Ramon: MK on Trial Should Not Play Role in Legislation

Nine months after he was last seen in the Knesset, MK Haim Ramon (Kadima), the former justice minister who was convicted of indecent behavior for forcibly kissing a female soldier, showed his face once more in the halls of parliament yesterday.

At 1:30 P.M., a smiling but embarrassed Ramon entered the building. At first the popular MK made sure to hug only other men, but then he gave in to social pressure and exchanged hugs and kisses with women too, even as the cameras flashed.

Ramon's popularity is one reason for the forgiving attitude toward him. "Haim Ramon, welcome back," Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik (Kadima) called out in the Knesset plenum, and Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, another Kadima member, applauded. Ramon also got a big welcome from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who said at the Kadima faction meeting: "We missed you. It's been a long time."

But not everyone is happy to see Ramon. MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union), the former head of the Knesset Ethics Committee, sees Ramon as "cloaking the Knesset in disgrace."

Ramon said that he was returning with the blessing of the judicial system.

"I would not have returned had not the court said, almost unequivocally: 'I ask that you return to the Knesset, despite the conviction,'" Ramon said.

The last few months have shown that there are two schools of thought regarding what an indicted MK should do. The Tzachi Hanegbi-Shlomo Benizri school of thought holds that the best thing to do is continue coming to the Knesset despite the indictment. But according to the Haim Ramon school of thought, absence is the best solution.

An MK who has been indicted, said Ramon, "is not effective. You're not really an MK, especially because I wanted a speedy trial."

The issue of Ramon's presence is due to come up in the Ethics Committee over the next few weeks. So far, no one has submitted a complaint to the Ethics Committee over an MK who did not show up in the Knesset due to an indictment. All the same, the committee can impose a a fine worth four months' salary.

In the meantime, there have also been proposals - not yet passed - to require MKs under indictment to be suspended. In such a case, said MK Dor Rotem (National Union), both the Knesset member and his salary should be suspended. According to this approach, the MK would get the back pay if acquitted, and nothing if convicted. Rotem's justification for suspension echoes Ramon: MKs cannot function when under indictment.