We don’t murder... right?

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 4, 2008

There is a distinct element of déjà vu in the complaints in a British newspaper about the way the
Israeli press has been handling the disappearance of a four-year-old girl, 13 months after Madeleine McCann went missing. But the tone of the coverage of the alleged murder of Rose Pizem - intensified over the last week by the news that Alon Yehuda and Mikhail Kruchkov, both also four, were drowned by their mothers in two separate incidents, five days apart - is very different.

Despite the suspicion of the Portuguese police that Kate and Gerry McCann knew a lot more about their daughter's fate than they were letting on, few British journalists were prepared to depart from the extremely favourable attitude towards them. This was about more than the McCanns' canniness in handling the media. In a large way, it was due to the subconscious identification of reporters, readers and viewers with such attractive representatives of middle England. They are too much like us, was the instinctive reaction; surely they could not have harmed their little girl.

In Israel, the opposite effect has occurred. Over the last week and a half, a veritable orgy of details tried to show us how far away from the mainstream these three families had sailed. We are not like that, was the unspoken message. These people are total aliens, they are capable of anything, even infanticide.

Very few commentators said it out loud, because it would have been so politically incorrect, but the fact that the first two mothers under arrest - Olga Borisov, accused of drowning Alon, and Mary Pizem, who is accused of covering up after her husband beat Rose to death - are both not Jewish, made these heinous crimes just a bit more palatable. Israeli men who marry these foreign women, goes the narrative, are less concerned with their children's welfare and indulge in family violence. Little wonder that all this ends with divers searching the Yarkon River for a small body.

As we go to press, there are still not enough details on the third mother, Regina Kruchkov, but even before her name was released, the first reports on Tuesday night stressed that she was "a 31-year old mother, who arrived in Israel 11 years ago". Another woman of doubtful provenance.

"Israeli society doesn't want to admit that this kind of thing can happen within it," says Yitzhak Kadman, director of the National Council for the Child. "For decades, social services and even the courts weren't prepared to even recognise that children were being physically abused. This just wasn't something that happened in Jewish families, only among the goyim who get drunk and don't love their children."

When the cases of child-battering became impossible to ignore, says Kadman, they were highlighted as something that might happen in the benighted "development" towns, but certainly not in nice Tel Aviv suburbs. A few months ago, there was a spate of reports on severe abuse of children by their parents, but the two cases which were highlighted took place in another fringe of society, on the extreme margin of ultra-Orthodoxy. Newspapers were full of details of the bizarre lifestyle of the "Taliban Mother", swathed in dark cloths from head to toe, and the brainwashing of the disciples of guru Rabbi Elior Chen. Once again the reports mainly served to reassure the public that people who committed such crimes are not like us. This kind of thing does not happen in nice, normal Jewish families.

The deaths of Rose, Alon and Mikhail fit into a chilling statistic. An average of six children in Israel each year die at the hand of their family members. But never have these murders received such extensive attention. True, research does prove that children in certain unstable environments are at greater risk, but that doesn't mean that evil cannot befall them in more respectable sections of society.

Numerous proposals to improve children's security are being presented, most populist, some useful, but the first step towards tackling the problem has to be the realisation that these terrifying mothers and fathers might not be so different from us.



Last updated: 10:00pm, September 6 2008