Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen’s sentencing on Tuesday in the Holyland corruption case expressed his conclusions, in harsh language, about the conduct of the defendants who appeared before him over the past two years. Rozen described the defendants as “Israel’s socioeconomic elite.” And he had harsh words for the conduct that, as proven in his courtroom, some of them engaged in: “covetousness,” “swinishness” and even “betrayal of the public’s trust.”
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Everyone convicted in the Holyland case acted out of greed, Rozen concluded. The only defendant for whom he evinced a degree of compassion was Hillel Charney, the Holyland entrepreneur, whom Rozen described as a basically honest man who was corrupted by the state’s key witness and dragged into the “bribery industry.”
Judge Rozen sentenced the seven people his ruling covered to terms ranging from three to seven years in prison. But the sentence imposed on one defendant in particular, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, stood out for its severity: six years in prison, just as the prosecution requested. In contrast to the Jerusalem District Court judges, who gave Olmert a lenient sentence in the Investments Center case two years ago because of what they described as his fall from the heights to the depths, Rozen viewed Olmert’s lofty position as a reason for greater severity, and the same went for former Jerusalem municipal engineer Uri Sheetrit, who was sentenced to seven years in prison. Rozen’s message was clear and sharp: Public servants who betray the public’s trust deserve stiffer sentences.
Rozen’s verdict and sentencing decision, which join the trend of the past few years toward heavier sentences for public crimes, signal elected officials and holders of public office that the justice system intends to take a particularly stringent attitude toward them.
Even though the case is far from over, and Olmert, like some of the other defendants, has already announced that he will appeal his sentence to the Supreme Court, something big happened in Israel yesterday. A court sent a former prime minister to prison and convicted him of moral turpitude. We must hope that Olmert’s tragic fall “from the very top,” as Rozen wrote, to the dock, and then to a finding of moral turpitude and, in the future, almost certainly to prison as well, will indeed deter office holders and civil servants from having anything to do with corruption.
Israel’s citizens, who have already seen mayors, Knesset members, cabinet ministers and a president sent to prison in shame, deserve a government free of the taint of corruption.