Almost three years have passed since former cabinet minister Yitzhak Mordechai was convicted of forcefully committing indecent acts against two women, but the legal battle is still not over.
Politicians who become embroiled in criminal proceedings usually want to make their shame disappear as soon as possible from the public arena and the media, but not Mordechai. For three years he has been conducting a complicated campaign of appeals in various courts.
Mordechai takes the trouble to appear personally at all the hearings, alongside the first-rate criminal lawyers whom he has hired, including Ram Caspi, Nevot Tel-Tzur, Moshe Shahal and Yair Golan. Mordechai is trying to have his conviction overturned, if not completely, then at least in one of the two convictions. This past Sunday Mordechai suffered another painful failure in his battle to clear his name.
Three Magistrate's Court judges, Jacob Zaban, Raphael Carmel and Rivka Fridman-Feldman, decided that there was nothing in the letter written by plaintiff "N." to justices in the Supreme Court that could serve as grounds for altering the original court ruling. That letter had been the sole basis for claims by Mordechai and his lawyers that he should be cleared of the conviction for assaulting her.
A fascinating psychological analysis of the reasons that prompted N. to write the letter, and the language that she chose, led the judges to conclude that "the letter, the testimonies and the things that were said after the court ruling do not have any bearing on her [original] testimony, and there is nothing in them that would create any doubts regarding her version [of events]."
The affair began in March 2000. That month a complaint by S. was published. She had been one of the secretaries in Mordechai's office when he was transport minister in 1999. The court ultimately acquitted Mordechai of the accusations concerning S., but the publication of the fact that a government minister was suspected of a sex offense generated a wave of testimonies from women claiming they had been sexually assaulted by Mordechai, who was also a major general in the army reserves. One such claim was made by A., an officer who had served as Mordechai's secretary in 1992, when he was in charge of the Northern Command. A.'s complaint concerned two incidents, and Mordechai was convicted for both of them.
The third complainant was N., a Likud party activist. Mordechai was convicted of committing indecent acts on her, too. In November 1996, when Mordechai was defense minister, N. came to his house to talk to him about possible employment at the ministry. The two sat in the living room and drank coffee.
"While we were having coffee he forced himself on me," related N. in her testimony. "He lay on top of me and tried to put his hand inside my blouse. I said to him, `Itzik, what are you doing? This is wrong. I was sent here. They trusted you.'
"He continued to move his hand inside my blouse. I said, `Itzik, why, all of a sudden?' Then he said, `But I can see it in your eyes.' Then I told him, `You're really crazy.' Then he seemed to gain his composure and got off me."
The investigation into the matters of A. and N. was opened after the police convinced them to file complaints against Mordechai, since their stories had been exposed in the media after the publication of S.'s complaint.
In March 2001, the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court convicted Mordechai of indecent acts regarding A. and N. and acquitted him of any wrongdoing against S. Mordechai appealed the convictions in the District Court. The prosecution, for its part, appealed the lightness of the sentence - an 18-month suspended sentence.
In October 2001 the District Court rejected both of Mordechai's appeals.
Mordechai again called on his battery of lawyers and petitioned the Supreme Court for the right to appeal. The hearing of the petition was set for September 2002. Exactly two weeks before the date of that hearing, and at the request of Mordechai's attorneys, N. wrote to the Supreme Court justices, partially recanting her accusations toward Mordechai.
"I innocently thought I would be supporting the issue [after the publication of S.'s complaint - Y.Y.] passively," wrote N. to the justices. N. wrote that she had never imagined the whole affair would snowball and become unstoppable. "Today, as I think back on what happened, the meeting at Mr. Mordechai's house was friendly and no more. The media pressure, and the recording of what I said without my knowledge, and the pressure from the police and those around me, resulted in the things I said in court being said under duress. Today, in retrospect, it is quite likely that my meeting with Mr. Mordechai was an encounter that was misinterpreted by me."
"It is quite likely," continued N. in her letter, "that during the meeting I was tense and emotional, so I interpreted Mr. Mordechai's behavior and his intentions as bad intentions rather than friendly intentions. This is what led to the interpretation that I gave of the incident in question."
The letter was presented to the Supreme Court justices by Mordechai's defense team. His lawyers felt there was enough in the contradiction between N.'s position as presented in the letter and her testimony at the first hearing to acquit Mordechai of the conviction concerning N.
The problem was that the Supreme Court is an appeals court, which usually does not debate evidence or hear testimony.
The justices therefore decided on an unusual step. They returned the debate to the Magistrate's Court and ordered it to "clarify the issue of the letter from N. and to gather more evidence in the matter. After the evidence has been gathered, [the court] will draw its conclusions in the matter and present its opinion. The court will decide if the new evidence is sufficient to warrant the changing of the original ruling."
Letter from outer space
In the past two months the defense team has returned to the Magistrate's Court to face off against attorney Eli Abarbanel, the state prosecutor for the Jerusalem district. Following the orders of the Supreme Court, the decision handed down by the Magistrate's Court on Sunday does not constitute a ruling, but rather an opinion regarding the evidentiary weight of the letter and its affect on the court's decision.
N. her husband M. and her lawyer Yosef Arnon testified in court, as did Herzl Levy, a family friend.
The judges determined that Mordechai's conviction in the matter of N. was based on "her detailed and precise testimony, which we viewed as reliable. Our impression was that N. was speaking openly, did not exaggerate or magnify things and spoke clearly and consistently."
Mordechai presented a different version and claimed that N. had put her hand on his thigh and had even hugged and caressed him, but confirmed that she had said that he was "really crazy."
"[Mordechai's] contention throughout the proceedings, to the effect that the whole thing was a political conspiracy against him," wrote the court, "was not proved at all."
Even in her latest testimony, N. stuck to her testimony from the original trial, despite what was written in the letter. "Everything I said was completely true. I do not retract one iota of what I said in the previous testimony," said N. "People who sat with me in my house," she added, regarding the letter, "to whom I opened my door, dug my grave for me. It is they who encouraged me to write the letter."
In her recent testimony N. described how she and her husband were ostracized by the Kurdish community, to which they belong, after she testified against Mordechai. This ostracism also led to the decline of the store run by N.'s husband and to a lot of anger from her family and friends. N. noted that various people tried to talk her into forgiving Mordechai.
N. was even taken to visit Rabbi Reuven Salman, who - she testified - told her, "In the Zohar (book of Jewish mysticism) it is written that you must forgive, that there is a curse on you. The curse will be lifted only if you forgive him. I told him okay, bring me pen and paper and I will forgive him."
Over the course of a year N. rewrote the letter several times, even asking Arnon how she should write it, so as not to complicate matters with contradictions of what she had said in her original testimony in court.
"This is not a letter written spontaneously," wrote the judges. "It was preceded by many drafts, consultations and conversations .... The letter was the culmination of a process of regret for having given in to the pleas to be a complainant .... Hence this letter, the testimonies and things that were said after the court ruling do not have any bearing on her [original] testimony and there is nothing in them that would create any doubts regarding her version [of events]."