Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Rubashkin Sentence: Some Troubling Questions

When I originally saw this video, two thoughts immediately came to mind:
1. The production values are fantastic. While the song doesn't really move me, the video work is great.
2. Then I saw what the video was for, and I really, just couldn't believe what I was seeing. Rubashkin? That's what every Jewish music performer around the world gathered together to sing for? Unity? Kindness to our brothers? (the words in the song). How about not stealing, lying and cheating our fellow men? That might help. And is that really the cause celebre of the Jewish community right now? I'm waiting for the song to unite the nation to free Gilad Shalit. He never got a trial. His crime was serving the Jewish people in the IDF. Where's his song?

Needless to say that my Shabbat began with a great deal of righteous indignation.
I had my nephews over for Shabbat, and I mentioned the video to them and some of my issues with it. They told me that in the Haredi Orthodox community, there's tremendous outrage over the case, and it rallies people more than many other more pressing issues. They made some factual claims that seemed dubious to me, so I did a little investigating (at least by reading the Wikipedia article). And the more I read, the more I questioned - about the case, and even about myself and my own smug self-righteousness.
We're all at least aware of the Sholom Rubashkin case - the former meat packer convicted of wire fraud, cheating, etc and sentenced to 27 years in prison. I found the whole affair incredibly embarrassing and troubling. It doesn't look good when someone who outwardly represents fervent Judaism is convicted of anything, and a large part of me - and many in my community - felt that he probably got what he deserved.
Only now I'm starting to wonder.
  • It seems that while he did falsify bank statements to get loans, he always paid back the loans on time. Not an excuse - but that really goes to the severity of his crimes.
  • It also seems that he was prosecuted on a 90 year old law criminalizing the fact that while he paid his cattle suppliers, he did so a few days late, violating Federal law. See this article.
  • It's also pretty clear that the reason he defaulted on the loans was the government's immigration closure, effectively shutting down the plant. I'm not condoning hiring illegal immigrants, but let's not kid ourselves into thinking that the Agriprocessors plant was unique.
  • Finally, he has beaten every single immigration related charge (or they were dropped).
  • After all this, he was still sentenced to 27 years in prison, which very-well may be a life sentence - and was castigated by a number of former attorneys general.
I'm starting to wonder what's going on here. Should he do jail time? Sure. But 27 years. It really does seem out of whack.
  • I'm wondering whether there were tensions between the Lubavitch community and the Iowa secular and non-Jewish community beforehand which came to the fore here.
  • I'm wondering whether prosecutors felt pressure to get a high level conviction, especially when the realized that the immigration cases wouldn't pan out after such extensive publicity in the aase.
  • I'm wondering finally, whether he really did get some type of special treatment, in the form of prosecutorial abuse through "overcharging" - I don't know what the technical term is - because he's an Orthodox Jew.
  • Finally, I'm wondering whether we (and I include myself - especially Jews who are not Haredi) didn't ask these questions because we find the whole episode embarrassing and just want it to go away.
That doesn't seem very fair.
The only news I could find incriminating Rubashkin so harshly was a NY Times article which stated,
"Prosecutors, citing Mr. Rubashkin’s “blatant lawlessness, utter lack of remorse, his egregious and repeated attempts to obstruct justice,” have asked Judge Linda R. Reade to impose a life sentence."
Is there any evidence that they provided to back up their claims? Do we just take prosecutors at their word? A life sentence? That seems really, really over the top. Along these lines, seeing a U.S. Congressional Representative who sits on the Judiciary Committee send a letter like this to the United States attorney general only heightens my sense of concern.
I'm starting to really wonder whether something fishy happened to Sholom Rubashkin here, and whether his ethnicity and religion are, in some weird way hurting his case. If that's the case, the Haredi community singing song raising money might not be the best way to help him.
But what else can they do?