I got a lesson in arithmetic on Thursday from the head of the Israel Prison Service, Aharon Franco, and I have no reason to doubt his explanation of how the deduction of a third of the sentences of two celebrities - Shlomo Benizri and Boaz Yona – led to a near-automatic early release. Assuming that their good behavior warranted a shortened sentence, there is nothing wrong with shortening their sentence further – by two months for the former Shas minister – on an administrative technicality.
While reducing a sentence by a third is at the discretion of a parole board, the administrative release is a product of computer computations. The Knesset decided recently that a prisoner incarcerated for up to four years (is it a coincidence that four years is exactly the length of Benizri’s sentence?) would be included in early administrative releases.
An early administrative release hinges on overcrowding in Israel’s prisons. Benizri and Yona were lucky enough to benefit from a recent spike in incarcerations – they were among the first prisoners to be ejected from their cells.
Yona’s release sparked understandable outrage – he was convicted of stealing NIS 118 million from would-be homeowners who entrusted him with their savings, and he even tried to flee the country. His victims suspect that he secretly still has his hands on their money, while they were forced to take out second mortgages. Yona, at least, had the decency to keep his head down and apologize to those he hurt upon his early release.
But Benizri did not have that decency. The minister who was convicted of taking bribes groveled before the parole board not two months ago. He confessed, showed remorse, declared that he understood the repercussions of his criminal acts. He was more repentant than the most righteous of men. Sweet as honey. But the moment he stepped outside the prison gates he abandoned all humility and besmirched and vilified President Shimon Peres (who denied him a pardon), former Supreme Court justice Edmond Levy, the entire legal system as well as the media. All are villains who banded together to frame him, and only he is as pure as the driven snow. Oh well, so he reverted to maintaining his innocence after confessing guilt to the parole board – the prisons are full of prisoners who view themselves as more innocent than anyone else.
One can sympathize with his family members, who welcomed him and rushed to take care of him – even Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in the role of spiritual father. But why did Shas, his party, express hope that he will continue his good deeds? What about his bad deeds? If Shas has to express an opinion, why not defend Justice Levy and President Peres and remind Benizri that he needs to cool off, to cleanse – to undergo a quarantine of sorts.
The fact that Shas has not condemned Benizri’s harsh remarks against the rule of law, and that the party has not advised the former minister to perhaps remain silent, makes Shas an accomplice to this act of undermining the court and the legal system. Did Benizri really deserve a shortened sentence, after he groveled to the parole board and turned around and used the release they granted him to go after the rule of law? There might be room to instate an appeals system to revoke releases such as these under the argument that he lied to the parole board. He was not really sorry.