Stung by harsh criticism over their decision to grant partial pardons to four of the heads of the pirate radio station Arutz 7, President Moshe Katsav and Justice Minister Haim Ramon took to the airwaves on Tuesday to defend themselves.
Ramon had refused to be interviewed on the subject until he heard a stinging attack by Israel Radio legal commentator Moshe Negbi on the early afternoon news. The pardon granted by Katsav and Ramon, both of whose signatures were required, eliminated the period during which the four would be subject to restrictions in the aftermath of their conviction for running the illegal station.
This meant, said Hanegbi, that Katsav and Ramon were allowing people who had been responsible for "vitriolic attacks" against prime minister Yitzhak Rabin before his assassination to compete in the tender for a new radio station meant to serve the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Had the pardon not been granted, Ya'acov Katz, Yoel Tsur, Shulamit Melamed and Yair Meir would not have been allowed to take part in the tender.
Katzav told Israel Radio he had rejected requests from the four to have their sentences shortened or their criminal records erased, even though many people, including dozens of MKs and Ha'aretz publisher Amos Schocken had urged him to do so.
However, when it came to the request for a pardon regarding the restrictions period, said Katsav, "I was persuaded by the arguments that they raised - because of the age of some of them, because some of them were disabled veterans who had fought in the IDF's elite units and had suffered severe disabilities."
Katsav said that he had also taken into account a petition signed by 46 MKs asking him to grant the pardon.
Ramon said he had decided to show respect for the president by agreeing to his request. "I spoke to the president and told him that if it were me who had to initiate a move to pardon the four, I would not have done so," said Ramon.
"However since he considered it to be so important, and he told me that in his six years in office he had disagreed with the professional opinion of the Justice Ministry on only two or three occasions out of thousands of cases, I had to decide whether to honor his desire or the professional opinion of the Justice Ministry. In this case, and given the circumstances, [I thought] it would be the right thing to respect the president's position and will," he said.