Israelis deny plot as Norris supporters continue to defect
Aras-bid backers silent as storm rages over rape mercy plea
Published 01/08/2011 | 07:24
ISRAEL was last night forced to deny any involvement in the controversy that has left Senator David Norris's presidential campaign in tatters.
His hopes were badly hit over the weekend after it was revealed he wrote a letter seeking clemency for his former partner Ezra Yizhak Nawi, who was convicted of having sex with a 15-year-old boy. Despite the furore, Mr Norris promised to continue his attempts to gather the 20 nominations he needs to enter the presidential race.
But many of his backers were silent last night and key members of his campaign team have quit.
Key supporter and Independent TD Maureen O'Sullivan said Mr Norris had been "targeted in a particularly nasty way".
As the internet went wild with claims of Israeli involvement in publicising the case, the Israeli embassy in Dublin intervened to deny involvement.
Last night the Irish internet blogger who recently reignited the controversy over Nawi's criminal past admitted he was motivated to publicise the case by his own pro-Israeli views.
Mr Norris has been a critic of Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people -- but has also always defended the state's right to exist.
But blogger John Connolly (22), based in London, said he had not been in contact with the Israeli authorities before publishing details of Ezra Nawi's conviction.
Instead he said he felt a "bit betrayed" and now believes the person who tipped him off about Nawi's past was a supporter of Michael D Higgins.
"I think now that in fact this person was sympathetic to Michael D Higgins, and perhaps had the idea of getting Norris out of the race for Higgins to eat up his votes," he said last night.
There is no suggestion that Mr Higgins himself, or anyone associated with his campaign, had any involvement in the revelations.
Last night, Mr Higgins said: "I can tell you that it was certainly not anybody in my campaign, or anyone associated with me in any way. I don't approve of, or indulge, in that kind of politics."
The latest controversy to haunt Mr Norris concerns the letter, written on Seanad notepaper, sent to Israeli authorities pleading for clemency for his former partner.
It concerned Nawi's conviction for statutory rape of a 15-year-old Palestinian boy in 1997. Statutory rape is sex with a person below the legal age of consent.
According to the letters, released by Mr Norris himself over the weekend, he asked an Israeli court to show "mercy" to Nawi, then aged 45.
Mr Norris had been involved in a relationship with Nawi since 1975, but their relationship ended in 1985 -- seven years before the offence took place.
In his letter to the High Court in Jerusalem, Mr Norris said he felt secure in the knowledge that Nawi would not offend again and referred to the risk that the man might attempt suicide in prison.
"I earnestly beg that the court may see the possibility of securing justice not by sending him to prison but by imposing a non-custodial sentence," he said.
The details of Mr Norris's attempts to help Nawi after he was convicted of statutory rape have almost certainly doomed his chance of getting a nomination from 20 TDs and senators.
His close friend Fergus Finlay -- who attempted unsuccessfully to become the Labour candidate for the Presidency -- called on Mr Norris to pull out of the race.
And Independent Dublin North Central TD Finian McGrath said he was considering his support for Mr Norris in the wake of the revelations.
"I had a very detailed conversation with him and I'm studying the letters at the moment," he said.
So far, Independent TDs such as Maureen O'Sullivan and Mick Wallace are standing by him, as is newly elected senator Professor John Crown.
Ms O'Sullivan complained that Mr Norris had been targeted "in a particularly nasty way" ever since his campaign began.
"Those early opinion polls showed him very far ahead, and the way in which his words were taken out of context, and the way they were sensationalised in those articles earlier on so I've no doubt that there's some campaign against him."
Although Mr Norris was not contactable last night, he needs to keep the 14 TDs and senators who previously announced they were backing him. And he will need five more Oireachtas members -- plus his own vote -- to get into the October 27 contest.
Mr Norris's campaign was already embroiled in controversy earlier in the summer when comments made in 2002 about sexual activity between older and younger men and boys resurfaced.
Mr Norris is among a raft of other candidates seeking nomination and has been tipped as favourite in early polls.
In another bizarre twist, it emerged last night that Mr Higgins personally met Nawi in Hebron in 2005 during a visit there by the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs committee. At the time, Nawi was trying to open a health clinic for the Palestinians there.