Analyze This: The price of arrogance

Katsav and Sharon are paying for disregarding changing attitudes.

omri arrives atcourt 298 (photo credit: AP)
omri arrives atcourt 298
(photo credit: AP)
Moshe Katsav and Omri Sharon are the two most prominent political figures of the past decade to be convicted on criminal charges. Although it is by chance that the former Likud and Kadima MK headed off to prison just a day after it was finally decided that the ex-president would not have to do any jail time, there are significant similarities and differences worth noting between the nature of their their punishments - and crimes. Regarding the former, it is clearly Sharon who has suffered the harder blow. Although seven months in a minimum security prison is by most criminal law standards hardly a cruel sentence, any time behind bars for the son and former right-hand man of Ariel Sharon must come as a bitter turn. This is especially so since the principle charges on which he was convicted - soliciting and concealing illegal contributions to his father's 1999 campaign for the Likud leadership - are offenses that several other political figures have been investigated for in the past, without any ever having suffered a resolution as harsh as this one. What's more, these violations fall far more in the category of white-collar "victimless" crimes than the instances of sexual harassment and indecent behavior that Katsav admitted to as part of the controversial plea bargain in which he received a suspended sentence. However, the offences committed by our former president, including the more serious accusations leveled against him by other women in his employ during the course of the investigation against him, are the type of "he said, she said" cases that prosecutors loath to bring to court. The scales of justice are rarely perfectly balanced between respective offenses given the varying weight of available evidence in each individual case, and the Katsav and Sharon sentences are just another example of this. As for their crimes: while one man suffered from a surfeit of lust, and the other an excess of ambition, one sinful attitude characterized the actions of both - arrogance. It's quite likely that as they committed their acts, neither believed they were in any real danger of being brought before the law. Not just due to their holding influential political positions that many believed neither had earned on the basis of merit, but because their behavior was of the sort that was once tolerated in this society, especially in the exalted public circles in which they moved. While over the years many politicians more prominent than Sharon had been suspected of circumventing the legal limits on campaign contributions, he failed to take into account the changing judicial attitude toward this kind of corruption. Perhaps he reasoned that at most he risked having to pay out the kind of hefty fine levied on Ehud Barak's Labor Party by the State Comptroller's Office following the 1999 election, and therefore Sharon concluded that brazenly violating the Party Funding Law posed no real threat to him. For failing to read the changing political map, he now suffers the indignity of being the first perpetrator of these particular offenses - but probably not the last - to see the inside of a jail cell. As for Katsav, the type of sexual harassment he has now been found guilty of committing is a according to his own admission a pattern of behavior that stretches back years - back to when almost no public figure of his statue was brought up on charges of this sort. It wasn't until former defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai was indicted for sexual misconduct in 2000 that this situation began to change. Perhaps once esconced behind the walls of Beit Hanassi, Katsav thought he was safe from any judicial judgment of similar actions he had already committed while holding lesser governmental positions. He was wrong - as wrong as Omri Sharon. If anything, both men can count themselves fortunate to have received the sentences they did; it's unlikely that the public views the resolution of their cases as having passed the hypothetical "Buzaglo test," the principle of Israeli law that the country's highest personages and most ordinary citizen - the hypothetical defendant Haim Buzaglo - should be judged by the same standards. In the course of just one week, an ex-president and the former MK son of the former prime minister have had to face the rap of the gavel, as final sentences were passed for their crimes of personal and political corruption. Needless to say, this was hardly the finest hour in Israeli political history - although the very fact that both men lost their careers in public office as a result of their actions is itself an encouraging turn for the better in that history. [email protected]