The word from those around the Prime Minister's Office is that Haim Ramon may soon win noteworthy promotion. The MK who lost the Justice portfolio in the wake of sexual misconduct charges, for which he was later convicted, could well end up with the even more prominent Finance portfolio, if we are to believe persistent signals emanating from Ehud Olmert's inner circle. As current Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson faces hour upon interminable hour of police grilling on suspicions of embezzlement, the consensus is growing that even Olmert - long his closest associate - is nearing the unhappy conclusion that Hirchson is a political goner, and Ramon is widely tipped as the prime minister's alternative choice. Reports to this effect - even front-page headlines in some newspapers - have not been denied. In his Pessah interview with The Jerusalem Post, invited to assure us that he was confident of Hirchson's financial propriety, Olmert was only able to "hope... very much" that the allegations were untrue.
Editor's Notes: Haim Ramon, ministerial asset?
The fact that Ramon's economic philosophy radically differs from that of Hirchson's - and, significantly, from that of Binyamin Netanyahu, who initiated many of the reforms credited with the current upswing - seems not to be much of an issue: Ramon is an advocate of deficit budgeting as a means to achieve growth who consistently railed against the Treasury's successful policies, and his track records as health minister and Histadrut chairman ought to invite caution as to his financial thinking.
But plainly more important is that Ramon is a trusted ally, a Kadima co-progenitor, indeed a political trailblazer who is believed to have helped persuade Ariel Sharon to bolt the Likud.
Olmert made no secret of his hope that Ramon, despite his conviction, would escape the episode without what is dubbed as "moral turpitude." His wish was granted when the judicial sentencing panel late last month upheld the conviction, but stipulated that it did not carry the career-terminating "turpitude."
What does or does not constitute this vague concept of moral turpitude is entirely a subjective, optional call for the judges to make. In legal terms it evidently signifies that the defendant is not regarded as having breached indeterminate moral standards. In civic terms, however, it should not be for judges to determine who may or may not serve the citizenry in elevated public office.
What is relevant is that Ramon, in the court's words, was found guilty of "forcibly pushing his tongue into the mouth of the plaintiff, an officer serving in the Prime Minister's Bureau." This took place, incidentally, immediately before the government met to take up the abduction of two soldiers in the North, the violent breach of Israeli sovereignty which triggered the Second Lebanon War, when it might have been expected that Ramon would have had other concerns on his mind.
During the ensuing months he and his supporters stopped at nothing, the judges stated in their ruling, to besmirch the victim. Expressions of regret came only following the conviction, something that was not lost on the judges, who observed that "his contrition contradicts his defense tactics, [which involved] directing all his barbs at the plaintiff, maligning and disgracing her publicly, including the three false witnesses he brought to add fuel to the fire. Still reverberating in our ears is his scream at the plaintiff, 'You are a liar.' How does that mesh with remorse? Pretty words can't scrub what was perpetrated."
From the civic perspective, it's not the intrusive kiss alone that undermines the suitability of Ramon for a return to ministerial office, but the fact that he resorted to smear tactics and falsehoods to try to avoid justice, and this under oath. Such conduct is unforgivable for a would-be representative of the people.
By way of comparison, it is worth recalling the recent outcry over Esterina Tartman's bogus academic claims, which proved sufficient to derail her appointment as a minister. The prime minister and his colleagues would do well to consider whether Ramon's conduct has been less reprehensible.
The young victim in the Ramon case was employed in Olmert's own office. She is the one owed expressions of sympathy and support - not the politician who has only escaped a legal bar to further high office on the "no moral turpitude" technicality.
As he considers whether to exploit that technicality to restore Ramon to cabinet prominence, the prime minister might dwell on the message of moral turpitude such an appointment would convey to each and every female IDF conscript and her family.