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The director of a Hadera juvenile facility was sentenced to 18 months in prison yesterday for abusing and assaulting "young, helpless" inmates.

Gad Harari, 64, the founder of the Gadi correctional facility, was charged with shoving an inmate's head into a toilet bowl and flushing it. On another occasion, he made a group of boys say Kaddish (the mourners' prayer) over a fellow inmate.

Harari is a highly regarded social worker, and was one of the founders of Eran, Israel's biggest crisis hotline. He was recently awarded the Child Defender Award for his work at the correctional facility.

Harari was also convicted of taking an inmate to a nearby cemetery, where he threatened him that he would end up in the grave. He called another "a dirty drug addict" and told him he had a "whore's soul." He made rowdy inmates spend days and nights in the garden, near a so-called "remorse tree."

Harari was also convicted of assaulting an inmate who requested to leave the institution.

The court said Harari's conduct "constituted mental abuse, consisting of blatant humiliation, degradation, violence and terrorizing, in severe breach of the right to human dignity."

"This is not a one-time lapse but prolonged methodical abuse," Judge Uri Shoham wrote, rejecting the defendant's claim that the inmates had conspired against him.

The court sentenced Harari to 18 months in jail, plus an 18-month suspended sentence, and banned him from leaving Israel until his imprisonment takes effect.

His lawyer said he would consider appealing the severity of the sentence to the Supreme Court.