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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Haim Ramon's testimony was frightening, but it wasn't his description of the event itself that aroused the horrified fascination of those in Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on Wednesday.
His testimony merely portrayed a playful but respectful middle-aged man who happily and regularly engages in flirtation with 21-year-old women in uniform. Furthermore, Ramon was aware of the image his testimony conjured. "It's true I wasn't behaving like a minister. I'm very open and informal. I play soccer with my drivers, I speak frankly and curse openly," he said.
Even his driver, who photographed the minister and Heh, the plaintiff, moments before the fateful two-second kiss, testified before the court that their behavior seemed like "lighthearted childishness." It all sounded a bit pathetic and silly, certainly not like the recollections of a sexual predator.
No, what left the audience hanging on the suspended justice minister's every word was the way in which he described, step by awful step, the series of events that made up the investigation of the case.
The list of unanswered questions regarding the conduct of Ramon's investigators is shocking. A few short anecdotes gleaned from his testimony are sufficient to demonstrate the gravity of their implications.
When asked during her interrogation to sketch where Ramon and she were standing during the kiss, to determine whether they could be seen by secretaries in the prime minister's office nearby, Heh got the sketch completely wrong. Not only did she mistakenly draw herself on Ramon's right, when in fact she was on his left, but she misplaced the location of the event by two meters.
The police would have the court believe that it is pure coincidence that the geographic difference changed whether or not the kiss occurred outside the field of vision of the prime minister's secretaries - which might indicate that Ramon intended to thrust Heh into an unseen corner - or within that field of vision, indicating an atmosphere of playful and public flirtation.
Yet the police never questioned Heh over this surprising error. And Dep.-Cmdr. Eran Kami, a lead investigator in the case, brushed it off with, "Ramon has a better spatial sense than the plaintiff." Ramon sketched the event almost exactly as it happened, according to later verifications carried out by police at the scene.
Furthermore, from the start the police investigation leaked (as a friend of mine would say) like a coffee filter - that is, almost as though it was intentional. And the leaks always seemed to be suspiciously slanted against Ramon.
For instance, on the day of the interrogation, Ramon was questioned for seven straight hours. When he got out in the early evening, "I discovered that at 10:00 a.m., IDF Radio's Hadas Shteif reported that, according to a police source, they had enough evidence to indict me."
The report leaked before Ramon even had the chance to appear before police investigators.
It gets worse. That evening, Ramon said, "when I left the interrogation, all the media outlets got an unofficial police notice that Heh's testimony is trustworthy and mine was a complete lie," Ramon told the court. Unfortunately for us all, Ramon's point is easily corroborated by the press reports themselves.
The examples kept coming.
Some two weeks after the kiss, on July 24, Ramon asked Dep.-Cmdr. Miri Golan to wait a day before releasing information about the investigation to the press. Golan refused the request, despite the fact that court deliberations over a gag order were to be held the following day. So the allegations of sexual assault were splashed across Israel's front pages almost immediately. Yet - and this is the uncomfortable question - Golan released details of the case before the gag order hearing that she herself requested. Why?
One telling anecdote concerns police incompetence so glaring it deserves examination. During the video-conference confrontation to which Ramon was subjected, Heh told Ramon that the third photograph from that fateful afternoon, the one taken after the kiss, showed her with tears in her eyes. This was meant to prove she was traumatized from the event.
Yet, when Ramon asked to see the photograph, insisting that it showed no such thing, he was denied. As he told the court, "They [Golan] wouldn't show me the photographs. They had a copy [taken to Heh] in Guatemala, but couldn't arrange for one in Jerusalem." After all, Ramon noted, the question of eyes brimming with tears in a photograph is an "objective" one that could be checked in a forensic investigation. Though Golan told him during his July interrogation that she saw tears in Heh's eyes, and Heh herself maintained the same in the confrontation, "the police have still not performed a forensic check" to determine the matter, Ramon said.
And that's just the beginning. It doesn't even include the shocking conduct of the police and the State Attorney's Office in the secret wiretaps affair, which didn't come up in Ramon's testimony but which renowned legal scholar Amnon Rubinstein has called a blatant "abuse of authority." That affair is no less bizarre in its suspicious incompetence than anything the police have done.
Early in the investigation of Ramon, the State Attorney's Office claimed falsely that it had not carried out secret wiretaps in the framework of the investigation. It later retracted this claim and revealed the protocols of the wiretapped conversations.
But by then it was too late. Ramon's defense attorneys had already questioned the plaintiff, without possessing such important information as later conversations indicating that the police may have threatened Heh with a libel suit from Ramon to get her to complain against him.
Also in one of those missing protocols is a statement made by Heh's direct boss to Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni, the prime minister's military secretary and Heh's highest commander, that the investigation looked to her like "a war by the police on Ramon." For the missing protocols alone, Ramon's lawyers should be able to build a plausible case for a mistrial.
Ramon's testimony cannot be taken as objective fact. It is the testimony of a man facing the very real possibility of a collapsed career, a blackened reputation and even a prison sentence.
But the very fact that a widely-respected minister could deliver such testimony, much of it uncontested, is sufficient cause for alarm over the police's conduct. The bulldoggish and grossly unfair way in which the investigators conducted themselves at every opportunity is far more frightening than Ramon's alleged two-second impropriety.
No wonder Ramon suspects a conspiracy. No wonder Rubinstein has called for the establishment of a "special prosecutor" to investigate Ramon's investigators, and wants to see media leaks about an investigation treated as a criminal offense.
And no wonder the courtroom audience, mostly veteran journalists and legal aides, sat spellbound and horrified through Ramon's testimony.
Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.