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Court Convicts Ex-Israeli Minister

March 21, 2001

JERUSALEM (AP) _ A court on Wednesday convicted a former Israeli defense minister and one-time candidate for prime minister of sexually assaulting and harassing two subordinates. Women’s activists praised the ruling as a watershed.

Yitzhak Mordechai, looking drawn, insisted he was innocent. ``I will take all legal action to prove my innocence,″ he said as he emerged from the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, surrounded by reporters and jeered by a group of women.

Mordechai, 55, a highly decorated former general, will be sentenced April 18. He faces seven years in prison.

``The court is sending a very clear message to men that the rules of the game have changed,″ said Israeli legislator Zehava Galon. ``Men can no longer say, `We didn’t know.‴

Until recently, Mordechai was a rising star of Israeli politics.

In 1999, he was a contender for prime minister, but dropped out of the race at the last minute to give the moderate candidate, Ehud Barak, a better chance against then-incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mordechai had served under Netanyahu as defense minister, but resigned in early 1999 because of disagreements with Netanyahu over leadership style and the breakdown of peace talks with the Palestinians.

The scandal broke a year ago, when Mordechai was transportation minister in the Barak government. An employee said Mordechai shoved her onto a couch and put his hand under her blouse.

After the accusations were made public, two other women _ a former soldier and a political activist _ came forward with accounts of unwelcome sexual advances by Mordechai.

The court on Wednesday dismissed the charges brought by the Transportation Ministry employee, saying her testimony was inconsistent, but convicted Mordechai in the other two cases.

The court rejected Mordechai’s claim that the charges were politically motivated. He resigned from his post as transportation minister once criminal charges were pressed against him in May.

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