On release from jail, Benizri declares: I was framed

Former minister released alongside 600 prisoners, including 220 Palestinians and, among them, 70 security prisoners.

Former Shas Minister Shlomo Benizri 390 (R) (photo credit: Reuters Photographer / Reuters)
Former Shas Minister Shlomo Benizri 390 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters Photographer / Reuters)
The Prisons Service on Thursday released former cabinet minister Shlomo Benizri, who served two-and-a-half years of a four-year sentence for conspiracy to commit a crime, accepting bribes, breach of trust and obstruction of justice.
The former Shas politician was due to be paroled in about a month, after serving twothirds of his sentence.
The Prisons Service freed Benizri as part of a release of 600 prisoners, including a few women, meant to ease overcrowding and improve living conditions for inmates. The release includes 220 Palestinians.
Seventy of the Palestinians were security prisoners and the remainder were arrested for illegally entering Israel, the Prisons Service said.
Shortly after his release, Benizri gave an interview to the Kol Harama radio station in which he compared his time in prison to that of former Hamas captive Gilad Schalit.
“When I was in prison... I know this may sound pathetic, but the image I saw before me, other than my family, was Gilad Schalit....I understood his pain, I understood how he felt and his frustration, and I understood the pain, only that I think mine is greater,” Benizri said, clarifying that his pain was in some ways greater because it was caused by his fellow Jews.
As he left the gate at Ma’asiyahu Prison in Ramle, Benizri, 51, thanked his family and supporters, and issued a parting shot at the justice system, saying “From the lowest to the most senior officials, I was framed. I am completely innocent.”
He added, “There is mediadriven cannibalism in this country; you saw what they did to the former president,” in a reference to former president Moshe Katsav, who is in the same “Torani” religious branch of the prison as Benizri was, imprisoned for a litany of sex crimes convictions.
Benizri said Thursday marked the end of “one of the greatest injustices committed in this country,” and that he was the victim of a “price-tag” attack carried out by the justice system.
The Prisons Service said the mass release was in keeping with a regulation that allows it to grant early releases if prisons are at full capacity.
It follows a decision made last week by the Knesset Control Committee, which stipulated that only those prisoners serving up to four years or whose original sentence was reduced to four years or less are eligible for administrative release.
The committee also lowered the maximum number of inmates in the nation’s prisons to 16,873 from the previous figure of 17,700.
That decision was made out of the desire to improve the living conditions for inmates, the Prisons Service said.
It added that the early releases were not carried out earlier because there was no need to do so following the release of 1,027 prisoners in exchange for kidnapped soldier Schalit in October and December.
Former police detective Shahar Mizrahi was among those released on Thursday, nearly a year before the end of his 30-month sentence and one month before his scheduled parole. Mizrahi was convicted of manslaughter in 2010 for the 2006 shooting death of suspected car thief Mahmoud Ganaim in Pardess Hanna.
Mizrahi’s early release was approved by a parole board last month and initially scheduled for next month.
Attorney Ami Hollander, who has represented the Ganaim family since their son’s death, said the family sees the early release as part of an ongoing campaign of public and political support for a man convicted of killing their son.
“Shahar Mizrahi only served 18 to 19 months altogether, and on behalf of the family, this is something that just can’t be grasped. It’s completely out of proportion for someone convicted of manslaughter,” the lawyer said.
Hollander said the family heard about Mizrahi’s release only after he had been let out of prison, and had to appeal his release to the High Court of Justice after he was already free.
“The [Prisons Service] commissioner didn’t make an announcement to anyone beforehand. And just because of overcrowding you release him? It’s ridiculous,” Hollander said.
Shortly before the prisoner release on Thursday, the High Court ruled to deny a petition filed earlier in the day by the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel.
Justice Neal Hendel said in the ruling that the petitioners said Mizrahi was due to be released an hour after they filed the petition, and that they had only learned about the release on Wednesday via the media.
Hendel said that the petition came too late, because it would be impossible to obtain a response from the state in time.
Another difficulty with the petition was that it made a distinction between Mizrahi and other prisoners scheduled for release, creating a “situation of inequality,” Hendel said, but he added that rejecting the petition did not prevent there being a hearing to discuss the issues it raised.
In its petition, Mossawa said the decision to release Mizrahi sent a negative message, in particular to the Arab public, and that it set a dangerous precedent regarding the length of sentences for manslaughter.
The Prisons Service also released Boaz Yona, the former head of the Heftsiba construction company, who was convicted of swindling real estate customers. Yona was sentenced in 2008 to seven years in prison after signing a plea bargain that included him paying NIS 8 million in compensation to his victims.