For nearly five years, former president Moshe Katsav, who will next month begin a seven-year prison sentence for rape and other sexual offences, has accused the Israeli media of mounting a witch hunt against him.
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Way back in January 2007, he held a news conference at the President’s Residence where he was still incumbent, and in a long tirade attempted to defend himself. Veteran news reporter and anchorman Gadi Sukenik, then a Channel 2 news anchor, could take Katsav’s diatribe no longer, and seemingly forgetting where he was or the fact that he was speaking to the president of the State, entered into an acrimonious exchange with Katsav. At the time Katsav, was only suspected of wrongdoing and had not yet been charged or tried – other than by the media.
It’s not surprising that he was so negatively disposed toward the media even though early in his own career, he had been a journalist himself, working for Yediot Aharonot.
What had initially sparked his wrath was the fact that his July, 2006 complaint to then attorney-general Menahem Mazuz that he was being blackmailed by a former employee, was promptly leaked to Amnon Abramovitch who was then the political commentator for Channel 2. Katsav had sought the advice of Yaakov Neeman, who is today the minister of justice. Neeman had counseled him to talk to Mazuz, and the next thing Katsav knew, the story was on television.
The story was so juicy the media had to embellish.
Journalists who had covered the Knesset and the government during the
periods in which Katsav was an MK and a minister, knowingly told
colleagues that he’d always had a reputation, and they were not
surprised to learn that he had forced his attentions on several women.
One might ask why they were so silent when Katsav’s name was first proposed as a candidate for president.
Katsav held another news conference, in the southern town of Kiryat
Malachi where he lives, but it was little more than a three-hour ramble
plus another heated verbal exchange – this time with Ma’ariv’s Shalom
The media continued to treat Katsav as a sex offender long before the justice system gave him his day in court.
During the long months of trial, Katsav barely exchanged a word with
anyone from the media, and might have continued giving the media the
cold shoulder but for the fact that he now needs the media – even if
they are not necessarily on his side.
After all, until he goes to jail, he’s still a good story. Even after he
goes to jail he’ll be a good story until President Shimon Peres decides
whether or not to pardon him.
Katsav has been a real headache to Peres, casting an indelible blot on the presidency.
But more than that, various groups are now demanding that Katsav’s bust
be removed from the row of statues of former presidents of the state
that stand side by side in the garden of the Presidential Residence.
Peres has so far refrained from heeding such calls, saying that one
can’t change history, and whether one likes it or not, Katsav was a
president of the State of Israel. Removing his bust won’t erase that
Then there’s also the problem of whether to give Katsav a pardon. Peres
has not pardoned other sex offenders, so there’s no reason to suppose
that his attitude would change just because the convicted sex offender
happens to be his immediate predecessor in office.
But Katsav lives in hope, and the only way that he can actually
communicate with Peres is via the media. Certain journalists have
expressed surprise that while every Tom, Dick and Harry or their Hebrew
language equivalents have voiced opinions about Katsav’s conviction, his
pardon and the man himself, Peres has remained silent.
The fact of the matter is, he can’t say anything one way or the other,
because to do so would be to intimate whether or not he will grant the
It’s not entirely his decision anyway. Pardons and clemency are granted
in consultation with the Justice Ministry. Ironically, Peres has to
consult with Neeman who guided Katsav to his doom in the first instance.
Throughout his trial, Katsav never expressed regret, which was one of the cardinal counts against him.
Now, in interviews that he’s given to the media, he has said that if he
hurt anyone, he apologizes. That’s still not the same as saying that
he’s sorry for what he did.
To do that would be an admission of guilt, and Katsav has not yet
reached the stage where he’s going to say that the women who complained
against him were telling the truth. In fact he may never say that,
because if he says that, his family, which supported him to the hilt,
could decide to abandon him, this being the last straw in the
humiliation and embarrassment he has caused them. So Katsav, using the
media, will continue to protest his innocence to fight to restore his
reputation, but will open the door of regret, just a crack, as he
already has done.
Female MKs are not cutting him any slack. Most of them think that a
seven-year sentence is not long enough, and in interviews on radio and
television they have been scathing in their reactions to his
Katsav is in all likelihood going to jail, where like Arye Deri, Avraham
Hirchson and Shlomo Ben-Izri, he will get used to the system, and
perhaps – finally – feel remorse for his actions.