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The Winograd Committee yesterday rejected the military advocate general's request to demote Major General Yitzhak Mordechai, a former transportation minister who was convicted of sexual misconduct while he was head of the army's Northern Command.

The committee is headed by retired Supreme Court justice Eliyahu Winograd and includes Major General (res.) Aviezer Ya'ari and attorney Yosef Telraz.

The MAG, Brigadier General Avihai Mandelblit, can appeal the decision to the president of the Military Court of Appeals, Major General Yishai Bar. An official in Mandelblit's bureau said yesterday evening that the MAG is "studying" the panel's decision before formulating his position on an appeal.

The committee chose to treat Mordechai as a retired major general. As a result, Mordechai will be able to sit on committees that discuss stripping the ranks of other officers convicted of crimes of moral turpitude.

Mordechai's lawyers did not dispute the MAG's claim regarding the nature of their client's crimes, but the committee recalled the domestic, social and economic damage Mordechai suffered.

This would seem to be the outcome desired by those officials saddled with the Mordechai affair in recent years - Shaul Mofaz, as chief of staff and defense minister; Moshe Ya'alon as chief of staff, and the previous MAG, Major General (res.) Menachem Finkelstein, who is now a district court judge. At Finkelstein's initiative, the process was delayed until his proposal to amend military judicial law was accepted, transferring the burden of the decision from the chief of staff and defense minister - should a commander's panel recommend demotion - to a committee headed by a judge.

If the Winograd Committee's decision is allowed to stand, it will create a new norm contrary to that set by the Supreme Court and military tribunals in a series of previous cases.

Mordechai was convicted twice of molesting a woman - including aggravated sexual assault against a female officer - when he was GOC Northern Command. One of Mandelblit's arguments for the Winograd Committee to deal a "substantial" blow to Mordechai's rank, interpreted as a demotion to lieutenant general, was concern for future IDF efforts to combat sex crimes within its ranks. Anyone previously demoted for such crimes and anyone whose case comes up in the future will be able to claim discrimination compared to Mordechai.

The Israel Women's Network sent a letter Bar two weeks ago railing against the Winograd panel's all-male roster. The response by the panel's secretary, Lieutenant General Avi Sasson of the Military Courts Unit, suggested that the women's lobby has a point, but that Bar is not to blame because he was only responsible for finding a judge to chair the committee and recommending the chief of staff make the appointment.

The other two officers "are determined by the head of Personnel Directorate," Sasson wrote. He did not explain why no female officers were appointed, nor why the chief of staff ratified the selections.