Hanegbi outside court. Forced to leave Knesset
Photo: Noam Moskowitz

Hanegbi offense involves moral turpitude

Jerusalem Magistrate's Court delivers sentence following Kadima MK's perjury conviction, orders him to pay fine of NIS 10,000. 'Goal is to maintain public hygiene,' one of judges clarifies. Ruling could affect Israeli political map

The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Tuesday ruled that the perjury offense which Knesset Member and former Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (Kadima) was convicted of involves moral turpitude.


Two judges – Aryeh Romanoff and Oded Shaham – voted in favor of moral turpitude, while Judge Yoel Tsur opposed. Hanegbi was ordered to pay a fine of NIS 10,000 (about $2,760), but decided not to add a suspended sentence punishment.


Following the ruling, Hanegbi will be forced to leave the Knesset immediately. He will be replaced in the Kadima faction by Georgian-born journalist Nino Abesadze.


Later Tuesday, Hanegbi sent Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin a letter saying he is "suspending" himself from the Knesset as of midnight. 


The two agreed that Hanegbi would not resign but would be "suspended" so he would be able to return to his post if his appeal is granted.


The decision is likely to have implications on the entire Israeli political map as Hanegbi was in favor of Kadima joining the government and his absence from the Knesset may put that option on hold.


The first to talk was Judge Tsur, who said he did not think Hanegbi's offense carried moral turpitude. He added that he did not share the conclusions of his colleagues, who found Hanegbi guilty of perjury.


"I am against any person lying in any forum, but also against excessive punishment. He paid a heavy personal price and has fixed his ways," the judge said. "The moral turpitude should receive limited interpretation. Moral turpitude means the opposite of human liberty and dignity."


Judge Tsur argued that "the conviction alone is a punishment. The media reports hurt him and his family members without subjecting him to formal moral turpitude."

Hanegbi. Taking a break from politics (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)


Judge Romanoff noted that "the lawmaker, through the moral turpitude, sought to prevent the Knesset's status from being harmed if one of its members has been stained. The goal is to maintain public hygiene and incorruptibility."


Romanoff added that "the moral turpitude is not meant to punish the person, but to defend the body he is serving in, and therefore his character, his talents, his abilities and his contribution to the society, as well as the damage caused by the trial, are irrelevant."


Hanegbi: Very sad moment

MK Hanegbi told reporters upon leaving the court that "this is a very sad moment." He said he would inform the Knesset speaker of his immediate suspension from the Israeli parliament.


"My public work comes to a stop at this stage. There is no doubt that the distress and feeling of frustration is greatly softened by the decision that I will be able to run for the next Knesset. But this is a very sad moment."


He suggested that his fellow party member, MK Shaul Mofaz, replace him as chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.


Hanegbi stressed that "the court ruling does not change my belief that a supreme effort must be made to establish a national unity government – and it's possible. Personal interests can be bridged. It is our duty to reach a wide national parliamentary consensus around the core issues. I hope the special trust between me and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the opposition chairwoman will help this happen."


MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) expressed his disappointment with the court's decision and estimated that the former minister will take part in the next Knesset elections. "This punishment is one step too far. Tzachi Hanegbi will remain part of Kadima's leadership in the next Knesset."


Hasson added, "I am very sad on the personal level. I believe we will lose Tzachi in the short run but that he'll continue in the long run. I must say that the Knesset has lost one of its best Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairmen."


Addressing the decision's effect on the political map, Hasson said, "I don't think he ever spoke about reduced conditions for Kadima entering the government. It's still in Netanyahu's hands."


His fellow party member, MK Nachman Shai, said that "the court has now set very significant standards for Knesset members' conduct. Standards must be set for public figures' behavior."


MK Miri Regev of the rival Likud party said in response to the punishment, "After seeing the professional manner in which Hanegbi has run the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, I think his suspension from the Knesset is a loss to Israeli politics. I believe his skills will serve him in the future."


MK Arieh Eldad (National Union), head of the anti-corruption association, was not so supportive. "The honorable court rules today what every citizen knows: A public figure who perjured carries moral turpitude and should not serve in any public role."


Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Hanegbi's fate could change the entire political game in terms of the coalition's make-up. Likud sources estimated that a ruling against moral turpitude would have prompted Kadima to join the government.


"Hanegbi will be interested in restoring his status, and will want to serve as a minister in order to build his political future," an aide to Netanyahu estimated Monday. "It will be in his personal interest to make Kadima part of the coalition."


Aviad Glickman and Dor Glick contributed to this report



פרסום ראשון: 11.09.10, 10:40
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