(JTA) — In a controversial and precedent-setting ruling, an Israeli judge acquitted a youth of Ethiopian descent of assault citing perceived discrimination against his community.
Avital Molad, a juvenile court judge, last month acquitted the youth, who resides in an institution for underage delinquents, of two separate assault charges — once by hurling objects at police during a demonstration and again for hitting a fellow inmate, Army Radio reported Wednesday.
Rather than address the charges brought against the youth, she cited in her acquittal a Ministry of Justice report published in July stating that “for years, people of Ethiopian origins are discriminated against by the establishment, citizens, in education and employment and are excluded from the public sphere as well as targeted in negative stereotyping, overtly and discretely, and are even exposed to expressions of physical and verbal violence.”
Noting the report’s assertion that Ethiopian Israelis have an outsize proportion of juvenile delinquency, and citing the youth’s “family situation,” Molad wrote: “In some cases, the court must take a clear stance to encourage and back minors in correctional frameworks.”
The defendant had agreed to be committed into the institution where he lives following previous altercations involving violence, Army Radio reported.
She was letting off the defendant, who was not named because he is underage, “to send a clear message to minors generally and specifically to ones from the Ethiopian community that a youth who submits to correctional frameworks with dormitory conditions will receive considerable consideration even if they are charged with serious offenses.”
The defendant’s lawyer called the ruling a legal milestone, but a prominent member of the Ethiopian-Israeli community of some 140,000 — half of whom were born in Israel to parents who immigrated from the 1980s onward – condemned it as promoting inequality and patronizing.
Danny Adino Abebe, a well-known journalist and activist for the rights of Ethiopian Israelis, told Army Radio on Thursday that the judiciary is no place for affirmative action because this “does irreparable damage to the principle of equality before the law.”
Molad, he added, “decided to give Ethiopians a leg up in a patronizing, insulting and quite outrageous manner.”