Life in the opposition is difficult for someone who once served as minister of justice. It’s even more difficult for someone who used to be at the focal point of the decision-making process. How else can one explain how it happened that Yossi Beilin, one of Israel’s most clear-minded politicians, suggested pardoning former President Moshe Katsav − who was found guilty of rape. Had someone other than Beilin raised the idea, one could have regarded it as merely a public nuisance and nothing more.
According to Beilin’s proposal − which was brought up during the “Politics” program on Channel One and aroused public interest − Katsav would go to prison, put on an inmate’s uniform, be photographed and then be set free without delay following a pardon from the president of Israel, at the recommendation of the justice minister. This, according to Beilin, would save us from having to see the person who stood at the head of the state, and symbolized it, behind bars.
Beilin’s proposal is defective in terms of its content, nor does it get at the crux of the matter − even if it calls for implementation only after the court procedures are completed.
In examining the content of the proposal, it sees a pardon as a kind of alternative to the sentence that will be handed down by the court. That runs contrary to the firmly established legal viewpoint on the issue of pardons, as was handed down by the High Court of Justice in the Bus 300 affair; this ruling points to an exceptional and out of the ordinary authorization, under special circumstances, that will take place after the sentence is handed down.
In Katsav’s case, one can safely assume that in issuing its verdict the court will examine all the relevant circumstances and give weight to the pertinent data in determining the sentence and its measure. Such a decision can provide an opening for an appeal to the Supreme Court, but it cannot serve as the basis for a pardon to be handed down a short while after the judicial sentencing.
Moreover, pardoning Katsav would create a gap in the basic principle of equality of all before the law. This principle obliges the president, who has the authority to pardon criminals and mitigate sentences, to be punctilious about easing an individual’s punishment when the same is not being done for others in similar situations. Our prisons are crammed with sex offenders who often don’t get even one third of their sentence deducted.
There is no reason in the world Katsav should get off scot-free while the other offenders continue to serve out their sentences. The opposite is true. A person who committed the crimes described in the indictment, if he holds the position of a cabinet minister or of state president, must serve the entire sentence, without any deductions or concessions. Otherwise the principle of law and order within the government authorities will be seriously harmed.
Beilin’s proposal is also problematic in the fact that it is being raised now, even before the court has handed down its sentence. The fact that such a well-regarded figure suggested the idea now, gives the feeling, at least on the face of it, that it was meant to influence the judges when they determine Katsav’s sentence. As Lord Mansfield’s famous saying goes, justice must not merely be done, it must be seen to be done. Launching Beilin’s trial-balloon proposal has a negative effect on how justice is perceived and could be seen as an obstruction to the judicial authorities’ due process.
In any event, it seems as if the proposal was raised without any sort of consultation with any of the authorities involved in the matter. It does not seem feasible that Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman or President Shimon Peres would be aware of the proposal. Their silence is thundering, and necessary.
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