IN days of old, miscreants were sent to prison for punishment. It wasn’t the going to prison that was the penalty for wrongdoing. Rather, it was within prison that the real price was exacted for the crime committed — the treadmill, shot drill and various other forms of hard labour.
This past is dead — certainly in this country. Convicted criminals go to prison to deter others and to keep society safe, but primarily as a punishment.
For the vast majority of them, once they’ve served their sentences they are ushered back into society.
Has British Jewry really bought into this understanding? I fear not, to judge by some recent cases.
The first concerns the American Sholom Rubashkin, who earlier this month was scheduled to make a five-day trip to the UK in order — so said one of the organisers of this mission — “to give inspiration to the community”.
“His message,” explained the organiser, “is to be law-abiding business people, to learn from your mistakes, to be true contributors to society, and to make the most of second chances. It’s a strong message to deliver.”
It certainly is. Whether Rubashkin has delivered it, I must leave to others to judge. But what I can do now is to meet head-on the protestations of those who sought to condemn Rubashkin’s tour even before it had started.
Rubashkin was the subject of this column a year ago. In November, 2009, this former chief executive of Agriprocessors — then the largest producer of kosher meat in America — was convicted on 86 counts of financial fraud.
The following June, he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 27 years.
On December 20, 2017, President Donald Trump “commuted” this prison sentence. So Rubashkin is, with certain qualifications, a free man.
No one who read my January 12, 2018, column can doubt the force with which I condemned Rubashkin for his crimes. The presidential commutation isn’t a pardon. Rubashkin remains a convicted criminal — a corrupt businessman who swindled his creditors out of millions of dollars. But he’s served his sentence. Why should he not visit this country?
I turn now to the howls of duplicitous protest that have greeted the news that the UK Zionist Federation has invited Israel’s former prime minister Ehud Olmert to its annual dinner.
Prior to taking office as PM, Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem. In 2014, he was found guilty of accepting bribes while occupying the mayoral office, and was sentenced to a term of imprisonment, which he has served.
So why should he not be a guest at the ZF dinner?
The argument is being put about that Olmert has never expressed remorse or contrition for his crimes. I’ve been told that therefore the ZF’s invitation to him is making fools out of ZF donors and supporters, who must surely know about his scandalous past.
Well, maybe they do and maybe they don’t. But I have come across numerous cases in this country of Jews who have been convicted of a variety of so-called “white collar” crimes (invariably involving fraud and theft of large sums of money, which thefts have caused untold misery to their usually Jewish victims) but who, on completion of their prison sentences, have been welcomed back into their synagogues.
Some have continued — and continue still — to protest their innocence. But all remain guilty as charged.
Yet that guilt evidently does not prevent them from appearing at communal functions, surrounded and cheered on by numerous devotees.
Nor, evidently, does it stop other communal machers from vying with each other to sing their praises.
Around this time last year, I also devoted a column to the case of Mendy Levy, a convicted sex offender who had paid for the writing of a Sefer Torah.
A hue-and-cry ensued, and the sefer — at first graciously accepted by a synagogue in north-west London — was then unceremoniously rejected. Why? After all, Levy had served his sentence. By what right do we continue to punish him?
I’m forced to contrast this with the case of Professor Zalman Greenbaum, once a favoured son of Golders Green Jewry, who in 1990 pleaded guilty to three charges of indecent assault on young boys.
There was no communal condemnation of him — indeed, in some quarters the parents of his victims were actually criticised for “making a fuss” — and though certainly shunned in some Jewish quarters, he remained until his dying day persona grata in others.
The shocking thing is that until his last, Greenbaum remained completely unapologetic.
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