The elusive case of MK Meir Cohen

We are already hearing demands from various quarters that the police should open an investigation against Cohen, who himself claims to be totally innocent.

WE DON’T really know all the facts, and it is very difficult to judge what actually happened in the case of MK Meir Cohen. (photo credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)
WE DON’T really know all the facts, and it is very difficult to judge what actually happened in the case of MK Meir Cohen.
(photo credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)
Last Thursday evening Ilana Dayan’s Channel 12 TV program Uvda (Fact) presented accusations against MK Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) relating to his alleged sexual harassment of several women when he served as mayor of Dimona in the years 2003-2013 (he was first elected on behalf of Yisrael Beytenu). The accusations related to his having allegedly forcefully hugged and tried to kiss the women on the mouth in his office, sometime before 2006. There were no allegations of more serious sexual acts.
In 2006, according to Uvda, several months after he was fired by Cohen, Cohen’s former protégé and personal assistant Doron Biton was tried and sentenced to imprisonment on charges of blackmail, threats, the fabrication of facts and the disruption of investigative proceedings, all this on the basis of his accusations against Cohen of having sexually harassed the daughter of a senior female employee of the municipality (who at the time refused to complain and still denies today that her daughter had been harassed by Cohen). It was Cohen who had complained to the police.
The two main persons interviewed for the program were Biton himself and a former secretary of Cohen’s in the relevant period – both of whom appear to be resentful of Cohen to the present day, though this in itself does not mean that what they said is not true.
Last Thursday was not the first time that Uvda dealt with this affair. On May 25, 2015, the story was dealt with from a slightly different angle. In the beginning of 2013, just after being appointed on behalf of Yesh Atid as welfare and social services minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s third government, Cohen complained to the police that a group of persons from Dimona were conspiring against him, inter alia accusing him falsely of sexual harassment. A police investigation was opened.
The attorney representing Cohen, who inter alia submitted evidence (suspected by Uvda of having been fabricated) to prove the conspiracy to be a fact, and that the conspirators had attempted to bribe the women who had allegedly been harassed to give false evidence, was Ronel Fisher. On May 14, 2015, Fisher was himself indicted on criminal charges unrelated to Cohen’s complaint.
According to the 2015 Uvda investigation, the case on Cohen’s complaint was closed because there was no hard evidence that a conspiracy had actually existed, or that the “facts” presented by Fisher were true. According to the Uvda investigation broadcast on June 25, 2020, the case had been closed because the police were about to investigate the women allegedly harassed for the first time, and according to the evidence given by the police officer in charge of the investigation, an order had been received “from above” to stop the investigation. It was not revealed who had issued the order, and whether he/she was in any way connected to Cohen himself.
It should be noted that according to the investigating teams on behalf of Uvda, both in 2015 and in 2020, they were warned by persons in Dimona to “get off” the case. The impression conveyed was that those who dared speak against Cohen had also received warnings and even threats.
In short, we don’t really know all the facts, and it is very difficult to judge what actually happened, or how all of this ought to affect the future of MK Cohen’s political career. Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid and of the opposition, actually watched Uvda with Cohen last Thursday, and stands fully behind him.
Incidentally, even if there is any truth to the story about sexual harassment in the first half of the first decade of the millennium, the statute of limitations on such offenses applies, and obsolescence sets in seven years after the alleged event occurred. However, if Cohen actually committed such offenses, even at their lowest level of gravity, there ought to be consequences.
Back in January 2007, former justice minister Haim Ramon was convicted of a single event in which he kissed a woman soldier on her mouth without her consent, and received a punishment of 120 hours of service to the public, along with having to pay compensation of NIS 15,000 to the woman. While he was allowed to return to the government, to all effects and purposes the affair put an end to his political career. However, in Ramon’s case the facts were absolutely clear, while in Cohen’s case they are not. There is also a question mark around whether Cohen did or did not act to try to bury the affair, and whether he did or did not get people on his behalf to bully all those who dared speak out against him.
I say all of this as one who – at least until last Thursday, when I was first exposed to the whole story – was a great admirer of Cohen as a self-made man who excelled as the headmaster of a high school in Dimona in the 1990s, was one of Dimona’s best mayors, was a worthy welfare minister and an impressive deputy speaker of the Knesset in the 20th Knesset. He is well educated, wise, soft-spoken, patient, moderate and, most important of all, an unrelenting spokesman against corruption – qualities I would like to see more of in our political leaders.
He is also proof that there can be a different model of a politician of Moroccan origin (Cohen was born in Morocco in 1955 and made aliyah with his parents in 1961) to that which the Likud has brought to the Knesset in the last decade.
THE QUESTION is what should happen now?
I have no doubt that the Right will make hay of the recent information revealed, in an attempt to prove that there are offenders in the Center-Left, and not only in the Right, or to claim that now the Center-Left will learn how unpleasant it is to be accused on allegedly false charges – just like Netanyahu.
Of course, there is no comparison between Cohen’s current situation and that of Netanyahu. Netanyahu is already standing trial; against Cohen there are rumors and allegations, but no formal legal procedure.
We are already hearing demands from various quarters that the police should open an investigation against Cohen, who himself claims to be totally innocent.
To go by what happened in the case of an investigation against the chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee in the 20th Knesset, Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi), against whom there were allegations of sexual harassment similar in nature to those that have been made against Cohen, it is likely that even if an investigation will be opened, it will be inconclusive.
The case against Slomiansky was closed in December 2017 due to insufficient evidence, even though two women had actually given preliminary evidence, but then one of them refused to continue to cooperate. In Cohen’s case none of the women allegedly harassed has been willing to turn to the police or give evidence.
Slomiansky finally went scot-free, but he was left out of the list of Bayit Yehudi to the 21st Knesset, and his political career came to an abrupt end.