Justice for All?: Jews and Arabs in the Israeli Criminal Justice System

Article excerpt

Justice For All?: Jews and Arabs in the Israeli Criminal Justice System, by Arye Rattner and Gideon Fishman.Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998. x + 123 pages. Append. to p. 127. Bibl. to p.133. Index to p. 138. $55.

Reviewed by Akiba J. Covitz

The two authors of this brief, statistically astute, and disarmingly simple work identify themselves as "social science scholars specializing in criminology" (p. vii). On the same page, the authors also refer to themselves as "strong supporters of human and civil rights," as well as "ardent Zionists." The central, difficult task that they set for themselves is to determine whether the Israeli criminal justice system "dispenses justice equally" (Ibid.) to Jews and Arabs. Rattner and Fishman admit that they entered into their work assuming that there was differential treatment afforded Jews and Arabs, as well as very different perceptions of the fairness and legitimacy of criminal justice among Arabs and Jews in Israel.1

Rattner and Fishman carefully examine thousands of criminal files from the years 1980 to 1992. Their analysis of statistics relating to the entire process of the application of criminal law in Israel-from the moment of arrest through the decision whether or not to prosecute, to the trial, conviction and sentencing-is comprehensive. They also conducted their own specially designed survey of Arab- and Jewish-Israeli attitudes toward the criminal justice system. Thus, the authors not only reveal the differences in treatment that Jews and Arabs receive in the criminal justice process, but also argue persuasively that these discrepancies, perceived as well as actual, undermine faith in the legitimacy of the legal system. Ultimately, the authors suggest, this loss of faith increases the willingness of some to resort to extra-legal means to bring about social change. Rattner and Fishman are quick to point out that the differential and unequal treatment of Arabs within the Israeli criminal justice system is not attributable solely to blatant individual acts of discrimination. Instead, Rattner and Fishman ascribe these inequalities to Arab stereotyping by non-Arab Israelis.

This concise, statistically-oriented work would be a useful complementary text in a wide range of courses, from those dealing generally with Israeli politics and society, to those focusing on the cultural context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and to comparative courses in politics, sociology and law. …