Israeli court convicts Ramon

Former official found guilty of harassment

February 01, 2007|By Richard Boudreaux | Richard Boudreaux,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- The kiss lasted a few seconds. The morality play it inspired lasted more than six months, riveting Israelis and their legal system on a single question: Did she or didn't she want it?

The drama ended yesterday when the Tel Aviv Magistrates Court ruled the plaintiff, a 21-year-old female army first lieutenant, "did not flirt with the accused, did not initiate the kiss, and did not consent to it." With that, a three-judge panel convicted Haim Ramon, a founder of the prime minister's Kadima party and an architect of his ruling coalition, of violating Israel's sexual harassment law by committing an "indecent act" while he was justice minister.

The unanimous verdict, which could send the 56-year-old divorced man to prison for up to three years, jolted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's scandal-ridden government. Olmert had been confident enough in an acquittal that he was holding the justice post open for Ramon, who had resigned last August to face trial.

But the effect of the ruling went beyond politics. Some legal experts called it an advance for women's advocates in Israel battling to redefine the boundaries between powerful men and the young women who work around them. Others said the minister's conviction was undeserved and would inspire an effort to soften one of the world's toughest statutes against sexual misconduct.

Ramon had arrived for a Cabinet meeting in Olmert's office last July 12, at the start of the war in Lebanon, when the plaintiff approached and asked him to pose with her for a photograph.

As a conscript, she had been assigned by the army to serve as secretary to Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni, Olmert's top military aide. She was nearing the end of her service and collecting souvenir photos of herself with the various officials she had met passing in and out of Olmert's office.

She and Ramon embraced as Olmert's official photographer took their picture. What happened next, after the photographer had left them alone, became the subject of a "he said, she said" standoff.

The plaintiff, known in court papers and the media only as "H" to protect her privacy, said she released her grip on Ramon and turned to leave the room. She said he pulled her back, held her cheek and planted his lips on hers, inserting his tongue in her mouth, until she pulled away. Israel's sexual harassment law, enacted in 1998, is unusually stringent; it does not require the recipient of a kiss or other sexual contact to put up physical resistance to prove lack of consent.

The judges - two women and a man - sided with H's contention that nothing she had said or done could have been reasonably interpreted by Ramon as inviting the kiss. They ruled that the act was "an explicit sex offense ... not a kiss of affection."

Richard Boudreaux writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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