A corrosive pattern

In high-profile cases like Omri Sharon's, it is of paramount importance that people see justice done.

omri sharon 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
omri sharon 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The prime minister's son Omri Sharon pled guilty Tuesday to reduced charges arising from illegal campaign financing. He was duly convicted. All that remains now is sentencing in two months. While the question of whether or not he will do time may be titillating, it is little more than a distraction. The sort of punishment the younger Sharon draws is almost beside the point. What matters more is that before us is yet another case in which pro forma justice was done. Justice, however, wasn't seen to be done. This is of core significance. In high-profile cases, more than in all others, it is of paramount importance that the general public see justice done. As things are, the citizenry is left with the impression that less renowned defendants would face far more severe consequences in comparable circumstances. This perception inevitably raises the specter of preferential treatment and the suspicion that the same criteria aren't applied impartially to all. Omri Sharon enjoyed the privilege of haggling at great length with the attorney-general. His lawyers were granted unrestricted access to the prosecution's highest echelons. This even though the results of his felonies are irreversible. He admitted guilt in a scheme calculated to make his father premier, and his father indeed holds the post. That cannot be undone. Yet the chief beneficiary of the son's crime pleads total ignorance. Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, Ariel Sharon's own appointee, closed several thick corruption files against the premier. Omri was left holding the bag, his family's fall guy. It strains credulity to believe that in as close-knit a family as his, the father had no inkling of what was done on his behalf. Omri's self-incrimination prevents an embarrassing open trial in which the father's involvement could be probed and divulged. Such unrestricted airing of the issues was in the public interest, but that interest was given no priority. This isn't the first time this has happened. The Sharons' legal entanglements date back to the state comptroller's 2000 report, which revealed illegal financing in the 1999 Likud leadership primary. That report also exposed what the comptroller dubbed "the greatest scam ever" involving campaign-financing violations in Ehud Barak's prime-ministerial race, resulting in the heaviest-ever fine for electioneering offenses (NIS 13.8 million), which was levied on the Labor Party. The comptroller uncovered an unprecedented network of counterfeit charities deliberately set up to illegally funnel funds to Barak's campaign coffers. Here too, the beneficiary, Barak, professed no knowledge of any irregularity geared to secure his victory. Isaac Herzog, the Barak strategist named by the comptroller as central to a larger allegedly illegal scheme than that for which Omri Sharon was just convicted, failed to cooperate with the investigation. He is now Ariel Sharon's construction and housing minister. Only relative small fry, like campaign manager Tal Zilberstein and Beersheba Labor branch official Gideon Sulimani, were indicted. Adding insult to the injury inherent in the perception that the law is selectively applied, was yesterday's attack by Omri Sharon's attorney on the financing law. He contended that the fault is not in his client but in a law that limits campaign fund-raising. We are glad the judge rapped him very hard on the knuckles. Campaign regulations were not legislated as embellishments, but to level the political playing field. Fiddling with finances destroys equal chances for all contenders and renders the contest unfair. The fact that two premiers in a row got into trouble should inspire deep concern. The assertion that candidates for whom offenses were committed were in the dark is hard to accept. Neither is the prosecution's ostensible presumption that top politicians are too busy to make sure their business is conducted on the up and up. Such mind-sets invite future infractions of the rules. Accountability seems no longer required of elected leaders. The authorities' reluctance to handle the hot potatoes the comptroller drops in their laps is worrying. At stake is our civic hygiene. The danger is that the law will no longer be assumed to be as fully blind as is ought to be and that bias and double standards will become de rigueur. The impression that privileged protagonists aren't called to account for malfeasance is corrosive to our democracy. That impression, which might have been countered by more appropriate handling of the Omri Sharon case, has instead now been reinforced.