Benizri, Hirchson begin jail terms

Former ministers "will be treated like every other prisoner," says Prisons Service spokesman.

By MATTHEW WAGNER, GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN,
September 1, 2009 06:28
2 minute read.
Benizri, Hirchson begin jail terms

Hirchson prison 248.88. (photo credit: Channel 10)

 
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Two former ministers began serving prison terms on Tuesday: former health and welfare minister Shlomo Benizri and former finance minister Avraham Hirchson. Benizri said his good-byes to family, friends and admirers Monday as he prepared to begin a four-year prison sentence for bribery. Hirchson will be serving a five-year and five-month sentence for stealing NIS 1.7 million from the Leumit health fund's workers union that he chaired. Shas MKs Avraham Michaeli, Meshulam Nahari, Yitzhak Vaknin, Amnon Cohen and David Azoulay, ministers Ariel Attias [construction and housing] and Eli Yishai [interior] as well as other supporters of Benizri came early Tuesday morning to Ramle's Ma'asiyahu Prison ahead of his expected arrival there. Benizri will share a cell with six to seven other inmates. "You see the public's pain and frustration. I try to overcome my feelings. My personal pain [is not as important as] the pain of the thousands of Israelis to whom I bade farewell in the past few weeks," Benizri said outside the prison walls on Tuesday morning. He broke down in tears publicly during his last Torah lesson before a group of handicapped students in Jerusalem, according to the haredi Internet news site Kikar.net. On another haredi Internet site, photographs of Benizri during his last day of freedom were posted. Two weeks ago, Benizri held a formal farewell ceremony at the Or Hahaim Yeshiva in the capital's Mea She'arim neighborhood. At the ceremony, attended primarily by haredi yeshiva students, a videotaped message by Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was screened. In it Yosef attacked the Supreme Court and called the justices "apostates." "An injustice was done to our friend Shlomo Benizri, who devoted his life to spreading Torah and helping people," said Yosef. "The courts are twisted and the judges don't believe in anything. They are apostates." Benizri has said that his sentence is part of a concerted effort on the part of the legal system to disparage the haredi community and in particular Shas. Benizri was convicted of receiving bribes from Moshe Sela, a contractor who brought foreign workers to Israel, when he was labor and social affairs minister. Benizri attempted to appeal to the Supreme Court the original 18-month prison sentence imposed by the Tel Aviv District Court, but the court instead accepted the state's counter-appeal that the sentence had been too lenient and increased it to four years. Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy explained the more stringent sentence by saying, "Growing corruption in Israeli leadership obligates us to increase the price paid by perpetrators." Hirchson arrived at Hermon Prison in the North at around 10 a.m. Tuesday. He will have to share his cell there with three other prisoners. Sources close to Hirchson said he was worried about his health but that his sons had been helping him and trying to keep him in good spirits. The Prisons Service has yet to decide whether Hirchson and Benizri will be put to work at a prison factory, or whether they will be directed towards other prison programs. "They will be treated like every other prisoner," Prisons Service spokesman Yaron Zamir told The Jerusalem Post. "The principle which guides us is that all prisoners are entitled to the same rights and obligated by the same duties," he said. "Our activities for prisoners are tailored towards three goals: Education, treatment, and rehabilitation."

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