilty, that the social services and police were remiss. The response of Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, director of the National Council for the Child, to the Post was typical. While emphatically exonerating his own organization's conduct, he declared: "I can't understand how a child disappears and nobody notices and reports. Israeli society has become alienated and uncaring." SUCH A charge seems to presuppose that all crime is preventable, that all youngsters can be tracked and their home life monitored. Yet this is a fallacy. No society - and Israel's is one of the world's most child-friendly and protective - can inoculate itself against aberrant individuals. Example: In 1999, a divorced father, Erez Tiboni, set both his children on fire at the Tel Aviv WIZO office where he was to exercise his supervised visitation rights. He killed his son and daughter under the noses of the authorities. In 2002, Eli Pimstein drowned his 22-month-old daughter to punish her mother, then hid the toddler's corpse and pretended to be distraught. What malice breeds in which minds cannot be predicted. All the more so regarding Rose, a French child, a recent arrival in this country and entirely unknown to the social welfare agencies. Her family's background was, moreover, so dysfunctional that not even a soap opera scriptwriter could come up with so convoluted a storyline. Chief suspect Ronnie Ron (originally Ya'acov) fathered Benjamin Pizem during a brief fling with a French woman. Benjamin married Marie-Charlotte Renault when both were teens. They are Rose's parents. Discovering that his biological father was Israeli, Benjamin brought his wife and infant here to meet him; whereupon the father-in-law made a play for young Mrs. Pizem. Benjamin returned to France with Rose and divorced his wife. His daughter was apparently shunted between grandmothers and institutions. Marie-Charlotte, now mother to two more daughters fathered by Ronnie, won custody of Rose after a battle in the French courts. In Israel, Rose was again shunted around. For several months she was cared for by Ronnie's mother, her biological great-grandmother, Vivianne Ya'acov. A daughter of Vivianne's, Sigalit, was recently murdered in Kadit. She had persistently accused Vivianne of abusing her for years, and also described the anomalous relationship of her brother Ronnie with his daughter-in-law. IT'S HARD to make sense of all this and determine who is directly culpable for Rose's fate. All that seems clear is that no amount of sanctimonious posturing can blame the Israeli collective for one family's acute deformities. No amount of legislation can protect every single child from abuse. Adequate laws exist in abundance - but they cannot help in all circumstances. And we do not want to make it excessively easy for government to remove children from their parents. Yes, citizens have a moral obligation to report possible abuse to the authorities. But real life isn't like Steven Spielberg's 2002 sci-fi flick Minority Report, in which crimes are preempted by "precogs" with foreknowledge of what's about to be perpetrated. Israel is a self-critical society. But this time we need to cut ourselves some slack.