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Israel Convicts U.S. Teenager For Maryland Murder; Jewish Groups Criticized For Silence

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September-October 1999

Three judges in Tel Aviv convicted an American Jewish teenager on Sept. 2 of premeditated murder after he publicly admitted his guilt in a grisly slaying in Maryland two years ago. The teenager, Samuel Sheinbein, fled to Israel in an effort to avoid prosecution in Maryland. The Israeli Supreme Court upheld Sheinbein’s petition, stating that Israeli law holds that the child of a citizen also has the right to citizenship. Sheinbein is a native born U.S. citizen who had no connection with Israel. His father was born in Palestine prior to Israel‘s independence.  

If convicted in the U.S., Sheinbein could have faced life in prison without parole. In Israel, he was sentenced to 24 years in prison and will be eligible for parole when he is 33. In the meantime, he could be granted weekend furloughs.  

Editorially, The Washington Post (Aug. 26, 1999) declared: "What makes this matter so galling is the way Mr. Sheinbein’s family was able to manipulate both the American and Israeli legal systems to ensure Mr. Sheinbein received such light treatment. His father illegally spirited him out of this country, and Mr. Sheinbein then claimed citizenship in Israel—a country in which he had never lived—and protection under that country’s law against extradition...As a result, the jurisdiction where the crime took place can’t get its hands on Mr. Sheinbein, leaving him to the mercies of a sentencing system whose punishments do not approximate most Americans’ idea of justice in a case such as this."  

The victim in the case, 19-year-old Alfredo Enrique Tello, Jr., was burned and mutilated. Montgomery County (Maryland) State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler called the plea-bargain in Israel an "insult to justice." Emanuel Gross, a Haifa University criminal law expert, said: "It may well harm relations between the U.S. and Israeli legal systems. This is about an American citizen who has no connection with the state of Israel, who received shelter and protection just because...he held a sliver of Israeli citizenship."  

Nathan Lewin, past president of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, notes that Israel’s law permitting Sheinbein to escape prosecution in the U.S., which has since been changed, "was enacted soon after Menachem Begin’s Likud Party took the reins of government in Israel in 1977. It grows out of a centuries-old history of false, trumped up charged made—because of anti-Semitism—against Jews in courts of law around the globe...Israel decided that if any person who is an Israeli citizen is charged with a crime in a foreign country and manages to return to the Jewish state, Israel will try him for that crime in its own courts rather than hand him over to a hostile world. The law was not intended, of course, to make Israel a haven for Jewish criminals...There was, to be sure, a flaw in Israeli law because it prohibited the extradition of any Israeli citizen, regardless of whether that citizen actually lived in Israel before having committed the criminal act for which extradition is sought. And Sheinbein rode in through that gap in the law...The Knesset has now wisely amended the law so that it is limited to Israeli citizens who are also residents in Israel. But the amendment cannot be applied ex post facto to Samuel Sheinbein." (Washington Jewish Week, Sept. 9, 1999).  

Editorially, The National Jewish Post and Opinion (Sept. 1, 1999) criticizes American Jewish groups for their silence in the Sheinbein case: "We wonder where U.S. Jewish leadership is at this moment as Israel defies American law and employs the obvious circumlocution in the Sheinbein case. Whether the young man is guilty or not is not the question. What is the question is Israel’s contention that he is an Israeli citizen although he wasn’t born there and hasn’t lived there. If his case is valid, then this editor is a citizen of Lithuania, since our father came to Louisville from there...Were another country, other than Israel, involved here we know what the outcry would be. Plus it would be led by Jewish liberals."

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