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Complainant"H," who had the minister's tongue thrust into her mouth, has taken the reverse bravely. She's donating the money that Haim Ramon was ordered to pay her, in the wake of his indecent conduct, to a rape crisis center, and says she's putting the whole matter behind her. "The message to women was given loud and clear in the verdict," one of her associates asserted defiantly after the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court passed sentence last week.
But a reverse it most certainly is, nonetheless, and the "clear message" in the original conviction has been muddied.
Two months ago, the same court had branded Ramon's actions "a clear-cut sexual offense... invasive, injurious and humiliating." Now, far from the maximum three-year sentence allowed by law, it was requiring the former justice minister merely to carry out 120 hours of community service and pay a derisory fine, and clearing the path for his immediate return to government by ruling that his offense did not constitute moral turpitude.
Ramon is an effective and, to some, a charismatic politician. He is a man with no previous history of such unacceptable behavior. He was convicted of an offense, moreover, that would not have merited an indictment in the Israel of a generation ago.
It was not unreasonable for the judges who had convicted him to argue, in sentencing, that he had already suffered enough, and that he should not have to face the utter ruination of his career over an uncharacteristic, momentary inappropriate act. But less reasonably, in their sentencing, the judges set this personal concern for Ramon against the diluting of the wider message their verdict had conveyed, and found they could tolerate such a dilution.
Most unreasonable of all, however, is the disconnect not between the offense and the sentence, but between Ramon's behavior as a witness and the delight with which his opportunity for a political comeback has been received by some of his former, and now presumably future, colleagues.
The current minister of justice, Daniel Friedmann, said he was pleased that Ramon could return. "I think he has a lot to contribute," he declared.
And the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is reportedly set to meet with Ramon, a longtime ally, this coming week, to discuss how and when he can be reintroduced to the ministerial jigsaw. Perhaps as a replacement for the allegedly next-inline to disgrace, Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson?
Ramon, remember, is a man whose testimony under oath was branded by those same Tel Aviv judges to have been "illogical and unreasonable." He was said to have "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." The defendant had been "not accurate about the facts, and that is an understatement."
Our current government is acutely unpopular - partly because of the perceived failures of last summer's war but largely, too, because of the endless swirl of corruption and impropriety that surrounds it. The last thing, you might think, that such a government would do, in its quest to regain public support, is enthusiastically draw back into its ranks a convicted ex-minister who has been branded dishonest by the courts.
For what kind of government, the public can only wonder, would possibly consider that a man who lied and smeared his accuser in a failed bid to escape justice might count as an asset?
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