Pen Ultimate / Turpitude Lite

I have to admit, it hasn't been easy. Ever since I read Prof. Menachem Perry's brilliant expose of the judges' verdict in the case of Haim Ramon's wandering tongue (in a recent Haaretz literary supplement), my fingers have been itching to respond. Although I did write something on the case in these pages about two months ago, my column concerned only the technical aspects of the French kiss and not the legal merits of the case or the ruling (or lack thereof).

Written after a close reading of the verdict, Perry's essay included conclusions based solely on the judges' narrative, and proved beyond any reasonable doubt that Ramon not only did not act without thinking, on a whim - according to the judges - but that he tried to kiss the complainant after meticulous planning and flirting on his part, possibly with her partial unwitting compliance. I'll return to this line of defense, but what spurred me to respond was Perry's claim that the judges - two of them female - were taken aback by the age difference between the former minister of justice (56) and the female soldier who was kissed by him against her will (20). "Evidently, the judges do not inhabit the same world as Ramon and thousands of other males aged 56," wrote Perry.

Out of a fear that the professor may have some knowledge about my inner world, I withheld my response until after my 57th birthday last week.

In the meantime, Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court sentenced the former minister to 120 hours of public service and a fine of NIS 15,000 to be paid to the complainant. It did not reverse his conviction, but did exonerate Ramon from guilt on the basis of moral turpitude.

This made me wonder what constitutes "moral turpitude" and who has the authority to decide on such matters. "Moral turpitude" is mentioned in two Basic Laws in the context of the eligibility of an MK or minister for a particular post. In the Basic Law on The Government, it says that if a person has been convicted of an offense and sentenced to prison, and if seven years have not yet passed since the day on which he finished serving his period of punishment, or since the handing down of his sentence - whichever was later - he shall not be appointed minister, unless the chairman of the Central Election Committee states that the circumstances of the offense do not involve moral turpitude. The chairman of the committee shall not so rule if the court determined that the offense involved moral turpitude.

Other court options

A similar clause in the Basic Law on The Knesset defines crime and the period of punishment, but does not define moral turpitude. Moral turpitude is not defined by what it is, but rather by what it prevents one found guilty of it to be. A former convict can be elected to the Knesset or made a minister, provided he was not found guilty of a crime involving moral turpitude. If the accused happens to be a minister or MK, he needs the courts' decision concerning the moral turpitude that his crime involves, so as not to leave the issue at the mercy of the chairman of the Central Election Committee - or, God forbid, of the voters.

Maybe it would be advisable to give courts the option of exonerating a person who's accused of being guilty of a particular crime according to the law, while still allowing them to define the deed in question as involving moral turpitude? Apparently, that was what the High Court justices were attempting to do when they exonerated Yaakov Ganot of the charges against him, while censuring his conduct in their verdict. Ganot, prior to withdrawing his candidacy for the post of chief of police, raised the issue of such a stain on his record paling over time to the point of disappearing entirely.

With respect to Ramon, based on the case for the defense as presented by Prof. Perry in his take on the verdict, we have a minister of the government who, on his way to a special meeting of the cabinet, on the eve of war, has the time and presence of mind to plan and execute a campaign of conquest involving a young soldier of the female gender. During the cabinet meeting he finds time to save her number in the memory of his cell phone. There is little doubt that he did not know how to prioritize, flirting at the wrong time and in the wrong place. If this is done by a government minister on the eve of war, then there's moral turpitude here, even without the court's sanction.

So, how do we know what deserves to be treated as moral turpitude? How can one know about this - especially at a time when Minister of Justice Daniel Friedmann (who was appointed to his post after Ramon was indicted) is considering the possibility of dealing with persons guilty of minor crimes, like petty theft, via administrative measures instead of bringing them before a court of law? Maybe we should opt for different grades of moral turpitude, like turpitude lite, or green turpitude with pink dots, or a suspended-sentence-with- community-service moral turpitude?

The Hebrew word for moral turpitude, kalon, is mentioned in the Bible 10 times, five of them in Proverbs. Three of those times the word kalon is used in conjunction with lips and tongues. For instance Proverbs 18:1-8: "Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom. A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself. When the wicked cometh, then cometh also contempt, and with ignominy reproach. The words of a man's mouth are as deep waters, and the wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook. It is not good to accept the person of the wicked, to overthrow the righteous in judgment. A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes. A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul."

I know one should not call a minister of the government "a fool," of course. Unless his deeds speak louder than his words.