THE ex-lover of former presidential candidate David Norris claims he did not know the 15-year-old boy he had sex with was underage.
Human rights activist Ezra Yizhak Nawi (60) insisted to friends he was not a paedophile and claimed the boy assured him he was over 16 -- the age of consent in Israel.
An Arab Jew born to Iraqi immigrants, Nawi fought a five-year legal battle, involving two appeals, to avoid being jailed for the statutory rape of the boy.
However, he was sentenced to six months in prison after a plea bargain was finally accepted by the Jerusalem High Court in September 1997, records obtained by the Irish Independent revealed.
It was before this High Court appeal that Mr Norris intervened on Nawi's behalf, pleading for clemency and a non-custodial sentence.
The pair had become lovers after meeting in the 1970s.
The revelation of the letter -- 14 years after the final appeal -- led to the collapse this week of Mr Norris's presidential bid.
The Irish Independent has learned that the prosecution struggled from the outset to make a case against Nawi as the victim was reluctant to give evidence against the openly gay campaigner.
The passage of time between the offence and the appeals process also created difficulties for the Israeli authorities, according to a ruling issued by the Jerusalem High Court.
Last night, an award winning Israeli director who spent five years filming Nawi for the 2007 documentary 'Citizen Nawi' said Nawi told him he did not know the boy, a Palestinian, was underage.
"Nawi did not know the age of the boy and the boy told him that he was over 16," said Nissim Mossek, director of Biblical Productions.
"He is not afraid to be arrested or put in jail, but he is not at all a paedophile. He made a mistake, he went to jail and he has paid his debt to society."
Mr Mossek said Nawi was a genuine and honest person who had been "very courageous" in his fight for Palestinians.
Nawi was originally prosecuted and convicted of the statutory rape of the boy in 1992.
After a series of appeals he was eventually jailed in November 1997, but was released just three months into the sentence.
A self-employed plumber whose work as a human rights activist has been endorsed by figures such as Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky, Nawi has a number of other convictions, according to Israeli media reports.
These included convictions for the illegal use of a weapon, possession of drugs for personal use, entering a closed military area and threatening behaviour.
His supporters claim many of the prosecutions -- including a high-profile assault conviction that triggered a worldwide petition signed by more than 20,000 people -- were politically motivated.
"I would not be surprised if the Israeli government was involved," Mr Mossek said in reference to the release of Mr Norris's letter asking for clemency for his former partner.
The Israeli embassy has denied its government had any involvement.
Nawi's profile in Israel as a left-wing activist rapidly grew when he joined the Jewish-Arab activist group Ta'ayush in 2000.
Ta'ayush founding member Amiel Vard told the Irish Independent that Nawi's fellow activists had been unaware of the rape conviction until Mr Norris's political crisis was covered in an Israeli newspaper this week.
The original prosecution was not widely reported in Israel.
Retired Judge Vardi Zeiler, the former president of the Israeli District Court who chaired the first appeal, told the Irish Independent that he had no recollection of the case.
Israeli politician and lawyer Roni Bar On, the former attorney general who was credited with securing the original conviction, also had no recollection, according to his office.