Hirchson forges ahead, but time may be running out

Finance Minister misses March of the Living that he founded 19 years ago to fight charges that he embezzled funds.

avraham hirschson 88  (photo credit: )
avraham hirschson 88
(photo credit: )
Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson missed the annual March of the Living that he founded 19 years ago for the first time on Monday, staying home to fight charges that he embezzled funds when he served as chairman of the National Workers Union. Hirchson's associates said he remained convinced of his innocence and has no intention of quitting. They said he was still working a full schedule, preparing to unveil a new social affairs strategy with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday and to fight for the passage of his economic plan in the Knesset next month. But the High Court of Justice has given Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz just two more weeks to decide whether he would force Hirchson to suspend himself, and Channel 10 reported that Mazuz was leaning toward doing so. The report said that new evidence against him continued to be found and more witnesses had incriminated him in police questioning. Hirchson is expected to be questioned for a fifth time by next week. His lawyers have advised him to resign shortly thereafter in order to concentrate on fighting the charges against him and to ease media pressure on him. But Hirchson's son, Ofer, who is a prime suspect in the case, has reportedly advised him against resigning. Olmert has not and will not personally pressure his long-time political ally Hirchson to quit, but people close to the prime minister have been quoted as saying Olmert wanted Hirchson to resign soon. If Hirchson does quit, the two main candidates for the post are former justice minister Haim Ramon and current Interior Minister Roni Bar-On. Ramon was sentenced to 120 hours of community service for forcibly kissing a 20-year-old female soldier without her consent. He started his community service on Sunday on a horse farm that helps special needs children in Tel Mond. After he completes the 120 hours next month, Olmert and Ramon will meet to determine his political future. Bar-On is banking on Olmert deciding that Ramon's conviction would be too much of a burden on a government with a surplus of scandals. Ten women's organizations wrote Olmert and Ramon harshly-worded letters on Sunday, protesting Olmert's reported intention to appoint Ramon. They wrote that the appointment of a convicted sexual harasser would stain Olmert's government. The women who wrote the letter said it pained them that Olmert was "cooperating with a convicted sexual deviant in an effort to maintain his government, while sacrificing the honor and safety of women." They vowed to initiate a massive street campaign and do everything possible to prevent Ramon's appointment. "It cannot be that after Ya'acov Ganot was not appointed police inspector-general because of an unclear stain in his past, Dan Halutz quit his job as IDF chief of General Staff because of public pressure and the finance minister may quit in a corruption scandal, that you will allow a convicted sex offender to assume such an important role in the government," the organizations wrote.