Treat wrongs equally

In Israel, criterion in legal scrapes of elected celebrities is who they are more than what they did.

February 7, 2006 21:48
3 minute read.

knesset immunity 88.298. (photo credit: )

As each new high-profile political scandal hits the headlines, it becomes increasingly suspect that in this country the pertinent criterion in the legal scrapes of elected celebrities is who they are more than what they did. The bribery indictments pending against MK Shlomo Benizri and the investigations against MK Inbal Gavrieli's relatives are cases in point. Benizri is accused of having leaked, while he served as labor minister, information on quotas for foreign laborers to Moshe Sela, a manpower company contractor. In return Benizri is said to have received a slew of gifts, from a dining room set to the use of an apartment owned by Sela. Benizri insists he is paying off a full mortgage on the flat and that many of the gifts cited were in the framework of a personal friendship. Gavrieli's father, brother and uncle are out on bail after being charged with running an on-line gambling operation and money laundering. When the police sought to search the father's Holon house, his MK daughter announced she resides there, a fact that mandated a special search warrant approved by the attorney-general. The officers withdrew. Both cases generated a resounding hullabaloo about corruption in high places. In fact, the careers of both Benizri and Gavrieli had waned before their latest entanglements. Benizri was demoted on the Shas slate and is no longer inside the leadership loop, though the party is likely to back him pro forma and even benefit from exploiting a newly stoked sense of persecution. Gavrieli was in effect ousted from the Likud's latest Knesset list and her parliamentary status will likely expire on March 28. Small fry Gavrielli and Benizri may have both brazenly misused their positions - that clearly remains for the courts to decide - but are they the most notorious of luminary offenders? They certainly are not. The case which Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz closed last year against the prime minister's son Gilad Sharon, without fully allaying lingering doubts, could potentially have involved no less than the premier himself. There too, the police was prevented from performing a search on the relevant premises, because Gilad and his father resided on the same ranch, and the son insisted that his father's parliamentary immunity covers his own quarters as well. He may have set the precedent for Gavrielli. The police charged that contractor David Appel had bribed the Sharons to help him further his "Greek island" scheme by paying Gilad the equivalent of $10,000 a month and promising him an additional $3 million in bonuses. Gilad's qualifications, according to prosecutors, didn't merit such remuneration, nor was it clear precisely what valuable services he ever did render. In comparison, Benizri's income from whatever untoward deals he may have struck seems paltry. Then there is the colossal gall of Arab MK Azmi Bishara of Balad. The fact that he can thumb his nose at the Jewish state and hobnob with its sworn foes on enemy territory with impunity doesn't inspire esteem for the rules of the game. If any MK ever tested the limits of parliamentary immunity it was Bishara. He attended Hafez Assad's funeral in Damascus (despite prohibition), alongside Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah, heaped praise on Hizbullah and urged it to "continue its struggle against Israel." Last week the Supreme Court exonerated him on the charge of supporting a terrorist organization on the grounds that he is shielded by the immunity he receives from the very state he so overtly hates. That immunity also helped him escape indictment for organizing illegal trips to Syria for Israeli Arabs. He recently traveled illegally to Lebanon to escalate his anti-Israel harangues. When the Central Election Commission in 2003 disqualified Bishara from running for the 16th Knesset, the High Court overturned that decision. We are not suggesting that big wrongs, real or apparent, justify smaller-scale transgressions. We do nonetheless suggest that appearances count in fostering an atmosphere of respect for the law. Where inequities in the way the law is applied and enforced are perceived, legal boundaries will be crossed. This isn't right, but it's human nature. Bad examples do not occur in a vacuum. Double standards severely impair civic hygiene.

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