Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Michael Lesher Responds

Guest Post by Michael Lesher

I am generally not disposed to extending discussion on singular topics without end on any given subject – no matter how serious. At some point it becomes overkill and counter-prodcuitve. Especially when I have done several posts in relative succession. So unless there is new information, I tend to move on to other topical issues. This had been the case on my recent posts on Shomrim. I have indeed moved on.

But I am returning to the issue one more time. One of my blog posts was based on an attack by a New York Rabbi against attorney Michael Lesher - who had written a New York Post op-ed critical of the Shomrim. He was severely – and in my opinion unfairly attacked by people commenting on that post. Some even called him a liar! I have offered him the opportunity to respond. He has accepted and his words follow.

Looking quickly through the responses here to my July 31 column, I'm struck by how easily, for some people, the discourse spins off into irrelevancy. Certain critics both misrepresent details of the column and completely ignore very serious issues it raises. Those twin intellectual sins are symptoms of denial, not of engagement with the facts.

Let's dispose quickly of the misrepresentations. My column correctly stated that the police were "belatedly" called in the Kletzky case -- that fact was widely reported, confirmed by Ray Kelly and not denied by anyone, so far as I know -- and correctly stated that Shomrim reportedly had video evidence that was unused during a crucial period of the investigation. This statement was made explicitly by Yaakov German on the radio -- I think it was Zev Brenner's show -- and reported in writing on Failed Messiah on July 24, in a posting that included a full recording of the radio interview.

German said that Shomrim had looked at the video but had concluded, wrongly, that the boy did not appear in any of the footage. For that reason, the evidence wasn't used as it should have been until some time later, when, according to German, he himself concluded that the boy did appear in the video. (German's handling of the video evidence was also widely reported, and no one, to my knowledge, has denied that Shomrim failed to identify the boy on the video in question.)

Of course, no one will ever know if this evidence could have been handled any better or faster by the police, just as we'll never know whether the delay in reporting cost the boy his life. I didn't make either claim, and none of that affects in the least the point made in the column.

The (undisputed) facts are: that Shomrim patrollers DID delay in calling the police and DID try to run an investigation themselves; that this is bad law enforcement procedure; and that in some cases this can have disastrous results. (Police sources are unanimous in stressing that everything connected with a suspected crime should be reported immediately.)

More important -- as emphasized in the column -- in some cases Shomrim and similar organizations, even those receiving government money, simply don't WANT suspected criminals reported to police.

I think I made all this as clear as humanly possible in the July 31 column. In fact, those who read it without a hostile bias seem to have understood me perfectly. What I find very significant, and very disappointing, is that the most vociferous critics are not only misrepresenting tiny pieces of the column, in a transparent effort to discredit me by falsifying what I wrote, but are completely ignoring the column's main claims. For instance, not one person has bothered to deny the organized coverup of the sex abuse case mentioned in the column (and described in detail in Tempest in the Temple).

Not one person has even tried to refute my description of Ohel's (non)reporting policy of child sex abuse. Not one person has denied that Rabbi Kamenetsky specifically requires everyone (by implication, even mandated reporters) to consult a rabbi before going to secular authorities -- and no one has denied that such a position, which in some cases runs counter to state law, can have substantial influence on groups like Shomrim. (Ohel's parallel example only underscores this point.)

Now, since these things aren't being denied, it's rather jejune of my critics to keep trying to misinterpret one or two lines in the column and then to pretend that everything's been resolved. Even they must know better. I can't really believe that they, or anyone else, fail to see how serious a matter it is when an organization that claims to protect the community actually suppresses evidence of crimes against its members. And when those organizations take public funding, that perversion of justice becomes, irretrievably, everyone's problem.

To ignore these issues -- clearly raised in the column and backed by evidence at each point -- is to fiddle while Rome burns. Does a blogger who doesn't even have the guts to use his name (though he'll sling calumnies manfully enough), let alone to cite evidence for HIS claims, as I did mine, really expect anyone to be taken in by this nonsense? But then, denial has its own logic.

My work on behalf of abuse victims, many of them Orthodox Jews, is well known and speaks for itself. What I have to say on the Jewish side of the subject can be found in my longish essay "The Disposable Jew: Reflections on Child Sexual Abuse and Religious Culture," which one can link at http://www.amyneustein.com/pubs/disposablejew.doc. My credentials and so on can easily be checked at my web site, http://www.michaellesher.com/.

But what's more important are the facts. That's where my (mostly anonymous) critics are always found wanting. And not only there. People who care about the truth can see it well enough, as Dr. Lipner does, just for instance, from his own professional experience. But people who have other priorities can't help exposing them, even as they mangle the facts and toss their slanders. Let's not mince words about this. To complain about truth-telling is to endorse lying.

To attack someone for exposing abuses of justice is to support injustice -- in this case, to take the side of suspected criminals against their victims. What such people think of me is not important -- though I'm happy enough not to be in that sort of company. What is appalling is that they aren't in the least bothered by the company THEY keep. I refer the reader to Aboth 4:5 for the likely fate of the coverup crowd. As for me, I can only hope that most Orthodox Jews choose another course.