The trial of former Jerusalem mayor Rabbi Uri Lupoliansky in what is known as the Holyland Affair took a surprising turn, as Rabbi Lupoliansky insisted on following fully the recommendations of HaRav Eliashiv, zt"l, even when the presiding judge suggested that there was no legal reason to continue the proceedings.
The Holyland Park apartment project was built on the grounds of the Holyland Hotel located at the southern end of the Bayit Vegan neighborhood. Built on a prominent ridge that overlooks the Begin Expressway, the distinctive series buildings, connected near their upper floors, are widely visible throughout Jerusalem.
About three years ago the media reported that the buildings were planned and approved only after several prominent politicians and public servants were bribed to enable the project's developers to overcome several legal and zoning problems. Among those since indicted over the matter are Ehud Olmert who served as mayor of Jerusalem before he went on to become Israeli prime minister.
Also indicted was Rabbi Uri Lupoliansky, the former leader of the Degel HaTorah part of United Torah Judaism. Although Rabbi Lupoliansky served as mayor of Jerusalem, the accusations against him were in the period before he became mayor of Jerusalem, and he was just the head of the United Torah Judaism party there, which was and remains the largest local party in the city. The accusations included claims that he took bribes mainly in the form of donations made to the well-known chessed organization he founded and now runs again, Yad Sarah.
After the passing of HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, Rabbi Lupoliansky told the newspaper Mercaz HaInyonim that he had thought that, knowing they were false, he would ignore the charges against him and would suffice with a lawyer from the public defender's office to represent him. "No one claims that they gave me money, but rather donated it to Yad Sarah, thinking, in his distorted mind that it would influence me," he said in an interview. "But I changed my mind after Rabbenu said it might lead to a curtailing of donations to charity organization. `Now,' HaRav Eliashiv said, `everyone who donated to a charitable cause and also happened to build out a porch could be accused of bribery! People may stop giving tzedokoh to worthy causes.' He encouraged me to be strong since I was not guilty of anything, in order for my righteousness be upheld for all to see and I emerge pure as oil. `You will be like a Kohen Godol who entered [the Kodesh Kodoshim] in peace and emerged in peace [unscathed, in one piece],' he said to me."
The main case against Rabbi Lupoliansky (and most of the others) rests on the testimony of a state witness identified only as S.D. Last week that state witness S. D., was cross examined about his testimony to the police and in court against Lupoliansky by the latter's lawyers, Amos Van Emden and Shulamit Harel-Schwartz. They were able to show that each of his claims was false, of several presented. Although unexamined charges still remained, the judge of the regional Tel Aviv court, Dan Rosen, suggested to the prosecution that it makes sense for them to come to terms with Rabbi Lupoliansky.
Judge Rosen said that he found it difficult to understand why any case was being brought against Lupoliansky in the light of the fact that there was no disagreement about the facts of the donations and that the disagreement only touched upon their differences in legal interpretation. "There is no institution worthier than Yad Sarah to be receiving support," the judge said, describing its volunteers as "tzaddikim who carry out exemplary deeds, arousing amazement." Rosen added that Lupoliansky is also no legal expert, hinting that he could not have been expected to understand at the time what was being ascribed to him later in the charge sheet.
Judge Rosen's words came after several claims against Rabbi Lupoliansky based on testimony by S. D. were heard and shown to be baseless during the course of the previous week, leaving only the aspect of the donations to Yad Sarah. S. D. said at first that he gave over to Rabbi Lupoliansky checks amounting to more than NIS 600,000 for the election campaign, but then he rescinded that testimony, admitting that he had lied. He afterwards stated that he had transferred a cash sum of 120,000 through his aide, Meir Rabin, but failed to prove that checks had been issued from his account on those said dates. It was also not proven that checks on those amounts were written and cashed at a check cashing office to be given to Lupoliansky for distribution among the `activists'. S.D. failed to deal with the question that even if that such checks were drawn, how could he prove that those sums were given over to Lupoliansky?
When S.D. was questioned where he had obtained the NIS 120,000 to begin with, he replied that Hillel Charney had given him a check for that amount. But here, too, was a discrepancy, since his bank account showed no record of such a deposit. Even his driver, Ofer, whom S. D. claimed had taken Rabin to deliver the money, denied the fact.
Another testimony given by S. D. in the hearing related to NIS 40,000 allegedly given to a kollel headed by Rabbi Lupoliansky's son and named after his deceased brother who died as a result of dental work — was found to be false. S.D. had claimed that this bribe had been given when Lupoliansky had agreed to his request to dismiss a municipal employee who had assisted in the Holyland chapter, but it came to light that this selfsame employee had been brought to trial four years before the dates that the alleged donation had been transferred to the kollel and there was no connection between the two. It also came to light that in the year in which that employee had stood on trial, the kollel had not even existed and furthermore, the child after whom the kollel was named and who had died from the dental treatment, hadn't even been born yet. It was also noted that the said check was not honored, and had bounced.
After all the false allegations were discredited, the court began dealing with contributions to Yad Sarah and even here there were discrepancies and contradictions from the very first day of the court hearing, the judge declared. The prosecution showed exaggerated involvement throughout and tried, amidst the entire whole cloth of lies, to save its case. However after hearing Judge Rosen's remarks the prosecutor replied that she understood Judge Rosen's words and was well-aware of the distinction between one who takes money to put in his own pocket and one who doesn't (referring to Lupoliansky, who stands accused only of receiving donations that went to Yad Sarah).
Judge Rosen's remarks were a clear hint to the prosecution that they should drop the case.
However at this point, Lupoliansky's lawyers, Van Amram and Harel-Schwartz, surprised the court by declaring that their client preferred not to accept at this point the Judge's suggestion for a settlement but to continue on with the cross examination of S. D. until its conclusion so that the full innocence of Rabbi Lupoliansky and the blamelessness of his life's project, Yad Sarah, be brought to full light.
Rabbi Lupoliansky was given the opportunity to fulfill HaRav Eliashiv's words by carrying on with the court hearing, and exposing each of S.D.'s charges to be false, one by one, including all the false allegations against anything connected to Yad Sarah.