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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Crime & Punishment: Israeli Style

I am floored.

This morning the Israeli justice system's rusty wheels finally turned just enough to hand down a conviction and sentence for Justice Minister Haim Ramon's sexual assault (a forced kiss) on a female soldier who was working for him.

Here is the frikkin' Justice Minister of the entire country convicted of making unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances on a subordinate, and the result is... pretty damned disappointing.

Yes, he was convicted.  But the punishment handed down makes a mockery of the proceedings:

1.  Instead of his criminal act being judged more seriously because of his having transgressed while serving in a position of public trust, it now seems that the very fact of his public service and membership in government has been taken into account in his favor... and has resulted in his sentence being reduced from several years of jail time to 120 hours of community service.  Doesn't it make more sense that public officials who commit crimes while in office should be held to a standard at least as high as the office they besmirch?

2.  The judges sentencing Ramon decided to remove 'moral turpitude' from the list of offenses with which he would be convicted.  This may seem like a small gesture, but in fact it is huge.  You see if he were convicted of that particular crime instead of just the lesser 'performing an indecent act', he would be barred from serving in the public sector (i.e. government) ever again.  Now it is possible (and actually quite probable) that his buddy Ehud Olmert (another perp) will appoint him to another ministerial position such as the treasury.  What is the public to take from such a worthless slap on the wrist that ends up being a reward of sorts?

3.  The final irony that seems to have been lost on the judges handing down this ridiculously lenient sentence is that by ordering Ramon to pay the victim NIS 15,000 (about US $3,500) in compensation for his sexual assault, they have unwittingly turned this blameless young woman into a whore (albeit a very high-priced one).  The victim was not injured financially, so financial compensation to her is entirely inappropriate as a punishment.  If the perp is to be fined... go ahead and fine him (and fine him an amount that will actually hurt... not some paltry sum that he could probably find behind his couch cushions while cleaning for Pesach).  If the victim needs therapy, force Ramon to pick up the tab for the best shrink in the country... but to suggest that a sexual assault can be paid off with a modest sum of money is just sleazy!

In a country where there is barely a single public figure that has not been indicted (or at least plausibly accused) of gross misconduct and/or outright criminal activity, I was hoping that the legal system would finally step up and send a message that there is a serious price to be paid for betraying the public trust.  Instead they set the wages of sin within the reach of any petty criminal... and instructed the perp (with a wink and a nod) to leave the payment on the nightstand.

217

Posted by David Bogner on March 29, 2007 | Permalink

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A forced kiss is considered sexual assault in Israel? You can get prison time for that?

Wow.

That would be misdemeanor battery here, punishable by up to 364 days in the county jail and up to a $1,000 fine. That, and whatever house of Congress he was in would boot him out and he would face the Mother of All Civil Suits. Sexual assault over this way is known as Attempted Sexual Battery and means some sort of forced sexual intercourse.

I understand your anger; I agree that the higher they are the farther they should fall. But prison time for a kiss?

I wish I could find a copy of Israeli law in English. That would be an interesting read.

Posted by: K Newman | Mar 29, 2007 12:14:58 PM

K Newman... Just to be clear, I characterized this as sexual assault... I have no idea if Israeli law does so. But to explore this further, I think we can agree that to better define this we should separate the two words; sex and assault. Was this a sexual act? To figure this one out let's change the victim but leave the perp the same. Instead of a female soldier the victim is now your daughter... or better yet, you. Now what is your view? Was the intention sexual or was it simply an innocent office prank? Now let's move on to 'assault'. Same change of players applies. Was your daughter assaulted? Were you?

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 29, 2007 12:29:23 PM

I'm inclined to agree wtih K Newman - a forced kiss may be unpleasant, but... jail time? A fine? Yes, even if it had happened to my daughter or my wife, etc, I would think that the punishment meted out is excessive. The guy deserves to be slapped and reprimanded - not jailed or fined.

And BTW I think it makes Israel look bad when the headlines report a Justice Minister being convicted of sexual assualt. In the US, that generally indicates rape or something pretty close to it, and that's what most readers will assume.

Posted by: Russell | Mar 29, 2007 1:28:01 PM

David, you're speaking as the outraged father of a teenage girl. That outrage is perfectly understandable, but it's not something that can be used as the basis for a criminal justice system.

First of all, rule out sex. A common element of sexual crimes is the use of, injury to or exposure of genitalia (or breasts, in the case of females). I don't believe that happened in this instance. Second, the assault. Here we call that Battery, since victim was touched in some way against her will. I don't believe the victim suffered physical injury and no weapon was used, so the battery was minor in nature.

Probably not what you want to hear, but that's the way it works in civilized nations that are governed by the rule of law.

Now....here's where I see the real problem. It's not so much what occurred as it is who did it. In this case, it was a 1) very senior public official who was, in addition to being a MK and a cabinet member 2) a law enforcement officer....which I believe the Justice Minister would be. And that very senior LEO abused his position by preying on not only a subordinate, but someone who was not in a position to up and quit....a soldier. That should have hung Ramon out to dry and not the kiss itself.

BTW, I work in law enforcement. Years ago, the very first sex crime I worked involved a lewd and lascivious act on a nine year-old girl who had been lured into a construction area. That guy received probation and was registered as a sex offender. That was it. So I understand your frustration. BTDT.

Posted by: K Newman | Mar 29, 2007 1:49:12 PM

Actually, Trep, as a former attorney, I will agree with part of your anger. To remove the "moral terpitude" just so he can serve again is ridiculous, and shouts of some sort of collusion between Ramon and the Judge (in my opinion, of course).

But, jail time for this crime would have been ridiculous as well, here, in the U.S., or in any civilized country.

Posted by: dfb1968 | Mar 29, 2007 3:15:25 PM

Unless you're using "forcible kiss" as a euphemism for "going to work naked and licking the back of her thigh", I'm with K Newman.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Mar 29, 2007 3:26:50 PM

I can't help wondering whether the compensation is somehow meant to prevent the young woman from filing a civil suit against Ramon.

If it were me, I would not hesitate to sue him to his socks. On the highest hilltop in Jerusalem. In late December. In a rainstorm.

Posted by: Rahel | Mar 29, 2007 3:42:39 PM

power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely it doesn't change. have a wonerful pesach

Posted by: dave | Mar 29, 2007 4:35:06 PM

Doctor Bean: I love you. Your comments can always lighten any situation. I would've been doubtful you could make light of a discussion over the definition of sexual assault, but there you have it.

You're my hero. ;)

Oh, and as for the post... agreed that he shouldn't be able to serve as a minister again (abuse of position, blah blah blah), but on an objective level, a forced kiss isn't really worthy of jail time. A hard slap in the face, yes, but jail time?

Ender

Posted by: matlabfreak | Mar 29, 2007 4:37:44 PM

As a tortious act, this incident would definitely make a very serious case for Battery. Tortious lawsuits are usually resolved with monetary damages paid to the plaintiff, so had this been a Battery suit, there'd be nothing surprising.

As a criminal case, it stands on very weak grounds. What boggles my mind is why a criminal case is involving a payment of a fine TO THE VICTIM. Criminal cases are brought on by the state, so that's where the money should be going. The judges are mixing up criminal system and civil system, and that could bring about disastrous results in the future.

Posted by: Irina | Mar 29, 2007 4:41:28 PM

Matlabfreak: Awww. [blushing] Thanks!

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Mar 29, 2007 4:53:03 PM

I'm with you on this one, Mr. B.

Tragically, some things never change.

Posted by: tnspr569 | Mar 29, 2007 8:18:19 PM

I'm agreeing with K. Newman et al. Jail time for kissing would be silly, and make us look even sillier than we already do.

Posted by: Abbi | Mar 29, 2007 8:39:55 PM

David, I see (from the general direction of the comments) that most of your readers view this abuse of authority as a mere momentary lapse in judgment. But you rightfully see it as the limus test of fitness for office. A man who uses force on a female subordinate will invariably put his own selfish deires above the duties of his office. Sadly our public servants will always be less honorable than we expect them to be, but that's all the more reason to expect more from them, not less.

Posted by: Bob | Apr 1, 2007 4:18:02 PM

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