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A three-judge panel on Wednesday unanimously found former justice minister Haim Ramon guilty of an indecent act. Some might regard the verdict as exaggerated, as it was based on a single "kiss." The verdict clarifies, however, how the judges became convinced that what happened was anything but innocent.
The judges found Ramon's accuser to be completely believable and her testimony backed by all the evidence. According to her testimony, she asked for a picture with Ramon after a friendly conversation, and was surprised to find that Ramon had gone inside an empty office while she went to get the camera. As they posed for the picture, she testified, Ramon pulled her tightly against his body with one arm. Seconds later, "without preparation or her consent, the accused grabbed her chin with his hand, kissed her on the lips and pushed his tongue into her mouth," the decision states.
After, she was "in shock and her whole body shook" and she was crying. The judges cross-examined 13 people whom she told in the following few days of her experience, some of whom witnessed her agitated state immediately after what can only be called not a kiss, but an assault. The judges found Ramon's version, in which he claimed the kiss was consensual, to be contradictory and not credible.
Part of the public suspects that our judicial system is biased toward politicians from one side of the spectrum, or tends to be swayed by the "verdict" of the press in highly publicized cases. Ramon, however, was a successful justice minister whose left-center politics should have, according to those who distrust the system, protected him from censure. Further, our media were widely convinced that Ramon would be acquitted, and that the prosecution would be embarrassed for bringing what seemed to be a flimsy, even trivial, case to court.
Those who leaped to such judgments had better read the verdict. It makes clear that the picture painted through leaks to the press of a woman who had flirted with and had a crush on a presumably irresistible politician was built of lies and phrases taken out of context. The judges completely rejected, based on witnesses to the brief conversation between Ramon and his victim, Ramon's claim that she had led him on. But let us say that she had been flirting with him. Would that have given any man, let alone the minister of justice, the right to assault?
This case should not be confused with sexual harassment, which can be no less devastating when coupled with the abuse of power, but is at times more difficult to differentiate from legitimate interactions between men and women. Here there was a simple line to draw: between force and consent. Since it included force and physical contact, what Ramon did was patently assault rather than sexual harassment. The court is to be commended for not being swayed by Ramon's widespread media "acquittal" and for recognizing the seriousness of the crime.
Some may agree with the verdict, while quietly wondering whether Western societies are not criminalizing normal behavior, or even quashing the prospects for romance. Others may think Ramon was guilty, but of a tolerated crime. Ramon, in this view, is a victimizer who is also a victim of changed and unfairly enforced mores. We reject these views. We would like to think that what Ramon did is by now not the norm. Certainly, the verdict is all the more important if it is. Assault is not romance. In an ideal world, we should not need the law to help us distinguish between the two, but evidently we do.
We hope that this decision will reverberate within the legal system itself as well, and mean that our judges stop meting out relatively mild sentences and quick paroles for rapists, and sometimes even blaming the victims of sexual assaults.
Ramon's accuser has been described as "na ve." This presumably means that she should not have been so surprised that a joking conversation could be interpreted as an invitation to attack. If the young woman, a soldier, was na ve to believe that she could have an informal conversation with the minister of justice without risking assault, this says volumes about the state of our society. We hope the court's verdict will help inculcate a moral and legal principle that reaches far beyond the sexual arena: power, particularly democratically granted power, must not be abused.