Netanyahu Calls on Court to Ease Perjury Penalty Against MK Hanegbi

Mossad chief Dagan, former president Navon and Defense Minister Barak have also issued calls in support of the former minister, who faces end to political career.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mossad chief Meir Dagan on Tuesday joined a long string of public figures who have lined up in support of MK Tzachi Hanegbi, a former minister who is up for sentencing on a perjury conviction that could stall, or even halt, his political career.

In a letter to the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, Netanyahu urged justices to lighten the penalty being sought against Hanegbi and to allow the MK to continue his political career.

Hanegbi. Trying to convince the court.
Michal Petel

"The state will benefit if MK Hanegbi is allowed to serve in public positions as he has done since he was elected to the Knesset," Netanyahu wrote in his letter.

Dagan's letter to the court, meanwhile, cited Hanegbi''s "professionalism, dedication and responsibility" when dealing with national security matters.

Israel's fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak had already petitioned the court to reconsider the penalty. In one of several documents that Hanegbi's attorneys plan to submit to the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court for his sentencing hearing Thursday, Navon wrote: " Hanegbi has the ability to help prevent a split in the nation, and it is my hope that the transgression for which he has been convicted will not prevent him from continuing in his important political activities."

The prosecution may well ask the judges to determine that the offense involves moral turpitude, a finding that would prevent Hanegbi from holding public office for several years.

But Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has yet to decide whether to ask for the moral turpitude finding, given that Hanegbi was acquitted in July of the more serious charges of fraud and breach of trust. He was accused of improperly appointing some 50 Likud Central Committee members or their relatives between 2001 and 2003, when he served as environment minister, in an effort to improve his standing in the Likud party (though he now represents Kadima ).

Although the list of well-known figures with good things to say about Hanegbi is extensive - including Jerry White, an American anti-landmine activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, and Israeli novelist Yoram Kaniuk - many of the documents being submitted by Hanegbi's lawyers were not written with his defense in mind. And in at least some cases, the public officials were not informed that comments they had made in the past are being used in an effort to help Hanegbi now.

Comments by former attorney general Menachem Mazuz, for instance, were made in an interview with Haaretz in which he praised Hanegbi for treating the prosecutor's office with respect.
Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel discovered yesterday that a note she wrote to Hanegbi in 1997 to thank him for defending the State Prosecutor's Office in a speech was one of the documents that will be submitted on his behalf. At the time, Arbel was state prosecutor and Hanegbi was justice minister.

Hanegbi's lawyers are also summoning the spirit of former Supreme Court justice Haim Cohen, who died in 2002.

"Your matter-of-fact and considered approach to every matter (small and large ), your good understanding and friendly relationship that you cultivated with the president of the Supreme Court, your attention to the opinions and problems of the ministry employees are worthy of gratitude and great esteem," Cohen wrote to Hanegbi in July 1999.

Cohen's widow, writer and musicologist Michal Zmora-Cohen, said earlier this week she hadn't known the letter was being used for Hanegbi's defense, adding: "I don't think it should influence the judges because they understand not to put a letter that Haim wrote years ago into a different context."