"The prime minister wants Haim Ramon back in the cabinet, even if it draws public fire," the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cronies told Haaretz, right after the court ruled that the Justice minister's conviction for sexual misconduct was not stained with infamy.
Guilty or not guilty?
The prime minister is widely expected to offer Ramon the treasury post, if Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson is indeed forced to resign over investigations into his own conduct.
We may assume the treasury bureaucrats would welcome Ramon's ascent. Ramon is considered to be a highly talented minister, with initiative, and a thorough understanding of economics. He could restore the momentum that the ministry has lost in the last year under the visionless Hirchson. Many economic reforms languishing in wait for Hirchson to execute them, could return to the agenda under a Ramon regime.
No question that Ramon is suited to be finance minister. He may well be the most suitable in cabinet.
But while he may be suitable, that doesn't mean he's worthy of the job, or for any other ministerial seat in government.
Explaining why they had cleaned his offense of a criminal stain that would have ended his political ambitions, the judges explained that it had been a one-time, unplanned deed, following a pointless conversation, and moreover, that his state of mind (when delivering the kiss) had been indifference. It was a deed that lasted two or three seconds, then ceased.
Two or three seconds was not sufficient to tar a man for life, the judges felt; perhaps not even grounds to try a man on criminal charges, and convict him.
Ramon's kiss on the lips of that young army officer at the prime minister's office, during an emergency meeting on the first day of the second war in Lebanon, is indeed a hard thing to pin down in legal term. Perhaps it is completely inappropriate to put him in the dock.
But in the test of public opinion, the kiss is judged by entirely other lights, and Ramon is unlikely to weather the scandal untarnished.
What did happen there? A man in his late fifties kissed a young girl of 20. Even if he thought she was "hitting on him", and that she was inviting the buss, one can't feel comfortable at the thought of an elderly man responding to flirtation from a young girl less than half his age. It is especially unsettling to consider that the elderly gent in question was the minister of Justice, who is supposed to present a supreme example. What kind of example does an elderly minister hitting on a young woman provide? Is this an example for the people of Israel to follow?
The repulsion that his behavior arouses isn't just on the ethical plane. The foolishness of his behavior is shocking too, and casts a dark shadow on its record over years.
The nausea arising from his personal example becomes all the more acute when one recalls the circumstances: an emergency cabinet meeting as the northern border with Lebanon explodes into war, after two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by Hizbullah. Israeli soldiers were dying and missiles were raining down on the country's north. Those were the circumstances under which Israel's Justice minister was tapping the number of a girl who he thought was flirting with him into his cellphone. Blood was pouring in the north but in Jerusalem the he-men of cabinet were hitting on chicks.
Even if we fully accept Ramon's version, and agree that his conduct was not criminal in the least, he has to be found guilty in the public's eye. His behavior was unwise, insensitive and profoundly obtuse. He convicted himself of failing to grasp the responsibility on the shoulders of a minister of government and is therefore unworthy to serve as a minister of government. For all the deterioration in Israeli politics in recent years, Israelis deserve better.
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