“We have to clean and sweep not under but over the carpet”, says retired Supreme Court Judge Miriam Ben-Porat on the decisions that sent Hirschson and Benizri into incarceration. Former Tel Aviv District Attorney objects: The punishment for the former Treasury Minister is too lenient, and does not get the message across.
In one day, two former Israeli government ministers are being sent to jail: Avraham Hirschson was handed down a sentence of five years and five months. Shlomo Benizri received a harsher sentence of 4 years in prison. In a conversation with Ynet, legislators fighting against corruption approve of the sentence, but there are some who claim that it should have been stiffer. Former State Comptroller, retired Supreme Court Judge Miriam Ben-Porat wonders: “Who knows how many more Hirschsons there are?”
Ben Porat expressed satisfaction with the legal decisions:
“It’s good that punishment is meted out and we show that everyone is equal. Someone with a senior position should have to pay even more. Hirschson was trusted with Treasury funds and engaged in transactions for the entire country. He should have been purer than pure. It is unfortunate, he gave at least an outward impression of a man who cares, who fights for Holocaust survivors”.
She states that corruption “should be cleaned and swept – not under but over the carpet, and that’s what we’re doing now. It is difficult to know how many did not receive the punishments they deserve, because you can only conduct legal proceedings when there is evidence. Just bringing someone to trial is already a deterrent. There is still a great deal of work to be done, but matters are being dealt with as they should – with the necessary severity – and I welcome that, states Ben-Porat.
Judge Bracha Ofir-Tom referred at length to the corruption issues in Hirschson’s verdict and expressed surprise that “the same image of a good man and benefactor could turn into the image of someone who steals public funds together with his subordinates to support “the good life” he and they have become accustomed to as a lifestyle. Was it just drunken power that changed the accused’s view of the the world? Or was it unlimited greed combined with the atmosphere of neglect that took over the organization whose actions no one any longer oversaw?”
At the comptroller’s office it is said that “today the Court clearly expressed the importance of the struggle against public corruption. The comptroller’s office, which has been spearheading the Hirschson scandal from its very first stages, will continue in the struggle against public corruption, and for morality in the country, not excluding those at the top of the pyramid and including all enforcement officials. The comptroller’s office has proclaimed its views more than once, that only a process of proper investigation, followed by legal trial and severe punishment – all immediately following commitment of the crime – will help to cleanse society from the corruption that has affected it.
Retired judge Dalia Dorner is satisfied by “the appropriate legal rulings”, and believes that “they deserve retribution, not in terms of revenge, but in terms of public denunciation of acts of this kind. Fraud and theft have been with us from biblical times, but when it involves public figures, the punishment should be severe. Denunciation is most important and therefore you must take into account that a light punishment may suggest that the crime wasn’t really that bad. God help us if we broadcast that kind of message”.
In the Hirschson case, prosecution demanded a sentence of at least 7 years incarceration for the Treasury minister, who was convicted of stealing milllions, but the judge ruled a lesser sentence. The State has not yet announced whether or not it will appeal. However, then senior prosecutor in the Tel Aviv District Attorney’s office, Adv. Miriam Rosenthal, claims that that are good reasons for this: “He did not express his regret, and the difference between his sentence and the others’ is too slight,” she stated to Ynet.
“The District Court gave heavy consideration to Hirschonson’s personal circumstances,” Rosenthal added. “The punishment is fairly lenient, particularly when the other defendants, who confessed in a plea bargaining and did not waste the Court’s time – and did not spend the funds as Hirschson did, received sentences of up to five years. An extra six months is a light addition.”
When he harshened Ben Izri’s sentence, one of the Supreme Court Judges, Edmond Levy, wrote: “The rising corruption among Israeli governing authorities necessitates the action of setting a higher price…to cope with this affliction and to deter others. Words of admonishment are no longer enough. It’s time to take action.”
Adv. Rosenthal agrees that the punishment in the Ben Izri case is meant to deter – as punishments up to now have not been sufficent. “Ben Izri is not a victim,” she stresses. Despite this, there wasn’t enough in Hirschson’s conviction to get a message across.
And what’s next? Rosenthal sees a link between the two cases only in their involving two public figures who have transgressed – because their crimes are different. Ben Izri accepted a bribe; Hirschson stole. “In my opinion, the prosecution will not link these two cases. If they appeal, it will be due to the comparison between those charged and convicted in a plea bargaining and a man who was convicted after he denied the charges and went through with a trial”.