Yisrael Valis and the Rush to Judgement
Yisrael Valis, the young charedi man accused of abusing and murdering his son, is now on trial in Jerusalem.
When last I wrote about this, some criticized me for what they deemed an entirely irrational defense. They took it as absolute, unquestioned fact that there was overwhelming physical evidence of a crime. As one blogger put it, “innocent until proven guilty means we entertain the possibility someone else killed the child.” Left unsaid but obvious is that since we know no one else touched the child at the time, the father was the only person who could have murdered him, but we won’t say that officially until the trial is over. That was the sum total level of Havei Dan es Kol Adam L’Kaf Zechus, “judge everyone favorably,” that the commenter thought appropriate.
Perhaps not. The following comment was sent to us — it was originally written as a comment to an article by Larry Derfner on JPost.com, or so the submitter said, but I’m still awaiting a link. Since the comments on JPost are very hard to browse, I am sure even many regular JPost readers missed this, as I did. The comment is from Michael S. BarRon, and was written as a strongly-worded objection to the Derfner article.
How tragically fitting it is, considering the general bend of JPost editors, to post an article that dares revive charges that were proven the most awful setup possible… a setup that was exposed, and the worst charges dropped weeks ago!
As an English teacher in Ramat Beit Shemesh, I am personally connected with close relations of Yisrael Valis. Larry Derfner, you are not only a fellow character assassin of Reb Yisrael, but a character assassin of an entire religious community of Israel—the every aspect of whose lives are a sanctification of life.
I will attempt to share the real story for the few readers who might care to read it: Reb Yisrael is well-known in his community as the most gentle person, a true Torah scholar. Indeed, there is no justification for his falling asleep one night—exhausted after a long day—as he attempted to calm down his crying baby. The treasure of his life, the light of his eyes, fell from his arms, hitting the wall and then the floor.
But a crime that is unequalled is when the parents brought the child to the emergency ward, they were made to wait eight hours with the baby before treatment. Not initially finding brain damage, a CT scan was not taken. Had the child been operated on promptly, it would have been saved. This is malpractice. However, when the staff investigated the father, being in such a traumatic state, the father began to speak on unclearly.
What ensued was a grilling 15-hour typical Israeli police interrogation: the subject, under the influence of drugs, was convinced by the social worker that he was entirely guilty, while the police interrogator convinced him that it was in his best interests to confess to everything. In the end, a forced and unnatural confession resulted.
The result was the opportunity of the decade for a press that feeds off of Haredi-hatred. In an effort to cover up their criminal negligence, the Hadassah ward charged Reb Yisroel with intentionally murdering his son per his forced confession. In the press he was portrayed as the most debase Neanderthal baby killer, claiming the child even had scratch and bite marks!
Yet, what the press was less eager to print, were the results of the forensic investigation by Prof Yehudah Ees, principal of the Institute of family health in Abu Kabir: there was no evidence of mutilation or intentional murder. Other doctors brought in confirmed this. The regional court of J’lem found his confession to invalid, being under emotional duress, and drug induced. He was released from prison and under house arrest.
How dare you spread lies and unbased hatred about observant Jews?! What a desecration of G-d, Torah, our People! You call the Haredim a cult of collaborators?! You have collaborated with character assassins of an entire community before a world audience.
Now if Mr. BarRon finds Derfner’s report indefensible, I wonder how he would react to the bloggers, commenters, and back-office gossipers who claim to be observant themselves, yet immediately treated this as some sort of charedi battle against the truth. He said what we already knew from more rational comments to my previous piece — there are two sides to the story.
I am not sure that the story above should be taken at face value, either. Another doctor’s report seems to imply that a CT scan was done relatively quickly — though he, too, saw no evidence whatsoever (such as tooth marks!) that would prove this was deliberate rather than accidental.
I’m not saying that all of these accounts should be believed instead of the police or the media. What I am saying, however, is that leaping to conclusions is hardly a victimless crime. Even if Valis is declared innocent, countless people will conclude — given the one-sided reports — that this was the result of charedi pressure or legal trickery. They will treat Valis as a murderer rather than a father who tragically lost his son, even if the evidence is entirely as Mr. BarRon describes.
Innocent until proven guilty does not mean “we entertain the possibility someone else killed the child.” Innocent until proven guilty means we leave it to a jury, not media reports — and leave our thoughts open to the possibility that a jury could wrongly convict, as well.