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Moshe Katzav vs. Israeli Judges

Former State President Katsav Disgraced But Israeli Court Stands Test Of Justice For All Citizens Before The Law

IsraCast Proposal: Photos & Sculptures Of Former President Should Now Be Removed From Public Places & Replaced With Simple Plaque Stating Moshe Katsav Served As President From 2000-2007

Moshe Katzav

 The sordid saga of former President Moshe Katsav appears to be drawing to a close. Barring unforeseen circumstances, and there have been many in this deplorable affair, the prosecution and defense will now present arguments as to the punishment that should now be meted out to Katsav after his conviction on two counts of rape and several other lesser charges of sexual harassment. The three judges will then rule on the sentence after which Katsav's lawyers say they will appeal to the Supreme Court

 For Israel, the year 2010 exited with the greatest political disgrace in history. Former President Moshe Katsav was an Israeli success story. The son of Iraqi Jewish refugees, Katsav had risen from his humble home in an immigrant camp camp, to pursue a brilliant political career that peaked in the year 2000 when the Knesset elected him Israel's eighth state president. He had run against no less than Shimon Peres. But out of the limelight, there was a far darker side to Katsav, a squalid, secretive world where this outstanding public official pursued another sort of life. Three judges, who sat on the bench of the Tel Aviv District Court ruled, after hearing weeks of closed door testimony from four of his female employees, that Katsav was a 'serial sex criminal'. They found him guilty of two crimes of rape and other sexual offenses. Katsav has yet to be sentenced - under Israeli law, rape is punishable by up to sixteen years in prison.

Moshe Katzav

Although Katsav's lawyers say they will appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court, legal experts say there is only a slim chance that it will be overturned. There is no jury system in Israel, verdicts are handed down by professional judges who are not expected to be swayed by public opinion. They are tasked with weighing the evidence impartially and reaching their verdict on a strictly legal assessment of the testimony. Nonetheless, Katsav's lawyers have alleged the unanimous verdict indicated the judges were unduly influenced by public sentiment and their client did not get a fair hearing. This is likely to be the basis for their appeal to the Supreme Court. However, the court also found that Katsav lied repeatedly, while the four female victims had presented convincing testimony. (Several other women were barred by the statute of limitations from testifying in court against Katsav. Another female employee who said she had been raped by Katsav at the time she served as an aide in the President's office, did not testify, because the prosecution had previously thought that her testimony would not stand up in court. The fact that more than ten women were ready to press charges against Katsav was what drove the police investigation against the former president. Neither Katsav, nor his lawyers, could provide any reasonable grounds for their claim of a 'conspiracy' against the former state president. Yoav Sekalovitch, the chief police investigator has now said: "I knew Katsav was lying five minutes after I started questioning him!"

One of the most extraordinary aspects of the case was Katsav was offered a plea bargain by the prosecution that would have had him admit to minor sexual misdemeanors which would not meant jail time. His lawyers had started floating the idea that although Katsav was innocent the former president simply wanted to put the affair behind him and his family rather than go through a protracted trial. However Katsav, in a dramatic turnabout at the eleventh hour and against the advice of his lawyers, rejected the plea bargain declaring he was totally innocent while expressing confidence he would get a fair shake in court. On another level, Katsav also insisted that he had no contact of a sexual nature with any of his female employees, rather than contending that it had been by mutual consent. Apparently the body of evidence and the veracity of the sworn testimony from his victims in the courtroom became so dominant that Katsav's defense collapsed before the eyes and ears of the judges.

Shimon Peres (Photo: Amit Shabi)

The picture emerging is that Katsav dictated his defense strategy to his team of attorneys which included some of the top criminal lawyers in the country. By his very hand, Katsav set the process in motion that will almost certainly send him to prison. Moreover, now that he has been proven guilty of the crimes, it is reasonable to assume that Katsav must have been aware of the risk he was running by not accepting the plea bargain. In opting for his day in court, Katsav apparently ignored the fact that his victims would be on an equal footing in the courtroom. If so, Katsav erred if he thought the judges sitting on high, would look down on his female accusers who dared slander the august president of the state of Israel. On the contrary, as current President Shimon Peres was quick to note: "The judges proved that all citizens are treated equally in an Israeli court!" At present, after the guilty verdict and before the sentencing, the country is still baffled by Katsav's behaviour that perhaps points to a state of hubris. As defined by Wikipedia hubris is a state of 'extreme arrogance, out of touch with reality, overestimating one's own competence especially by people in positions of power'. On the basis of his behavior, Katsav appears to be fall under all these catagories.

However although the vast majority of Israelis, if not all, were disheartened and disgusted that their president could be guilty of such dastardly crimes, they could take consolation that Israel is one of the few countries in the world where the full rigor of the legal system is brought to bear upon its most prestigious public figures. At the same time, Katsav's sordid side as a sexual predator who preyed on his female employees, must have been known to some of his aides, political colleagues and reporters. I admit that as a political reporter for more than three decades I knew Moshe Katsav as an affable and cooperative public figure. However when the story first broke four and a half years ago, one of my journalistic colleagues told me how a distraught female employee of Katsav had once telephoned him and asked to meet privately. She later recounted how Katsav, then a cabinet minister, had made insulting sexual advances to her. She and the reporter had agreed to meet again to discuss what to do next. However, the woman telephoned him again saying to forget everything - she was afraid Katsav would have her fired and blackballed from ever getting another job. The reporter assumed that Katsav's people had warned the employee of the consequences in no uncertain terms. For his part, the reporter's hands were tied. If he reported anything of the private conversation and she later refused to verify it, the reporter and his newspaper could have been sued by Katsav for libel.

Footnote: A public debate has begun over how to relate now to the disgraced president after his downfall. Some Knesset members have called for the removal of photos of Katsav both in the Knesset and other public places or schools. On the other hand, there is another school of opinion that contends that it is impossible 'to rewrite history' and the photos should remain as a reminder of Katsav's ignominy. IsraCast would like to propose a compromise. Photos and sculptures of Israel's former presidents and other public figures, as everywhere, are designed to adulate and present a persona to be admired. However will it not now be ludicrous in the case of Katsav who was not only Israel's president but also a rapist? Therefore, photos and sculptures of Katsav should be removed and replaced by a simple plaque stating the historical fact that Moshe Katsav served as Israel's president from 2000-2007 and was forced to resign prematurely. Perhaps there could be one other historical fact for those who are worried about rewriting history - the Hebrew expression: 'There are judges in Jerusalem!'

David Essing

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