President Reuven Rivlin’s spokeswoman issued a statement of clarification on Sunday after reports over the weekend that he and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked favor pardoning or commuting the sentence of former president Moshe Katsav, who has served almost five years of a seven-year sentence for rape and other sexual offenses.
According to the statement, Rivlin has not supported the idea of giving clemency to Katsav, and will discuss the possibility only if the matter comes up in an appeal directed to his office.
Even then, he will not make a decision without consulting with the Justice Ministry and taking into account all the relevant factors, as all his predecessors have done when appeals for clemency or pardons were put to them.
Shaked’s spokeswoman said that, contrary to reports, she has not yet taken a position on the matter. Rather, she views the issue as not having arrived on her desk, and she will not prejudge or try to sway the parole board’s upcoming ruling on the matter.
In response to the possibility that Katsav’s sentence may be commuted, MKs Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) and Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) proposed a bill by which a president who wants to pardon a criminal will have to consult with the court that convicted and sentenced him or her.
“The institution of presidential pardons is already problematic, as it is run by a political person,” Gal-On said. “In order to prevent political pressure or considerations in pardons, the president should not be able to pardon someone without seeking the advice of the court.”
Gal-On added that leading public figures such as Katsav “must take responsibility and not circumvent the parole board, especially in this kind of case.”
The bill is not meant to take away the president’s authority to grant pardons, she added. Rather, it is meant to give the court a chance to tell the president its considerations.
The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel sent a letter to Rivlin and Shaked, expressing opposition to pardoning Katsav.
“Sex crimes are unique and cause one of the greatest traumas that a person can undergo,” the letter reads.
“Rape and sexual assault are murder of the soul, and the price the victims pay is unbearable. It often takes years until the victims are able to function fully and normatively. In light of these unique aspects of sexual crimes, rules were set for commuting criminals’ sentences. Among other things, they must take responsibility and internalize the severity of their deeds.
“Moshe Katsav never took responsibility for his actions and denies them to this day, and therefore never received rehabilitation therapy in prison as other sex criminals are given,” the letter continues.
ARCCI pointed out that many women do not report sexual abuse to the police, in part because they feel a lack of support from law enforcement and the public, and a pardon would send victims a destructive message that a rapist deserves to be pardoned simply because he held a lofty position.
“Katsav is a serial sex offender, and the fact that he is a former president should not be a consideration in favor of his release, rather, the opposite is true. Not only did he never regret his deeds, but he spread lies about his victims and continued psychologically torturing them during the trial. The thought of an early release is outrageous and unacceptable,” the organization added.
Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.