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Convicted Shas MK to be Replaced by Ethiopian Rabbi

Shas MK Shlomo Benizri, sentenced to 1.5 years in prison and an 80,000-shekel fine, will be replaced in the Knesset by an Ethiopian rabbi.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 4/27/2008, 5:24 PM

Shas MK Shlomo Benizri, sentenced to 1.5 years in prison and an 80,000-shekel fine, will be replaced in the Knesset by Ethiopian Rabbi Mazor Bahaina.  The court ruled also that Benizri's crimes bore a "mark of shame," thus banning him from serving in public office for the next ten years. 

In addition, Benizri's membership in the Knesset is automatically suspended - though he has said he will resign only when he appeals the verdict.  He will be replaced in the Knesset by the next-in-line on the Shas party list, heretofore nationally unknown Rabbi Mazor Bahaina.  If Benizri is successful in his appeal, he can return to the Knesset in place of Bahaina.

Rabbi Bahaina Walked to Sudan
Contacted by Arutz-7, Rabbi Bahaina said he immigrated to Israel at the age of 11 in 1982 (nine years before the weekend airlift of nearly 15,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in Operation Shlomo). "We walked from Ethiopia to Sudan, and there we waited in camps until being brought to Israel," he studied.  Young Mazor studied in the Yeshivat HaDarom yeshiva high school in Rehovot, then in a hareidi-religious yeshiva in Bnei Brak, then in the Sephardic yeshiva Porat Yosef in Jerusalem.  Known as a Torah scholar, he ran many social-educational projects in Jerusalem and Be'er Sheva.  He now serves as the rabbi of the 10,000-strong Ethiopian Jewish community in Be'er Sheva, and is a member of the Be'er Sheva Municipal Council.

Asked where he stands on the matter of Shas Party membership in a government coalition that is apparently negotiating the splitting up and handover of Jerusalem, the future MK said, "Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, the light and Torah giant of the generation, clearly knows what is going on, and as long as he says that they are not discussing Jerusalem, then that is the truth..."

Benizri's Sentence
The Jerusalem District Court handed down the sentence to Benizri on Sunday.  The categorization of the crime as one bearing a "mark of shame" had been the subject of much media speculation over the past three weeks, ever since Benizri was convicted of accepting bribes from a Jerusalem contractor. Benizri said he would not resign on his own, but would rather await the court's final ruling.
 
The Prosecution had asked for a seven-year sentence, but did not appear to be disappointed by the judgment. "The sentence expresses the severity of Benizri's actions," a prosecution representative stated.  Benizri, who continues to protest his innocence, has said he will appeal the verdict, and the beginning of his jail sentence has therefore been postponed by at least 25 days.

Minister of Labor at the time of the alleged bribes, and a former secular Jew and army veteran who later turned to religious Judaism, MK Benizri was convicted of having shared information with personnel contractor Moshe Sela about government decisions regarding foreign worker quotas.  In exchange, the court ruled that he received payments, furniture, an air conditioning system, and donations to a charity fund from Sela, who later turned State's witness.