Israel should rethink extradition refusal

October 12, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

There's still time for Israeli government officials to do the right thing in the Samuel Sheinbein affair. In this case, the right thing is to send Sheinbein back to the United States to stand trial in the murder of Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr.

Sheinbein, 17, is a suspect in the grisly slaying of Tello, who was killed, dismembered and then burned. His body was found last month in Montgomery County. Seventeen-year-old Aaron Needle is also a suspect in the crime. Unlike Sheinbein, Needle chose to face the music here. He is being held without bail at the Montgomery County Detention Center.

Not so Sheinbein, who decided he has the right to decide where, when and if he will do any time in prison. He suddenly developed a passion for the nation of Israel. He went on the lam, claimed Israeli citizenship and ended up in Jerusalem, where Israeli officials have refused to extradite him. Sheinbein will be prosecuted in Israel, officials there told America, as if that's supposed to make us feel better.

Israel has a law prohibiting the extradition of Israeli citizens. Sheinbein, who has born in the United States and grew up here, claimed Israeli citizenship based on his father being an Israeli citizen.

Now let's all understand why Israel enacted its anti-extradition law. It's probably because, given the centuries of persecution of Jews, Israel didn't want to send a Jew back to a country where anti-Semitism was rampant. Israel didn't want a Jew sent back to a country where Jews were subjected to kangaroo courts on a regular basis. That's understandable.

But Israeli officials have to know when, in language that many Jewish youth in this country will understand, they are "being played." That's what Sheinbein is doing. He's cynically using an Israeli law designed to prevent persecution to avoid his own prosecution in the United States, which is the country where he stands accused. His hankering for Israeli citizenship didn't come until after he was charged with murder.

Israeli officials also should realize that their extradition law may bring them into direct conflict with some of their staunchest allies. Already, some in Congress have threatened to cut off aid to Israel if Sheinbein is not extradited. It's hard to criticize those voices. If Sheinbein were fleeing prosecution in Iran or Iraq, that would be a different matter. But by refusing to extradite him back to the United States, the Israeli government is, in effect, saying America is one of those countries where Jews are subject to kangaroo courts on a regular basis. That's not only an insult; considering the amount of annual aid Israel gets from the United States, it's an outrage.

"Outrage" is not a word frequently used when folks describe an action of the Israeli government. We have to tiptoe around the word to avoid being accused of anti-Semitism. That's probably why Montgomery County Deputy State's Attorney John McCarthy couldn't use the "o" word when describing Israel's refusal to extradite Sheinbein. McCarthy said the refusal to extradite Sheinbein is "a grave disappointment."

The word McCarthy wanted was outrage. It's an outrage that Israel refuses to extradite Sheinbein. It's outrageous and ludicrous that Israeli leaders think police and prosecutors there, thousands of miles away, have the knowledge and wherewithal to investigate and prosecute a crime that occurred in Montgomery County, Md. The decision subjects Tello's family to unnecessary degradation and humiliation -- having to travel thousands of miles on a flight that may last eight to 12 hours to attend the trial of the man accused of murdering their loved one.

That's assuming, of course, Tello's family is allowed to attend the trial. Here in Maryland, where we have a victims' rights law, Tello's family would have the right to attend the trial, the right to be informed of motions for appeal, delay and plea bargains. They would have the right to make a victim-impact statement at the sentencing. The Israeli government may or may not grant those rights to Tello's family, but the question is why are those decisions in its hands in the first place.

As noble as the intentions of Israel's anti-extradition law are, the fact is the statute could lead to great mischief. What if Mexico were to pass a law saying a Mexican-American fleeing the Texas Rangers could instead be tried in Mexico, using the very reasonable grounds that the Texas Rangers have a history of persecuting Mexicans?

Israel's anti-extradition law, while well-intended, is nonetheless rancid. It took the Sheinbein case to show it. Israeli officials can now lessen the stench of the law by extraditing Sheinbein to Montgomery County, immediately or sooner.

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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