haim ramon thinks 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A panel of three Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court judges ruled unanimously and unequivocally Wednesday that former Justice Minister Haim Ramon was guilty as charged of committing an indecent act for forcibly kissing a 20-year-old female soldier without her consent.
The maximum sentence for the charge is three years in jail. Ramon said he would appeal the decision to the Tel Aviv District Court.
The judges, Deputy Court President Hayuta Kochan, Daniela Cherizli and Daniel Beeri, wholeheartedly accepted the soldier's word against Ramon's, and praised her throughout the 73-page ruling.
"There is no doubt regarding the credibility of the witness," the judges wrote of the soldier, identified as "Heh." "She testified for many hours in court, including a long and grueling cross-examination and withstood it in a way that inspired admiration. Her appearance on the witness stand radiated credibility, sincerity and authenticity. We have here a young woman, a bit na ve, smart, who did not contradict herself, was precise and accurate about details and was consistent and absolutely certain about her version of events. On the other hand, she did not exaggerate.
"The version of the witness was coherent, logical, consistent and fit in well with the large amount of testimonies and evidence."
Towards the end of the ruling, the judges wrote that Heh had spoken "the absolute truth." Regarding Ramon, the judges wrote that his version of events "was illogical and unreasonable." They said that he systematically "tried to distance himself from anything that might incriminate him at the cost of not telling the truth and, at the same time, was ready to stoop to any level to defame the witness."
At another point, the judges wrote, "the defendant was not accurate about the facts, and that is an understatement."
The State Attorney's Office issued a statement welcoming the court's decision to convict Ramon. Behind the statement, one could almost hear sighs of relief by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz and State Attorney Eran Shendar, who had been criticized with unprecedented severity by many public figures, including Prof. Amnon Rubinstein, for insisting on prosecuting Ramon.
"It is not an easy day when a minister is convicted of criminal activity," wrote Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen.
"Nevertheless, we express our satisfaction over today's court decision, which accepted the position of the prosecution and, by doing so, again confirmed a worthy legal and ethical norm regarding safeguarding the dignity of women, honoring their wishes and their autonomy over their bodies.
"The court reconfirmed basic understandings on this matter and unequivocally ruled that kissing someone with one's tongue without consent is a clear sexual offense and does not belong to the 'gray' area."
"During the trial," continued Cohen, "we witnessed a series of articles and attacks against the law enforcement system. These articles and attacks tried to cast doubt on the justness of the system and raised baseless conspiracy theories. They were unworthy and caused unjust harm to the law enforcement system and the interest of the public in encouraging and enforcing the law against sexual harassment and indecent acts."
According to the state's indictment, Ramon arrived at the Prime Minister's Office in Tel Aviv around 8 p.m. on July 12, the day the government decided to bomb Lebanon and attack Hizbullah rocket sites after two soldiers were kidnapped and eight killed early the same morning.
Heh, who worked in the office of the prime minister's military aide, was due to complete her military service a few days later and asked Ramon to take a picture with her. She asked a soldier, Yaniv, to photograph them. Yaniv took two pictures of them with their arms around each other and then left the room. Heh let go of Ramon and tried to head back to her office. However, Ramon held her tight, brought her face close to his, grabbed her cheeks with one hand, kissed her and inserted his tongue in her mouth. None of this was done with Heh's consent.
Ramon claimed that Heh had flirted with him before she asked him to take a picture with her, and that she had hugged him suggestively for the photo. He also maintained that he had not kissed her after the photos were taken, but had gone back to the office of the prime minister's chief-of-staff, Yoram Turbovich, and that she had followed him into the room, bent over close to his face and only then did he kiss her. Ramon said he had not forced her to kiss him.
The court rejected Ramon's claim that Heh had flirted with him before the photographs were taken. The proof that she had not wanted him to kiss her was to be found in her behavior after the kiss. She trembled and could not stop talking about what had happened. "Heh's state of mind is an important and substantial element in the prosecution's evidence," wrote the judges. "It significantly reinforces the testimony of the plaintiff and supports the credibility of her story."
On the other hand, the court found contradictions in Ramon's testimony. For example, Heh told police Ramon had grabbed her cheeks and said to her, "what a sweetie." Ramon denied it, telling police the story was a "gross lie." However, in court, after Heh's friend Sima testified that she had seen Ramon do this, Ramon told the judges he did not remember the incident.
The court also rejected Ramon's claim that the kiss had taken place after he had gone back to Turbovich's office after the photographs had been taken.
The court also wrote that, on the one hand, Ramon accused Heh of conspiring against him and trying to cause him harm, while on the other, he maintained that she had flirted and started up with him. Why would she do both, the judges asked. They also said that on the one hand he claimed she had initiated the kiss, while on the other, he said he thought he had her consent to kiss her.
The court made it clear that from a legal point of view, "kissing someone in the mouth against that person's will is a clear-cut sexual offense and the fact that it is an offense does not have to be proven. We are not dealing with sexual harassment here, not in the grey or foggy area, but with an invasive act, injurious and humiliating."
The court also blasted the media, which, it charged, had grossly violated the sub judice laws by reporting the testimony of witnesses, including that of Heh, and evidence, including photographs, before the court handed down its decision.
During an interview with Channel 10 Wednesday evening, Heh said: "I can't look at Ramon sexually. He's eight years older than my father."
When asked why she was initially reluctant to press charges, she cited the media treatment of "Aleph" in President Moshe Katsav's sexual assault case.
"Initially I didn't want to complain. The Katsav case just blew wide open and I saw what [the media] was doing to Aleph. I didn't want the exposure, photographers chasing me in the street," Heh said.
She added that Ramon distorted the truth to stain her reputation and diminish her credibility. Regarding the confrontation in court between the two, Heh said: "A minister in the Israeli government sits and makes up an imaginary tale." Heh also rejected suggestions that the Ramon case was a plot to oust him from office.
"There is no conspiracy; the incident really happened, so how can there be a conspiracy," Heh asked.
She also rejected the testimony of the witnesses who placed her character into doubt by quoting the soldier as expressing admiration for Ramon's personality and appearance.
"It's a joke. It [the cafeteria conversation] never happened. What I believe happened is that Ramon looked for 'nasty' details about me. He called me a liar in court [based on this testimony]."
Asked if she felt any pity for Ramon, Heh said:
"I don't know if I have any compassion left for him. Because of all the slander I suffered at the hands of the media I'm now thinking about myself."
"The media were wrong," Heh continued. "They should do some serious soul-searching. They called me a bimbo, a flirt, just because I refused to give interviews. It's my right to safeguard my privacy."
Ramon, who seemed tense before the hearing began, sat with his chin resting on his fist throughout the reading of the entire verdict by the head of the panel, Judge Kohan.
From time to time, he shrugged his shoulders and looked in dismay at his lawyer Dan Scheinemann.
Sources close to the former justice minister said that a well thought-out response was expected after the verdict was closely examined.
The sources said that several astounding questions had already arisen regarding the judgment.
The request to begin the process of removing Ramon from the Knesset was issued to the Knesset House Committee after the verdict.
The request was made by MK Arye Eldad [NU-NRP] and is dependent on a decision expected next month in court about whether Ramon's conviction includes moral turpitude [legal definition that determines whether an MK will be able to continue to serve].
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert phoned Ramon to console him over the guilty verdict.
In a statement, Olmert's office said the prime minister "expressed sorrow" at Ramon's conviction.
Ramon could face up to three years in prison. He faces sentencing on February 21.
AP contributed to this report