It is easy to imagine the State of Israel as a democratic country whose citizens enjoy the basic freedoms we, Westerners, take for granted. However, anyone who is even slightly familiar with the Israeli government’s unabashedly anti-religious agenda, both in the legislature and judiciary system, has no illusions about the State’s evenhandedness. In the Wild West atmosphere that pervades the secular elite who are in power, the lynching of chareidim is officially sanctioned, with not even a pretense of justice. If a case can be fabricated to cast the chareidim in a negative light – a la Yossele Shumacher – it will be done.
All this is nothing new; appalling as it may seem, it’s something we’ve unfortunately grown accustomed to. However, the government’s latest outrage is something that would make Stalin blush. In fact, the case is one that bears remarkable resemblance to the infamous Beilis trial of Kiev in the early 1900s. In both cases, there was no evidence against the defendant. In both cases, the government expended extraordinary efforts to create a case out of thin air despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In both cases, the defendant was harassed and intimidated by the government. In both cases, the defendant was persecuted solely because of his religion. The glaring distinction between the two is that Mendel Beilis was persecuted by the non-Jewish Russian government, whereas Yisroel Asher Wallis is being victimized by the Jewish government of the State of Israel.
THE TRAGIC STORY
Just before Pesach of 2006, R’ Yisroel Asher Wallis, a young Yerushalmi father, was holding his crying three-month-old child in his tiny apartment, trying to rock the baby to sleep. The baby unexpectedly slipped from his hands, and banged his head on the wall before hitting the floor. The baby seemed limp. Panicking, R’ Yisroel hastened to the emergency room, where the severity of his baby’s condition became apparent to the heartbroken father. Overwhelmed with guilt, the conscientious yungerman maintained a bedside vigil for nearly ten days, until, tragically, his infant son passed away. It is important to note that the hospital report upon admission did not indicate any hint of suspected abuse or neglect. The incident was correctly recorded as an accident.
ENTER THE GOVERNMENT
Evidently, someone with an agenda recognized a grand opportunity to make a spectacle of the chareidi community at the expense of R’ Yisroel Asher Wallis. So what if he would suffer unjustly? He’s just a primitive cave-dwelling ultra-Orthodox fanatic.
Before he knew what was happening, government agents descended on the unsuspecting avreich, handcuffed him, and hustled him off to prison. Then, in a scene reminiscent of Communist Russia or maybe Nazi Germany, R’ Yisroel Asher was beaten mercilessly in an effort to extract a “confession” that he had intentionally killed his own child. He was told repeatedly that if he would agree to sign a confession, he would be released immediately; otherwise, he would rot in jail. The terrified yungerman, who is not conversant in Modern Hebrew, and was on the verge of collapse from lack of sleep and the cruel beatings, signed the confession in a state of confusion and despair.
Having procured exactly what they wanted, the government agents now threw the hapless avreich into prison, in a cell with convicted murderers. He was not allowed to attend his son’s levaya, nor sit shivah with his wife. His incarceration began on Erev Pesach, and he spent the Yom Tov in a jail cell with the absolute lowest of hardened criminals – this on the heels of his infant son’s tragic death. R’ Yisroel Asher’s anguish reached the very heavens, but could not soften the hearts of the government officials who knew the falsity of the charges. In fact, it was only through the intense intervention of askanim that he was allowed to see his family several weeks later. He was placed under house arrest until his trial.
THE SMEAR CAMPAIGN
The secular government then launched a worldwide media campaign, trumpeting the “news” that yes, chareidim really are barbarians after all. They cannot even be trusted with raising their own children; they are prone to violent outbursts and are psychologically imbalanced. The pirsomet was well executed; not only the secular Israeli public but the world at large recoiled in horror at this inside peek of the chareidi world.
FIRST COURT APPEARANCE
During the weeks and months preceding R’ Yisroel Asher’s trial, the anti-chareidi campaign continued relentlessly. Meanwhile, askanim had retained the services of a renowned lawyer, Avidgdor Feldman, to defend R’ Yisroel Asher. The much-touted trial finally took place. The prosecuting attorney was shocked beyond belief as the testimony of pediatric experts was presented in a logical straightforward manner. The state’s allegations of vicious abuse, including bite marks that were supposedly found on the child, were proven to be patently false. The judge, an outspoken secularist, hastily summoned the lawyers into her chambers. “There is no way I can try this as a murder case,” she confessed. “You have nothing on which to stand,” she added to the prosecutor. And then, in a shocking display of bias, she said to the prosecutor, “I give you one year to present a different case against the defendant.”
And so the nightmare continued for R’ Yisroel Asher Wallis. His wife gave birth to another child last summer. The state tried desperately to keep him away from his child, in a cynical attempt to substantiate the image they had painted.
The second stage of the trial was more carefully orchestrated by the state. They conjured a Doctor Morad, a self-proclaimed expert in child abuse, who attested that a violently shaken baby would have blood in his eyes. Since the Wallis baby had blood, he concluded, it is obvious he was abusively shaken. Lawyer Feldman countered, “But only one eye had blood. According to your theory, both eyes should have had blood. Would you be willing to add this new revelation to your published scholarly works?!” The doctor, nonplussed, admitted that he would not. “Why was there blood in only one eye?” pressed the attorney. Dr. Morad averted his gaze. “There is other evidence,” he replied vaguely.
R’ Yisroel Asher himself was called to testify, and underwent intense and relentless cross-examination. Although he was extremely anxious, and despite the prosecutor’s attempts to trip him up, his version of the events remained consistent, as he replied in a straightforward manner. His testimony succeeded in making a positive impression even on many of the anti-religious.
The defense summoned Dr. Ben Sira, who, until his retirement, was the head of ophthalmologic surgeons in the State. His compelling presentation included a video depicting the internal structure of the brain and likely causes of the child’s death. Everyone in the courtroom was impressed by the cogent and well-documented presentation, which demonstrated that the child definitely did not die as a result of his father’s supposed shaking him. Rabbi Wallis and his family felt confident that in light of the complete lack of evidence against him, as well as the strong case made by the defense, the whole case would soon be dismissed. Indeed, had the trial been conducted anywhere else in the world except for countries like Syria or Lybia, that would have been the logical assumption.
Unfortunately, Yisroel Asher Wallis was being tried in the State of Israel’s justice system, where the truth is but a minor obstacle.
Even the blatantly anti-chareidi judge had no choice but to drop four out of the five charges that were leveled against Rabbi Wallis. She found him guilty, however, on the charge of ‘harigah,‘ roughly equivalent to second-degree murder. This decision was based on the assumption that Rabbi Wallis shook the baby and that the baby’s ultimate death was a direct result of the shaking. Everyone in the courtroom was shocked at the verdict. Anticipating the shock, the judge defended her ruling in face of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary: “You have your doctor, and I have mine. I choose to rely on the testimony of my doctor.”
The judge’s justification of her ruling is ample testimony to her own personal bias. For even if the two doctors had made equally compelling arguments, how could any responsible person arbitrarily choose to accept one over the other and sentence a defendant to prison? Certainly, in this case, where Dr. Morad’s theory was completely dismantled in front of the entire court, it takes a strong will and a hefty measure of arrogance to completely ignore the evidence.
SENTENCED TO SIX YEARS IN PRISON
Although the ruling was issued, sentencing wasn’t until today, when R’ Yisroel Asher was punished by the Yerushalayim District Court with six years in prison and two years suspended sentence.
District Court Judge Hanna Ben-Ami displayed no mercy in issuing the sentence and even remarked that the court did see fit to exercise leniency: “We have to consider that this is a young man, who has never before been given any responsibilities besides learning the Torah,” she said.
“It is the court’s belief that he did not intend to kill his son and that his actions stemmed from recklessness.”
MK Meir Porush, who recently lost to Nir Barkat in the Jerusalem mayoral elections, testified in court on R’ Yisroel Asher’s behalf.
Between legal fees, testifying doctors’ consultation fees and other expenses, the costs of this ordeal have been overwhelming. It is crucial that we, Bnei Torah, show our solidarity and give our unstinting support to this yungerman who really represents Torah Jewry on trial, chosen as a korban for the tzibbur.
Please mail your generous contribution today. Tax deductible checks can be made out to Rabbi Benzion Wallis and mailed to R’ Yitzchok Rosengarten, 64 East 9th Street, Lakewood, N.J. 08701.