Former Nazareth District Court President Yitzhak Cohen at Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court .
(photo credit: NIR KEIDAR)
Former Nazareth District Court president Yitzhak Cohen on Sunday confessed that he sexually harassed a court employee.
The admission to the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court was part of a plea bargain with the state that would include community service and a fine but no formal conviction or charge of indecent assault.
Cohen would be among the highest ranking judicial officers in the country’s history to be found guilty of a criminal offense.
Still, the dropping of the indecent assault charge, the lack of a formal conviction (with low-grade crimes, the state can accept an official court “finding” that a person committed a crime while waiving stamping them with the criminal record consequences of a formal conviction) and the low fine of NIS 2,500 drew criticism.
This was particularly true since when allegations of illegal behavior by Cohen first became public, they included two other alleged cases of sexual assault or harassment, both of which were closed because they were beyond the statute of limitations or the alleged victims did not want to go forward with the matter – meaning he had already “gotten off” on some accusations.
The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel slammed the plea bargain saying, “It is an absurd punishment which is a harm to and a disgracing of the experience of the victim.”
Association CEO Orit Sulitzeanu explained that especially “a person who held such a senior position as president of a district court and who dared to violate the fundamental ethics expected of him...
should have gotten a substantial punishment.”
The Jerusalem Post has learned that the two main factors which led to the light plea bargain sentence and the absence of a formal conviction were that the victim wanted to avoid a trial and Cohen’s comparative old age (he was born in 1952) and long service to the country.
In contrast to the suspended Brig.-Gen. Ofek Buchris, who has cut a deal that includes a conviction for prohibited consensual sexual relations down from a charge of rape that could have carried a long jail term, Cohen at most could have received three years in prison for much lesser sexual charges.
Further, in the Buchris case, the case was brought forward by the victim, and in the Cohen case, the victim was solicited by authorities and had never been fully onboard in terms of having to testify at trial.
It appeared that in the absence of a deal without a formal conviction, Cohen would not have agreed to a plea bargain, and an uncertain trial based on a shaky witness would have been in the offing.
Cohen was indicted on November 17, with the personal approval of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, for placing an employee on her knees and touching her back under her shirt against her will.
Mandelblit approved the indictment based on the recommendation of State Attorney Shai Nitzan after rejecting Cohen’s narrative at a special pre-indictment hearing – which only high public officials receive.
The police recommended indicting Cohen in November 2014, leading to his resignation only a few months after the initial accusations became public in September 2014.
Until his resignation, Cohen was considered a possible candidate for a position on the Supreme Court, with district court presidents being the most senior judicial officials one rung below the Supreme Court.
Cohen had previously denied the accusations throughout.
At the time the story broke, it created a public crisis leading then-justice minister Tzipi Livni and then-Supreme Court president Asher D. Grunis to hold emergency meetings and to coordinate actions to reassure the public.