The decision by Tel Aviv District Judge David Rosen on Thursday to sentence former Jerusalem Mayor Rabbi Uri Lupolianski to six years in prison as part of the larger Holyland case elicited shock among the many supporters of Rabbi Lupolianski as well as to legal experts. Throughout the Holyland trial, Judge Rosen seemed immensely sympathetic to Rabbi Lupolianski, a former mayor who is the founder of the Yad Sarah medical chessed organization, which has benefited countless people across the country.
During the trial, the judged praised Rabbi Lupolianski’s work, and when the verdict in the case was handed down, the judge acknowledged that Rabbi
Lupolianski did not take any money to his own pocket, and the questionable donations claimed by the prosecutors in the case went only to Yad Sarah.
Lupolianski’s attorneys insisted that no proof was found between the donations to Yad Sarah and the advance of the Holyland Project.
The judge had backed repeated requests by the police and legal figures, for Lupolianski to sign a plea bargain, in which he would admit that some of the donations the organization received were problematic. But Rabbi Lupolianski, convinced of his innocence, decided to follow the advice of his supporters and go to trial.
The rest of the verdicts in the cases have already been handed down; Rabbi Lupolianski’s was delayed due to his ill health; he was diagnosed with cancer four years ago.
Oncology and hematology experts testified that a prison sentence would be life-threatening for Rabbi Lupolianski, but the judge preferred to adopt the opinion of the Prisons’ Service that the defendant would be able to receive suitable medical treatment in prison as well.
Senior legal personalities said yesterday that they could not understand the judge’s logic, both by preferring the Prisons’ Service opinion over those of renowned experts in the medical field that applies to Rabbi Lupolianski’s illness. They also questioned the judge’s determination that a donation to an institution could be classified as bribery, because, if that is the case, there could be a linkage to bribery in almost every chessed organization.
Immediately after the sentencing, Rabbi Lupolianski’s lawyers said they plan to appeal to the High Court on both the guilty verdict and the sentence.
They also could not find any congruity between the harsh sentence and the judge’s own statements: “Lupolianski sought throughout his life to do good for the community to whom he belonged and for the public at large. One can say he devoted his life to tzedakah and chessed. He did not seek to benefit from it, or to live a luxurious life.”
With that, Rosen wrote, “Even though Lupolianski did not take the bribes for himself, the bribe money served to increase his power and influence and he won many public roles because of his success at Yad Sarah.” Ultimately, the judge’s sentence seemed to contradict many of the sentiments that he had himself expressed.
Upon his exit from the courtroom, Rabbi Lupolianski had only one thing to say to the media: “Gam ki eilech b’gei tzalmaves lo ira ra ki Atah imadi — even when I walk in the valley of death, I will not fear because You are with me.”