Rivlin on Hirchson, Benizri: This Is a Sad Day for the Knesset

Ex-min. Benizri to serve four years for corruption; Hirchson will spend five years in jail for embezzlement.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said Tuesday that the imprisonment of two former ministers, Avraham Hirchson and Shlomo Benizri, marked a "sad day" for Israel's parliament.

"This is a sad day for the Knesset at a time when our efforts aim at repairing the Knesset's public image," said Rivlin.

"As for those who transgress and get convicted for their actions, they must pay for their crimes, and this will hopefully bring about change in the culture and work environment of government."

Hirchson of Kadima, Ehud Olmert's finance minister, will spend five years in jail for embezzlement, while Benizri of Shas will serve a four-year term for graft.

Rivlin added: "I hope the severe punishment the ministers received will discourage similar behavior, but also instill in the public the notion that order and justice apply to high-ranking officials as well. But the public should separate their sins from the rest of the Knesset members and refrain from making generalizations."

The Knesset speaker hosted Tuesday the Denmark ambassador to Israel, Liselotte Plesner, who said in response to Rivlin's speech that "in Denmark there is often confusion between public and personal interests."

After bidding his family farewell on Monday, Benizri said: "I told the children to go in the ways of the Torah, that will be my fortitude in this dark place."

His supporters accompanied him with a convoy of cars from his home in Jerusalem to Ma'asiyahu prison in Ramle, where he entered the gates at 10 A.M. Benizri gave a short speech to his followers before going in. He was convicted of taking bribes, breach of trust, conspiring to commit a crime and obstruction of justice.

"Every two minutes someone knocks on the door, and since this morning I've received hundreds of calls from people who are hurting over the injustice done to me," Benizri told Haaretz.

On Sunday he visited Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas' spiritual leader, whom Benizri said "cried like a little boy."

Benizri, an Orthodox Jew, will serve his entire term in the prison's religious division. Former minister and Shas leader Aryeh Deri was placed in the same area during his own prison sentence at the facility. Benizri will share a cell with several other prisoners.

At a later stage, he is expected to join the prison instructors and give religious lessons to inmates.

Hirchson was expected to report to Hermon Prison near Kfar Mrar in the north by 11 A.M. He is to share a cell with three others. Since Hermon Prison is a rehabilitation facility, he will be spending the next five years and five months with prisoners convicted of drug and violence related crimes and traffic violations.

Hirchson is also likely to hold tutorial sessions during his sentence.