Yishai defends decision to ask Peres to pardon Benizri

Interior Minister and Shas chairman Eli Yishai on Tuesday defended his decision to ask President Shimon Peres to pardon former minister Shlomo Benizri, who has been sentenced to four years in jail for accepting a bribe, fraud, breach of faith and obstruction of justice. "It was a necessary move due to the public sentiment on the issue," he told Army Radio. "There is no one on the street who doesn't tell me that it's just because he's Sephardi and religious. I tell them to stop going around with their heads down and a feeling of discrimination, but they tell me to stop being so naïve." "I am just the mouthpiece for a multitude of people, and if I didn't represent the public feeling, it would be a crime," he continued. "Our party doesn't abandon its friends and doesn't forget. What others perhaps have forgotten, maybe they will learn from us. Our only 'crime' is that we've asked for a pardon." "A pardon doesn't mean that Benizri won't go to jail at all," stressed the Shas head, explaining that had the court not increased the sentence from 18 months, no one would have complained. Concerning his visit to the contentious E-1 area between Ma'aleh Adumin and Jerusalem with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin on Monday, Yishai reiterated that "for years, we have built in areas where the Americans have opposed development. There are demands that the public just cannot accept."