Decisions by justices of the Israeli Supreme Court don’t often go viral, but a few moving, humane remarks by Justice Yitzhak Amit in a recent decision went far beyond the usual readership of law students and other court-watchers. Sometimes, stating what should be obvious is all it takes.
The court decided last Thursday to reject an appeal by an adult man who had been found guilty by the Jerusalem District Court of committing serious sexual offenses against his 12-year-old sister-in-law. In the closing passages of his decision, Amit took the unusual step of directly addressing the young plaintiff. “Before concluding, and in view of the nature of the arguments that were heard from the direction of the appellant, I choose to address the plaintiff herself,” he wrote.
“As judges,” he continued, “we unfortunately hear a large number of cases belonging to the category of ‘sexual offenses in the family.’ You showed courage and daring when you took the stand for a difficult and unpleasant cross-examination. You did so, because the people around you permitted your testimony, since they knew you are strong and intelligent and capable of testifying [by law, those under the age of 14 may be exempted from testifying in court]. From experience we can tell you with certainty and clarity: You are the victim and the appellant is the offender.”
Concluding his remarks, Amit sought to reassure the victim that she had done nothing wrong. “There is no reason for you to assume a pinch—not even an ounce—of guilt or shame. You’re as ‘guilty’ as someone who was robbed by a robber, or someone whose wallet was stolen by a pickpocket. There is no reason for you to bear a burden of guilt, or shame, or embarrassment, or the feeling that you’ve ‘complicated’ your family. The entire burden must be on the shoulders of the appellant, who harmed you and manipulatively took advantage, in his own words, of the age gap between you, and of the trust you and your entire family had in him. Luckily, you have a supportive family, parents, brothers and sisters, all of whom want the best for you. We hope that you will be able to see in this decision the final chapter of the story that you were caught in only because you were there, and as someone who has already demonstrated great strength, we hope and believe that you will be able to look ahead, and move on.”
Amit, though considered a judicial moderate, is known for his nontraditional demeanor. In previous decisions, he’s referenced the Matrix films and the Israeli cult classic Mivtza Savta, among other pop culture staples. In 2024, he is due to assume the mantle of Chief Justice. That position will only train more of a spotlight on Amit’s much-needed humanitarian brand of jurisprudence.
Israeli courts, like most courts around the world, have not always been known for treating victims of sexual assault with dignity. Even when they do, language like that of Amit is all too rare. In addressing the unnamed victim, Amit’s common sense words have done something to correct that course, as they implicitly address all victims of sexual assault, the vast majority of them unknown to the public.