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March 16, 2023 11:35 am

A Lesson for Israel, From Latvia

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avatar by Stephen M. Flatow /


State Department spokesman Ned Price. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS – The Latvian government has come up with a unique way to help Ukraine in its war against Russia: It’s donating the automobiles of Latvian citizens who were arrested for drunk driving.

Friends of Israel, take note.

A few weeks ago, when Israel seized and dismantled a house that a Palestinian Arab terrorist was using, the Biden administration criticized Israel’s action. US officials say such seizures are unfair because, as US State Department spokesman Ned Price has put it, “the home of an entire family shouldn’t be demolished for the action of one individual.”

So why isn’t the State Department condemning Latvia for punishing the entire families of drunk drivers by seizing their cars?

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After all, those automobiles undoubtedly are also used for grocery shopping and driving kids to school. Those Latvian schoolchildren are perfectly innocent bystanders. They didn’t do anything wrong. Why should they be punished? Why should they suffer the consequences of their fathers’ drunk driving?

The cars will now “be in better hands,” according to Reinis Poznaks, who oversees the Latvian company assigned by the government to ship the cars to Ukraine.

I suspect that the innocent wives and children who will suffer as a result of the government seizing their cars would probably disagree with Mr. Poznaks’s assessment.

Two hundred cars have already been seized. That means as many as 200 families will be suffering from the Latvian government’s singular form of collective punishment.

Not that Latvia is the only country that permits such a practice. Here in the United States, it’s called “civil asset forfeiture.” The police can seize the family’s primary mode of transportation if it was used in connection with any kind of crime—from drunk driving to drag racing to driving without insurance. And it’s not just the family’s car. If part of a house is used for drug dealing, the authorities can seize the entire house.

In 1988, a victimized wife in Detroit decided to fight against the seizure of the family car in which her husband committed a crime. Tina Bennis sued the State of Michigan to get her car back.

She demonstrated that she had no knowledge of her husband’s illegal activity in the car. And she, not her husband, had provided most of the money to buy the car in the first place.

She sued and appealed, and sued and appealed, for eight long years, all the way to the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court ruled against her. In a 5-4 decision, the court upheld the right of the Michigan authorities to seize and keep the Bennis family’s car.

Four of the five who voted against Bennis had been nominated to the court by Republican presidents. But the fifth and deciding vote came from a liberal justice who joined the conservatives against Bennis: Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

As a matter of fact, when Ginsburg was first nominated to the Supreme Court, then-Sen. Joe Biden chaired the committee that held her confirmation hearings. He heaped praise on her for having “already helped to change the meaning of equality in our nation.”

Let’s set aside, for the moment, the hypocrisy of the Biden administration condemning something Israel does, even though the United States does it, too. And let’s set aside the hypocrisy of praising Justice Ginsburg to the high heavens, but condemning Israel for acting on a principle that Ginsburg upheld.

What we’re left with is this extraordinary concept: It’s OK to seize assets so long as they are being donated to the right cause.

Biden strongly supports Ukraine. Latvia is sending the cars to Ukraine. So apparently, if you seize a car that a drunk was using and donate it to Ukraine, that’s good; but if you seize a house that a Palestinian Arab terrorist was using, that’s bad.

If the Israeli authorities were really clever, they would gather up the lumber, concrete blocks and intact furniture from the rubble of the next terrorist’s home that they dismantle and donate it all to Ukraine. I wonder what the State Department would say about that.

Stephen M. Flatow is an attorney and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror.”

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