After Acquittal, a Man Reborn

The display put on by MK Tzachi Hanegbi after yesterday's acquittal and conviction is worthy of a place of honor in any book on citizenship and any guide on manners. And if he had been Christian, in any confession box. Rarely do we see such humility, remorsefulness and acceptance of a verdict, such a bowing of the head. Contrition in front of law-enforcement officials is all but a sight unseen in these parts.

And while it was clear that Hanegbi is preoccupied with the sentencing hearing that will determine whether his conviction carries moral turpitude, which may bar him from running for public office, we have to admit that his conduct yesterday was perfectly in line with his conduct throughout the four years of the trial.

This conduct carried Hanegbi to the verdict with a supportive tailwind from the media, which didn't relent even when he left the courtroom convicted of perjury. In one of the television newscasts yesterday, the report on Hanegbi carried the caption "he's innocent."

But Hanegbi is not innocent, and the celebrations around him have come too soon. Fellow Kadima MK Yoel Hasson hastened to proclaim unto the nation that Hanegbi will bring Kadima back to power, as if he were another Captain Alfred Dreyfus.

This is unlikely. Even if he escapes the classification of moral turpitude, the conviction bars him from leading the country. He will still be able to serve as a senior minister - although not in all ministries - and play key roles behind the scenes and in leading important political forays.

He might even lead initiatives like bringing Kadima into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government (in political circumstances that do not yet exist. ) He could be the man who will help Tzipi Livni take Kadima's leadership by a landslide in 2012 - if he chooses to back her in the race.

A decade ago, Hanegbi's name was a byword for a political punk. The round-faced, balding, peaceful man who yesterday saluted his prosecutors is a different Hanegbi - the one who over the past few years became a kind of political consensus incarnate.

From Bibi to Tzipi, from Ehud Barak to Ehud Olmert, everyone has heaped praise and agreed that this is such a waste: The man could have gone so far if it weren't for some sort of character flaw that keeps diverting him to interrogation rooms and courthouses.

Yesterday we received an improbably-timed reminder of the old Hanegbi. Just as the verdict on Hanegbi was read out, businessman David Appel was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. Hanegbi and Appel both starred in the Roni Bar-On/Hebron affair during Benjamin Netanyahu's first term as prime minister.

The Hanegbi of 2010 is a man reborn. He is yearning for a corrective experience that would publicly prove he can be different.

The story was far from finished yesterday; it has only just started. The decision on moral turpitude will have to wait until October, if not November, and so will sentencing and the question of appeal. And if the prosecution decides to appeal, Hanegbi may have to wait a very long time for his second chance.