Analysis: Ruling with eye fixed on defeating appeal

The most striking thing about Ramon's verdict is its lack of hesitation about which version was true.

haim ramon hand on head (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
haim ramon hand on head
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
And so now we know. The court has had its say and found that Haim Ramon baldly lied about his conduct and the events that transpired in the Prime Minister's Office in Tel Aviv on July 12, 2006, and that "Heh", the woman who accused him of forcibly kissing her, was utterly credible and spoke nothing but the truth. In fact, the most striking thing about the decision by Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court is its complete lack of hesitation about which version of those events was the true one (Heh's) and its black and white portrayal of the two protagonists involved in the drama. More on the Ramon verdict:
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  • Women's groups welcome Ramon conviction Guy Rotkopf, a lecturer in criminal law at the College of Management School of Law in Rishon Lezion, noted that while the judges stressed all the alleged contradictions in Ramon's testimony to the police and in court as proof of his disingenuousness, it took a much more forgiving approach regarding the contradictions in Heh's conduct, particularly the fact that she gave Ramon her phone number after he had violated her. "It is hard to define what is rational or irrational behavior after a traumatic incident," the judges wrote understandingly. "Each person reacts differently. There are as many different responses in the cases brought before us as there are traumatic incidents." According to Rotkopf, the reason the judges were so one-sided in their assessments of Ramon and Heh was that they were already thinking ahead to the appeal Ramon intends to file in Tel Aviv District Court. Ramon's conviction is based almost entirely on the court's impressions of the two key witnesses. The appellant court does not get to see the witnesses at first hand and has no choice but to rely on the impressions of the lower court. According to Rotkopf, Ramon's chances of overturning his conviction are minimal. The appellant court would have to accept the lower court's assessment of the credibility of Ramon and Heh, accept the court's version of the facts, and somehow still come to a different conclusion about the sincerity of Ramon's claim that he was sure Heh had consented to his kiss. According to Rotkopf, only one or two percent of those convicted on criminal charges in lower courts manage to reverse the decision on appeal. Based on the one-sided and unequivocal way the Magistrate's Court formulated its ruling, it apparently wants to make sure Ramon's case ends up like the majority of appeals. Does the fact that the court ruled unanimously against Ramon vindicate the state prosecution's decision to prosecute the former justice minister on the charge of committing an indecent act, a violation of the Criminal Code defined as a felony? Not according to Yael Dayan, the former Labor MK who was instrumental in passing a law in the Knesset prohibiting sexual harassment. Dayan told The Jerusalem Post that the sexual harassment law was far more appropriate in Ramon's case than the Criminal Code. She said that her idea of an indecent act was graver than the act committed by Ramon, an act using force and intimidation, carried out in private, not in an office full of people. It would have been better for the public at large had Ramon been charged with sexual harassment, Dayan said. It would have helped teach people the proper norms of behavior, the correct hierarchy of sexual misconduct and the appropriate punishment for each. Others, including Rotkopf, believe Ramon should not have been tried at all. The matter ought to have been solved by a criminal bridging process whereby Ramon would have apologized to Heh and perhaps paid her compensation for his actions. According to Rotkopf, ever since 1982, when the Knesset passed a law dropping the requirement of corroborating evidence and permitted convictions in sexual crime cases on the basis of the victim's testimony alone, the balance has shifted in favor of alleged victims and today "they are in a very advantageous position vis-a-vis the suspects." He also said that Mazuz and the state prosecution may have been pressured into indicting Ramon by public opinion and the fear that if they did not do so, they would be accused of favoring the powerful. Will Wednesday's ruling set the precedent in defining the lower threshold of what is defined as an indecent act? For the moment, the answer is yes. This is the first time such a ruling has ever been handed down regarding a kiss. Nevertheless, the issue has not yet been finally decided. Ultimately, only the Supreme Court establishes precedents because it can always overrule principles handed down by lower courts. However, the chances are good that the Ramon case will eventually reach the Supreme Court. If that happens, the court will set the norm for whether the act of inserting one's tongue into another person's mouth without consent - under circumstances like those involving Ramon and Heh - does, indeed, constitute an indecent act and a felony.