Facing scandal, Israel's president may lose some privileges
January 25, 2000
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel's embattled president, Ezer Weizman, may agree to curtail some of his responsibilities amid dwindling public popularity in the wake of a financial scandal.
Justice Minister Yossi Beilin demanded Monday that Weizman -- under investigation for possible tax evasion and failure to report cash gifts -- stop swearing in judges and granting pardons to prisoners.
"Two very important and delicate functions, swearing in judges and granting clemency, should not be fulfilled by the president himself in the near future, while he is under investigation by the police," Beilin said.
Weizman, 75, has admitted accepting money from French millionaire Edouard Sarousi between 1988 and 1993, the year he became president, but has denied that this was a bribe.
He also says the money he received from Sarousi is less than the $453,000 alleged by Yoav Yitzhak, the Israeli journalist who broke the story last month. Weizman will not say how much it is.
It's likely Weizman will agree to end his swearing-in and clemency duties, lawyer Yaakov Weinroth indicated. "It is possible that we will accept some limitation," Weinroth told Israel army radio. "We will reach an agreement with the minister of justice on this matter, because he has a point."
If the applications for clemency or the appointments of the new judges are not urgent, Weizman may agree to postpone them, Weinroth added.
Weizman, who was to swear in a group of new judges next week, did not indicate if he agreed to the demand. Asked Monday whether he would continue to carry out all of his duties, including those linked to the law, the former fighter pilot said: "Yes, absolutely."
Israeli newspapers Monday joined criticism by politicians from the left and the right that Weizman has not been forthright in answering the specific charges against him.
Before the scandal broke last month, hawkish legislators had blasted Weizman for his active involvement in the peace process, saying he was damaging the integrity of a position that was supposed to be above politics. Now many say his personal integrity is at stake as well.
But Weizman remains defiant, a trait celebrated by Israelis as emblematic of the country's scrappy, tough national character. In a rare broadcast speech Sunday, he declared he would not "abandon" his office.
However, 50 percent of those surveyed in an opinion poll taken after Weizman's three-minute speech said he should resign or go on leave, up from 41 percent Thursday.
Of the 449 people who participated in the poll for YediothAhronoth newspaper, 38 percent said he should not resign,compared with 39 percent last week.
Weizman tried to maintain the fighting mood Monday at atree-planting ceremony to mark an Israeli holiday known as the New Year of the Trees. Banging on a microphone that was not working, he remarked, "Give it a kick at the right place and it'll work."
But the upbeat mood disappeared while Weizman attended a ceremony to mark the 51st anniversary of the founding of parliament. Facing a long silence after being announced by the usher, he said "good evening" and slumped into the seat of honor.
The Weizman scandal follows a series of corruption investigations of senior Israeli political officials.
"When you listen to the street ... the expression that hits us everywhere is that 'all of you are corrupt,' " Parliament Speaker Avraham Burg said.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are being investigated by police on suspicion they illegally kept gifts they should have turned over to the state.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak was recently questioned by the state comptroller about campaign financing in last May's general election.
Former Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi was indicted last week for alleged illegal activity relating to his role in a nonprofit road safety organization.
Aryeh Deri, the former leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, was sentenced to four years in prison last year for accepting bribes while he was interior minister in the 1980s. He has appealed to the Supreme Court.
Israel's scandal-hit Weizman says he won't quit
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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