Israel's justice system recorded two extreme points this week, one of praise and acclaim and another of dishonor and shame. Let's begin with the good news:
Moshe Katzav, Israel's 8th President, was convicted of two counts of rape, one of forcible sexual assault, one of sexual harassment and one of obstruction of justice. Unless something totally insane happens, he will be going to prison. There is no way the court can reject all the defendant's arguments one by one, convict him of every single count, call him a liar in those very words after doing so by implication throughout an hour-long verdict, and not sentence him to quite a few years in prison. To do so would be even more ludicrous than the conduct of the prosecution, which prepared a draft indictment against Kazav for rape, then offered him a vastly reduced plea bargain, going to court to defend this decision and trashing the plaintiffs in the process, only to be saved from infamy when the idiot defendant rejected the dream deal he was offered.
Someone on Facebook told me today that it would have taken more courage for the judges not to convict. Maybe there's something to that, although given the mountains of evidence against Katzav perhaps "temerity" would be a better word. But the conviction also took courage - courage to convict not only Katzav, but everyone in the system who let him reach such an exalted position, as well as the state's prosecutor's office, which as mentioned above almost let the sleazy hack get away with his crimes.
This conviction marks a happy day for the State of Israel, both because of the verdict and because it fell to an Arab judge to convict an ex-president - and not a sad day like some have said. The sad day was when a sitting minister, then President, chose to habitually abuse his power in such a vile manner, but that didn't happen today, did it?
Power, by its nature, attracts sociopaths and all manner of scum. Like the poor, they shall always be with us, at least pending a significant evolution in human nature. The only challenge left is to catch them when they cross the line and punish them. That's all you can ask for. Well, of course you can ask for more, but it ain't gonna do you no good.
So that was the light. The darkness came two days prior, when another court, of a lower instance thankfully, decided to turn an administrative-bureaucratic matter into a political one - one of oppression and hatred. Nuri al-Uqbi, a resident of Lod and a prominent Bedouin rights activist, has been running an auto repair shop in Lod - where his family relocated to after they were evicted from their ancestral home in the Negev upon Israel's founding - for the past forty-plus years. He has certificates from the police, the fire department, the Ministry of Environmental Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior that everything at his shop is on the up and up. What he doesn't have is a chummy relationship with Lod's city hall. Maybe that's because Lod's city hall is in the habit of demolishing the homes of Arab's in the city (a sort of continuation of the mass expulsion of Arabs from the city after its conquest in 1948) and Nuri, who as mentioned above was already expelled once from his birthplace in Israel's south, is a tad sensitive to such incidents and has an unfortunate tendency to speak up about that. So the city plays the paperwork game with him, alternately granting and denying business permits on whim. And so Nuri al-Uqbi arrived in the docket for the heinous crime of continuing to run his business despite the city's decision to suddenly yank his permit.
Nuri wasn't terribly stressed, and had already agreed to do six months of work-release at a soup kitchen in the neighboring town of Ramle. But his dishonor Judge Zechariah Yemini didn't like it. So he rejected the plea bargain and sentenced al-Uqbi to seven months in prison - one more than the maximum that can be served in work release. In addition his dishonor imposed a fine of NIS 40K, or 400 days in prison in their stead. Since his dishonor knows Nuri doesn't have 40 thousand shekels to pay, he effectively sentenced him to 20 months in prison - on account of an offense which nobody could find an instance of anyone going to prison for. And to remove any and all doubts as to his motives, his dishonor admitted them freely, noting in his sentencing comments that he is doing so "to send a message to the Bedouin Diaspora". Nuri wasn't even released pending appeal, because he didn't have the exorbitant amount of 30 thousand shekels the fudge demanded he deposit as bail.
The use of criminal and civilian law to terrorize political opponents used to be the hallmark of darker regimes. In Belarus it's practically a national sport. In Russia, just the other day, it was used once again against Mikhail Khoderkovsky. There is suspicion that the same thing happened even in Sweden, under US pressure, against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. But even in such cases, the system at least pretends to care about the trumped up offense. Saying that a harsher sentence is being imposed in a criminal or civilian case in order to deter the defendant and those sharing his views from engaging in political opposition is, at least in Israel, a new record for gall and a new phase in the war against democracy and human rights in this country.
Like someone told me on Twitter, maybe the rag in a robe needs to be thanked for being so honest about his motives, because if the higher court that sits in Nuri's appeal will be as brave about admitting the misdeeds of a member of the judicial guild as it was about exposing the misdeeds of a former President, then the rag in a robe handed al-Uqbi a sure-fire win on appeal. The question is how long the system will manage to keep brave Nuri behind bars until that happens.
So as we see, despite the obvious joy over today's conviction of a serial rapist in high places, we are forced to find it equivalent to Sick Boy's comments about "Name of the Rose" in the movie "Trainspotting", and view it as "but a blip on an otherwise uninterrupted downward trajectory."