Former president of Israel Moshe Katsav.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“Katsav! He was my neighbor!” one Kiryat Malachi resident exclaimed when asked about the former president, who was granted parole on Sunday – five years into a seven- year sentence after being convicted of two counts of rape.
Katsav is still awaiting a decision by the State Prosecutor’s Office whether to appeal his parole. If the prosecutors decline to appeal, Katsav will be released to Kiryat Malachi, his hometown, this coming Sunday.
Despite being shamed in large segments of Israeli society, in Kiryat Malachi the convicted rapist is still admired – some are even calling for him to run for mayor. Katsav, who rose from an immigrant transit camp to mayor of Kiryat Malakhi and became Israel’s eighth president, is seen as a hometown hero.
On virtually every block of the city of 22,000, it’s common to find someone with a direct connection and strong affinity for Katsav.
“I knew Katsav when I was a kid, we played together,” said Yitzhak Makmal, 71. “He is a good man, and he was always good. The media have attacked him enough. Let him go already, he’s an old man.”
Former city councilman Eli Azrieli said Katsav could become mayor if he chose to run. “The majority of the people here love him. He grew up here, we know his family and he was the best mayor there was,” Azrieli said explaining the city’s support for Katsav.
“Look at [Interior Minister] Arye Deri. He did something worse – he stole from the country and now look where he is,” Azrieli said responding to criticism of Katsav. “When will they leave him alone? When he is dead?” Makmal and Azrieli, like many of the older men in Kiryat Malachi who spoke with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, believe that Katsav is not guilty.
Katsav himself still has not publicly expressed remorse for his crimes, although his parole board on Sunday said he has taken some steps to indicate remorse.
“Katsav is good man. It’s time he was released,” said Yitzhak Atia, 62. “I can’t say what everyone here thinks. But he was a good mayor and did good things for the city.”
Kiryat Malachi, which means the “City of Angels,” was established in 1951 as an immigrant transit camp southeast of Tel Aviv, for Jews displaced from Muslim countries. Eventually the camp grew into one of Israel’s development towns, where the charismatic Katsav established himself as mayor at the age of 24.
The lower-income city experienced an influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, expanding and diversifying the population in the 1990s.
While many men were open to expressing their views on Katsav, women were more reticent. “There are a lot of people here that really love him and support him,” said one woman who asked to remain anonymous.
“I feel bad for the victim, she struggled a lot. But he should be freed at this age, he has spent enough time in jail and it has been really hard for the family. But I don’t think he should return to politics. I hope he has a new, clean, and quite life.”
Nevertheless, if Katsav does decides to run for mayor he has a chance of winning, according to Azrieli, who added, “If he runs, I’m voting for him.”