The Jewish law of ‘mesirah’ – the prohibition against handing a fellow Jew over to secular authorities – has been under the spotlight in the current Royal Commission hearing, with Rabbis being probed as to their own interpretations and practices.
Despite statements from the Rabbinic Council clearly stating that there is no halachic restriction from reporting child sexual abuse to the police, the culture of ‘dealing with our problems internally’ is still well-entrenched, and will take more than Rabbinic or pulpit statements for that to change.
While it might seem unrelated, The Saturday Paper attacked the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for their role in the upcoming execution of two Australian members of the Bali Nine gang of heroin smugglers (Fairfax Media also picked up the story). They claim that the AFP was warned that Scott Rush was on his way to Bali intent on being a drug mule. Instead of warning him off, the AFP allowed him to fly to Bali, then wrote to the Indonesian National Police (INP) tipping them off with details of the planned drug importation scheme. Two weeks later, the Australian mules were arrested at Denpasar airport, as were the other conspirators.
There are lots of questions: was it was appropriate for the AFP to warn off an Australian before he even committed a crime? Is this the task of a police force – to warn citizens who they suspect may be about to commit a crime of the consequences of their actions? If they had warned him off, the operation may have been cancelled, but surely the conspirators would just try again. What would you rather: a handful of high-level drug dealers and 8.3kg of heroin off the streets? Or for them to go further underground? I don’t see the Saturday Paper blaming the AFP for the overdoses that occur regularly in Australia as a result of imported drugs that they are not able to prevent.
Why the fuss in this case? Because Australian citizens are subject to the death penalty for these crimes. According to Rush’s lawyer, the AFP knew that if he committed a crime in Indonesia he could face the death penalty, and still ‘allowed him’ to travel, and tipped off the INP about a crime they suspected was going to take place (even without the information from Rush’s father). Under their guidelines, the AFP must consider relevant factors, including the possibility of a death penalty, before providing information to a foreign law enforcement agency.
Leaving aside the issue of sovereignty, this is the very same logic behind the Jewish principle of ‘mesirah’. Knowing that a citizen would be subject to a legal system far more severe than our own, the AFP would not hand someone over to that jurisdiction.
For hundreds of years, Jews lived in antisemitic, oppressive and unfriendly societies, and without the rights and protections of other citizens. Their communities functioned like a state within a state, governing themselves with internal institutions like the Beis Din, and maintaining a siege mentality toward the outside world.
Fortunately, most Jews in the world now live in Western societies whose legal systems are built on ‘Judeo-Christian’ values, and are largely consistent with our own. We no longer need to protect ourselves against the state; rather we must focus on protecting our most vulnerable against people – too often from within our own community – who seek their harm.
This was also posted at [J-wire].