A tale of two pardons
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Jerusalem Post International Edition
August 3, 2001
President Moshe Katsav’s reduction of Margalit Har-Shefi last week raises the same question as Bill Clinton’s presidential pardon of Marc Rich: What could possibly have made him do it? The Rich pardon left the whole world shaking its collective head and wondering what could have led a political genius, like Clinton, to shoot himself in the foot and ensure that he would leave office the subject of ridicule and with his reputation permanently tarnished.
Similarly, an experienced politician like Katsav must have anticipated that the Left and the Left-controlled media would accuse him of condoning the Rabin assassination and giving encouragement to other would-be assassinations. He must have known that his pardon would be ceased upon as proof that no one from the Likud could be entrusted with the presidency, which until Katsav’s election was the exclusive province of Labor.
Nor was there any upside gain for Katsav. Though Har-Shefi clearly has her supporters, they are confined almost exclusively to the small and delegitimized settler community. Once she had been convicted of having failed to inform authorities of Yigal Amir’s intentions to assassinate Prime Minister Rabin and sentenced to nine months in jail, the issue of whether she would serve the last third of her term or not burned for very few.
But if Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich and Katsav’s reduction of Har-Shefi’s sentence are equally inexplicable politically, the explanation for their actions could not be more different. The New Republic’s Andrew Sullivan surely touched on something when he attributed the Rich pardon to a sociopath’s reckless disregard for his own well-being and that of others and his conviction that he can lie himself out of anything.
Since nothing about Katsav suggests an anti-social personality disorder, we must search elsewhere for an explanation of his unpolitic behavior. Only one comes to mind: He is convinced that her continued imprisonment is a grave injustice.
And he is right.
To begin the crime for which she was convicted – failure to inform authorities of an imminent threat to a public official – is highly problematic. As former Supreme Court Justice and liberal darling Chaim Cohen has stated, statutes requiring citizens to inform on one another are more appropriate for dictatorial regimes. Under a similar statute, every student or teacher at Columbine High School who saw the video produced by two deranged students, in which they acted out their fantasies, and who did not report to the authorities, would be subject to criminal prosecution.
In addition, such statutes require judges to make an almost impossible highly determination about the defendant’s state of mine: in this case that Har-Shefi ``knew" that Yigal Amir would assassinate the prime minister.that the accused was convinced that a crime was about to be committed. Har Shefi was thus convicted on the basis of what she is assumed to have thought, not for anything she did. She was never accused of having conspired with Amir.
The General Security Services knew as well as Har-Shefi of Amir’s threats to assassinate the prime minister. Indeed GSS Agent Avishai Raviv repeatedly encouraged Amir in this regard. Then GSS head Carmi Gillon exonerated himself and his agency from blame on the grounds that they did not believe that any Jew would kill the prime minister.
If the intelligence officials did not believe Amir’s threats, why should Har-Shefi? And how could Supreme Court justice Michael Cheshin claim that with one phone call Har-Shefi could have prevented the assassination, when everything that was known to her was already known to intelligence officials?
After examining all the material, Ami Ayalon, another former GSS head, expressed his conviction that Har-Shefi ``did not think for a minute that Yigal Amir would actually kill the prime minister."
The most compelling reason for Katsav’s intervention is also the simplest: Reduction of sentences by a third is virtually automatic for well-behaved prisoners. If that is true for axe-murderers, how much more so for a young girl who even the strictest judges only sentenced to nine months. (A minority at both the district court level and the Supreme Court would have either acquited or sentenced her to community service.) Even the State Attorney’s office, hardly a hotbed of right-wing thought, supported the sentence reduction by a third.
Har-Shefi has repeatedly expressed regret for not having foreseen what her friend Yigal Amir would do – certainly more times than Carmi Gillon has expressed similar regrets for his failure to prevent the assassination. When the head of Prison Services denied her a reduction of sentence on the grounds of a lack of regret, she was being punished for having failed to worship at the shrine of the martyred prime minister. Failing to stand at a moment of silence, as Har-Shefi did, may be repugnant, but in a democracy it should not be criminal.
The most depressing aspect of President Katsav’s reduction of Har-Shefi’s sentence is the hatred within Israeli society that it has revealed. Debating the pardon with Geula Cohen, one articulate man of the Left, announced, ``The real division is not between Jew and Arabs, but between those of us on the Left and you on the Right." Reactions to Katsav’s pardon have broken down almost straight along the Left/Right divide, with no one on the Left willing to acknowledge how problematic, in democratic terms, her continued imprisonment is.
Katsav provided one more occasion for spasmodic expressions of hatred on the Left and one more flight of fancy that if only Rabin had not been assassinated peace would have been achieved. That fantasy depends on ignoring the disillusion with Oslo that had already set in by November 1995 – virtually every poll showed Binyamin Netanyahu ahead of Rabin – and implausibly imagining that Rabin would have ever offered Arafat more, or even anything close, to what Ehud Barak would offer five years later.
Neither Margalit Har-Shefi nor Moshe Katsav can be blamed for destroying those illusions.
Related Topics: Israeli Supreme Court
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free jewish media resources mailing list