MK Tzachi Hanegbi
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, MK Tzachi Hanegbi, Defense Minister Ehud Barak Photo by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, MK Tzachi Hanegbi, Defense Minister Ehud Barak
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There's good reason why a battle will take place Thursday in Jerusalem Magistrate's Court over the issue of moral turpitude in MK Tzachi Hanegbi's conviction, by a majority of the bench. He was convicted of perjury in his testimony and swearing falsely in his deposition to the chairman of the Central Election Committee.

For a public figure, the question of moral turpitude is uniquely significant; it can decide the possibility of his continued service as an elected official or public servant. The law cites a long list of local and national government posts that are out of bounds for someone convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude.

The court thus faces a central task when passing sentence after a conviction in a criminal case.

As for serving in the Knesset, according to a 2007 amendment to the Basic Law on the Knesset, an MK who is convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude is immediately suspended from the Knesset. That is also the case in a conviction in Magistrate's Court, which can be appealed.

As for a ministerial appointment, the Basic Law on the Government states that anyone convicted of an offense for which he or she has been sentenced to prison, and seven years have not yet elapsed since the sentence was served cannot serve as a minister. This limitation does not apply if the court determined post conviction that the offense did not involve moral turpitude.

The law also states that anyone whose conviction is final, has been sentenced to a prison term of three months or more and seven years have not passed since the sentence was served, is barred from serving in the Knesset. In light of this clause, the question of moral turpitude is irrelevant if the person has already been elected.

In the Hanegbi case, if the offense is deemed to carry moral turpitude, his membership in the Knesset will be immediately suspended. He may, however, be elected to the next Knesset if he is not sentenced to prison. He will not be able to serve as a minister if his offense involves moral turpitude.

That is the importance of the Magistrate Court's decision. The judges will consider the letters public figures have submitted in Hanegbi's favor as a kind of "evidence for sentencing." The court can ask the writers, or at least some of them, to appear in court for questioning. The position of the prosecution on moral turpitude is significant, but the judges have great discretion in the matter. It is a mainly a moral-ethical decision rather than a legal one.