Shas backs Benizri, Kadima distances itself from Hirchson

Former finance minister Avraham Hirchson and former social affairs minister Shlomo Benizri were sentenced to similar jail terms on Wednesday, but the backing they received from their former party colleagues was very different. While Shas chairman Eli Yishai visited Benizri's Jerusalem home and hugged him, and other Shas lawmakers attended his sentencing to show solidarity with him, Kadima MKs shunned Hirchson, who was among the party's founders and its top 10 candidates in the 2006 election. "There was no proportion between the crime and the punishment," said Shas MK Nissim Ze'ev, who attended Benizri's sentencing. "He is a victim of the system that allows his fate to be decided by elitist judges, who care about his sector and his race and not the good deeds he performs. I have no doubt that an American jury would have treated him better. That's why we need a jury of our peers." Yishai released a statement saying that "the entire Shas family is engaged in prayer today and will do everything possible to help the Benizri family and strengthen them." Kadima leader Tzipi Livni declined to comment about Hirchson's sentence, as did former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was his political patron. The Kadima legislators who did release statements provided veiled criticism and little sympathy. "It's painful because Hirchson is not someone foreign to me and we were political partners," MK Ze'ev Boim said. "It is unfortunate that a politician who reached such a high status as finance minister cheated, failed and took actions that no one is permitted to. I can only hope that this ruling will be the last one regarding public figures and politicians and there will not be more such cases." Kadima MK Nachman Shai said that "every Israeli public figure must keep today's date in mind and remember the decisions of the courts. "Every public figure must vow not to let it happen again, so that no one among us will think he can get away with taking from the public coffers." MK Arye Eldad (National Union), the head of the Knesset Lobby Against Corruption, welcomed both of the sentences. "The battle against corruption won a shot of encouragement today. There have been corrupt leaders in Israel ever since the prophets cried out against corruption, but now all those who need to, know that they will not be able to hide behind the power of their offices if they try to stick their hands into the public's coffers. Eldad and other MKs called on the National Workers Union to reinstate Hirchson whistle-blower Ma'ayan Agam, who was removed from her position after disclosing the scandal. The Basic Law: The Knesset mandates that convicted MKs can be removed from their positions, but does not block convicted politicians from receiving public funds, including retirement benefits, that they accrued during their service in the Knesset or the government.