Even as women’s rights groups hailed the decision Thursday by the Tel Aviv District Court to convict former president Moshe Katsav on two counts of rape, sexual assault and other sexual abuse crimes, some told The Jerusalem Post that the new battle was to ensure the one-time statesman is also stripped of the privileges and benefits he receives as a former president.

“We welcome the judges’ decision in this case and are happy that the victim’s testimonies were finally recognized and accepted,” Ronit Erenfroind- Cohen, head of the Department for the Advancement of Women at the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), told the Post after the verdict was handed down. “However, there is still the issue that he [Katsav] is receiving all his benefits from the State of Israel, and the government must look into this.”

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According to the women’s rights organizations interviewed by the Post, the former president is still eligible to collect his pension for serving as Israel’s eighth president from 2000- 2007, as well as other benefits such as a driver and even a secretary to manage his business affairs.

“[Katsav] is an embarrassment to the State of Israel and he is a rapist. He needs to accept the consequences,” continued Erenfroind-Cohen. “I think as a nation we need to all to do some soul-searching and ask ourselves how, despite prior knowledge of his violent behavior, he was elected president.”

According to the charge sheet, the main victim, known as “Aleph,” had worked for Katsav when he was tourism minister from 1996-1999.

Michal Rozin, executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI), who was inside the courtroom when the guilty verdict was read out, said that Katsav’s name should not necessarily be removed from the list of those that had served as presidents but rather should be used to prompt Israeli society to take a long, hard look at itself.

“I still don’t believe that a president of the State of Israel has been found guilty of rape. I think it is a sad day for the State of Israel,” she said. “It is time for the state to look inside itself and ask whether it is justified that he still receives a salary or a driver and staff.”

ARCCI was among the women’s groups that continued to organize protests outside each of Katsav’s trial hearings to show support for his accusers.

“This ruling is a big victory. We never doubted that these women were telling the truth and that he was lying,” said Rozin. “This is a man who was given power and he totally abused it.”

She also pointed out that this ruling would now give strength to other women who had been victims of sex crimes to come forward and speak out.

“We have already noted a large increase today in the number of people calling our hotline [at 1202, for victims of rape and sexual assault],” said Rozin. “There is no doubt that this is a big step forward for this issue.”

“This ruling will give strength and power to all women in this country,” concurred Na’amat President Talia Livni, who highlighted that it was a very important day for Israeli justice.

“I see this as a big victory because it shows that the system is able to uphold the law and make sure justice is found,” she said, adding, however, that the question remains “how he got chosen to be president.”

“There were stories about his behavior towards women before he became president, so how did he come to be elected?,” asked Livni, a trained attorney. “We need to look into this now and make sure it does not happen again.”

Nurit Tsur, director of the Israel Women’s Network, also welcomed Thursday’s ruling, saying, however, that the role of public prosecutors needed also to be examined after attorney-general Menahem Mazuz attempted to reach a plea bargain with Katsav when the case was first brought to trial more than three years ago.

“Of course this is a very important day, but we are still not celebrating yet,” said Tsur. “We are very happy with the courts because this case needed to be heard, but the role of prosecutors must be examined after they tried to make an agreement before it could even reach court.”

Tsur also emphasized that the courts should ensure Katsav receives the maximum punishment for his crimes.

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