Debate on Prisoners’ Pardons Mars Israel’s Jubilee Preparations

Plans for Israel’s 50th anniversary celebrations hit another snag this week.

Yitzhak Moda’i, chairman of the committee for the jubilee celebrations, sparked a debate with his suggestion that President Ezer Weizman, in consultation with the Justice Minister Tzachi hanegbi, should consider a general amnesty in conjunction with the jubilee.

Moda’i tried to soften some of the criticisms directed at him by saying that he did not support a sweeping amnesty for all prisoners.

He proposed, instead, the establishment of an apolitical committee, comprised of public figures, to consult with the president on the pardons.

Meanwhile, in the Knesset, a separate amnesty initiative was underway, with attorney Menachem Shizaf lobbying legislators to pass an amnesty bill.

The initiative drew some suggestions that Shizaf was involved in an effort to secure a pardon for Shas Knesset member Aryeh Deri, who is on trial for fraud and corruption charges.

Shizaf categorically denied this, adding that the amnesty would apply only to “criminals convicted of lighter offenses, such as theft, fraud, white collar crime.”

“There is no plan to release murderers, rapists or hardened criminals,” he said.

For his part, Deri sent a letter to Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein this week in which he said he had no part in the initiative.

Deri added that if a general amnesty was granted as part of the celebrations marking the founding of the Jewish state, he would not want it to apply to him.

Labor Party Knesset member Ophir Pines has introduced a bill that would prevent the president from giving any pardons for the 50th anniversary.

The last time a general amnesty was implemented was following the 1967 Six-Day War, with the release of 501 prisoners, about one-third of the prison population at the time.

The amnesty debate is just one of several problems that have plagued preparations for Israel’s 50th anniversary.

Of the original seven-member planning committee, only four remain, and the number of events have been scaled down in the face of budgetary concerns. The government has budgeted some $33 million for the anniversary events.

Moda’i became chairman after Tourism Minister Moshe Katzav stepped down from the position, saying he had confronted too many obstacles while trying to plan the events.

Some of the anniversary plans were unveiled this week. They include:

an Israel Defense Force air show in Ramat Gan;

a rally at the Hebrew University amphitheater in Jerusalem;

exhibits in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheba;

an economic conference in Jerusalem; and

a Purim parade in Tel Aviv.

Reflecting some of the confusion and disagreements that have marked the preparations, the start of the commemorations, which was recently postponed from Chanukah to Independence Day, has now been rescheduled to its original date, Dec. 23, with a candlelighting ceremony at the president’s residence in Jerusalem.

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