With Friends Like These...

How Haim Ramon's friends only made things worse by hiring bumbling private investigators to trip up the victim of his sexual indiscretion.

In mid-June H., the woman against whom Haim Ramon committed an indecent act, arrived at the luxury Tel Aviv David Intercontinental Hotel and entered a conference room hired especially for the meeting. A private investigator was waiting for her, all dressed up in a suit. There were fancy refreshments on the table. Hidden cameras recorded every movement. The PI introduced himself as the representative of an events production company about to enter the Israeli market. He offered H. a job tending bar, intimating that the salary would be high and concluded with a promise that the employees would soon be sent to Club Med in Marrakesh, Morocco, on a company vacation.

The person who organized this make-believe interview was private investigator Dana Ben Shushan, alias Dana Barsky. She had struck up a close friendship with H. after the two met, two weeks earlier, when H. was on a cigarette break outside of her workplace. Shortly after the hotel meeting, H. was given to understand that she had been hired.

This "job interview" was considered a key event in the story of the surveillance of H., which was exposed this week in Haaretz. The fake surroundings, the financial investment and mainly the vain promises appear to the police like a scheme that exceeds the boundaries of a legitimate private investigation.

The purpose of the investigation was to find evidence that could undermine H.'s testimony to the police and in the courtroom. Why did the investigators need these false pretenses to determine whether they could gather evidence that would satisfy their client? Why did they entice H. with a profitable job offer? Why was the event recorded, if not a word was said about the affair that triggered the investigation? There is no clear answer at the moment to all these questions. The police detectives investigating the agency this week speculated that the purpose of the meeting was to increase Ben-Shushan's status in H.'s eyes, as the one who snagged her the interview for a great job, so she could get H. to talk and learn the "truth" about the affair.

Although H. questioned the job offer, especially when it didn't materialize, she had no doubts about the integrity of her friend Dana Barsky. She stayed in touch even after the investigator's unsuccessful attempt, this time at a Tel Aviv sushi restaurant, to encourage H. to talk by making provocative comments such as "I think Haim Ramon is attractive," intended to lead H. into switching her story. H. did not change her version of the events.

It was only last Wednesday, when Haim Ramon was sworn in as vice premier and charged with heading negotiations with the Palestinians, that the hunter became the hunted, and the hunted the hunter. H. received reliable information to the effect that Barsky, her new friend, was actually Ben Shushan, a private investigator. Ben Shushan, fearing that H. might find out, had already reduced her contact with her. At that point, when the detective agency realized that H.'s story was not changing, it ended its investigation.

That stage of the investigation began a few weeks ago, but there was a previous investigation carried out by the same agency, Wizman Yaar Investigations, during the trial, when attempts were made to get people who knew H. to speak.

The decision to order H.'s investigation testifies mainly to a lack of boundaries and to stupidity. As opposed to the broken narratives of the complainants in the affair concerning former president Moshe Katsav, H.'s version of the kiss with Ramon was coherent and restrained. The event was described to several people shortly after it occurred. That is why Attorney General Menachem Mazuz agreed to take the kiss to court. That is also why Ramon was convicted unequivocally and why he did not appeal it. The chances of getting H. to tell a fabricated story that would confirm the conspiracy theory advanced by Ramon's camp were nil, and did not justify the cost, the risk and the repeated invasion of the complainant's privacy.

The private investigation against H. joins other cases in which the peaceful lives of women who dared complain about sexual offenses committed by public figures were upset. Another, much more frightening example concerned the case against former cabinet minister Yitzhak Mordechai, who was convicted of committing indecent acts. One of the victims was N., a Likud activist from Jerusalem. After Mordechai was convicted in the lower courts, his associates tried to persuade N. to retract her testimony. Under pressure, she wrote the Supreme Court to ask for mercy on Mordechai.

N.'s letter was the product of intolerable emotional terror exercised against her. For example, she was taken to a Jerusalem rabbi who told her, according to her testimony in court: "In the Zohar it says that you must forgive, you are cursed. The curse will be removed only if you forgive him... I come to the rabbi, he's wrapped in white, the entire room is full of candles, they issued a pulsa dinura (kabbalistic curse) against me... They raised Mordechai's father from the grave and he cursed me, they scared me until I left the rabbi's presence. I told my husband, I'll write whatever they want, if they only leave me alone. Everything I wrote was not on my own initiative. My hand wrote, but not my soul."

Kunda's turn

A year and a half ago, at the height of the Knesset election campaign, when Haim Ramon's dream of the "big bang" took shape as Kadima, he often held important meetings at the office of his close friend, Ephraim Kunda, in an upscale Tel Aviv office building.

Every leading politician has somebody like Kunda, who is completely loyal. For Ehud Barak it is his former brother-in-law, attorney Doron Cohen, who has variously served as confidant, fundraiser and business partner. For Prime Minister Ehud Olmert it is his former law partner, attorney Uri Messer, who is also thought to be responsible for the most sensitive area in any politician's life: contributions.

Both Cohen and Messer have previous experience with law enforcement authorities, in connection to their masters' affairs: Cohen was questioned over Barak's non-profits, which ended without indictments, and exercised his right to remain silent. Messer gave statements to the police in the Greek Island affair and stars in the state comptroller's report that revealed that when Olmert was minister of industry and trade he helped a client of Messer's by speeding up state funding of tens of millions of shekels.

Now it is Kunda's turn to be exposed and questioned. He is well known in the Labor Party. Kunda's dedication knew no bounds. When Ramon ran for the Labor Party leadership in 2002 (and lost to Amram Mitzna), Kunda contributed personally to his friend's campaign chest. In 1997, when Yossi Beilin ran against Ramon's main rival, Ehud Barak, for the same post, Kunda beefed up Beilin's funding. Up until two years ago, Kunda organized events in upscale Tel Aviv restaurants to which Ramon's political cronies and wealthy businessmen were invited. The invitations bore the inscription: "Haim's friends."

"Kunda is obsessed with Ramon," a mutual friend said this week. "He thinks Ramon is the messiah. For 20 years he's been convinced that Ramon must be prime minister. He's the second person who thinks Ramon was framed. The first one is Ramon himself."

"There's no way the investigation was [Kunda's] idea," another close friend said this week. "He certainly wouldn't do anything that will affect Ramon's fate without consulting him. Ramon is Kunda's whole life, he's not a person who thinks independently and I have a hard time believing he would do something like that on his own."

In a sense Kunda is a product of the times. He embodies the new connection in Israel between capital and cult. He is close to business magnate Nochi Dankner; he is also considered the "foreign minister" of the "X-Ray Rabbi" (Yaakov Ifergan). Kunda told friends last week that he has no complaints against God. When asked why he ordered the investigation, he replied: "They framed Haim." It would be interesting to know whether he consulted with Ifergan before embarking on this hallucinatory mission.

In recent weeks, after Barak's victory and Ramon's return to the cabinet table, there was a momentary illusion that the Olmert government was embarking on a new and surer path. But the Ramon affair brought Olmert's government back down from the heights of the summit conference in Sharm al-Sheikh to the depths of the national police interrogation rooms in Bat Yam.

In the coming weeks, Mazuz is expected to announce his decision on three affairs involving alleged criminal activity on Olmert's part, relating to the Investment Center, the Small Business Authority and the house on Cremieux Street in Jerusalem. Even before that, the State Prosecutor's Office is expected to give Olmert's friend, former finance minister Avraham Hirchson, the draft of his indictment against him. The state will also determine whether criminal charges are warranted over the surveillance of H.