If ever you need more proof that the “Israel is an apartheid state” theory is no
more legitimate than systematic discrimination itself, look no further. It has
never been so publicly refuted as in the Moshe Katsav case.
conviction of the former head of state on charges ranging from rape to
harassment gave very few reasons for pride, but one of them is the composition
of the three-judge panel who tried Katsav and found him guilty: Judges George
Karra, Miriam Sokolow and Judith Shevah. Since Israel does not have a jury
system, the identities and role of the judges is particularly
I challenge you to name any other country in the region in
which a member of a minority community and two women would be in a position to
hand down a verdict on the president. Karra, in fact, is a minority within a
minority: a Christian Arab. He wouldn’t stand a chance in most of the Muslim
world. Female judges are also not the norm there in such cases, and in some
countries, including “moderate” Saudi Arabia, a woman who is raped can be
flogged and imprisoned for finding herself in that situation.
the claims of the witnesses in full , the three judges ruled that Katsav was
guilty on all counts, except for one of the two charges of harassing a
“So, do you still believe he’s innocent?” a colleague e-mailed
me as the verdict was being handed down on December 30.
I have never
claimed Katsav was innocent. I have written, and continue to believe, that the
media acted as policeman, judge and executioner before the case even came to
court. Katsav received a fair trial in one place where it counts – in the
courtroom – but not in the press, where it is no less important. Too many of
those condemning him were acting on hearsay and no one, other than the women and
Katsav himself, knew for sure what went on behind closed doors.
concerned that the principle of a person being considered innocent until proven
guilty was too readily thrown aside by those who should know better.
THE way of modern journalism, I followed the verdict simultaneously on TV, radio
and via the Web. It was not pleasant.
This was not the open-mouthed
stupidity of Bill (“I never had sex with that woman”) Clinton, nor what the
French accept as so natural that president François Mitterrand’s mistress and
illegitimate child were offered a place of honor at his funeral.
international press also had a field day as the “sexy story” became ever more
sordid and Katsav changed from being the country’s No. 1 representative into a
The sight of women’s groups beating on drums and chanting
outside the court as Katsav’s defense was ripped to pieces by the judges did not
seem to me a celebration of justice. It brought to mind the images of the old
hags gathered around the guillotine during the French
Gloating at his downfall does nothing to benefit the victims,
either. Arguably, the media attention is one of the greatest deterrents to
victims of sex crimes weighing up whether to report an incident.
like this might not have any winners, but it does mark a turning point. It was
an unequivocal message that, in the words of the judges, “When a woman says no,
she means no.”
Even if the man is in a position of power. Even if he is
literally No. 1.
It was a reinforcement of the signal sent out in 2007,
when the court pronounced a guilty verdict against former justice minister Haim
Ramon on charges of indecent assault, and before that against former defense
minister Yitzhak Mordechai, also for indecent behavior.
For Katsav, the
conviction seemed to act as an almost physical blow. He entered the courtroom
proud and erect and left looking like a dirty old man. The witnesses (known only
by their initials) were obviously not the only ones able to resist his charms;
the judges also didn’t accept his version of events.
Judge Karra, summing
up, told Katsav he had made “a grave mistake” when he decided that instead of
facing trial for lesser charges as part of a plea bargain, he would, in Katsav’s
words, “fight until the truth comes out.”
The truth turned out to be more
disturbing than the stories sparked by his former assistant, known as “Aleph of
the President’s Residence,” whose possible blackmail attempt of Katsav marked
the start of the public stage of the saga.
While women’s groups took to
carrying placards proclaiming “We are all Aleph,” I still feel they had no right
to speak for me. After all, Aleph did not rush to the police to complain that
the president had attacked her to save her coworkers from a similar
That would have been the courageous thing to do.
according to the tapes since broadcast on Channel 2, she apparently phoned the
president and demanded huge sums of money to buy her silence.
noted before that as a journalist I can appreciate the value of leaks, but as a
citizen I find it worrying that a private discussion between the head of state
and its top legal adviser found its way directly to the country’s eager press.
It does not bode well in the long term, regardless of the
Another signal was sent from the Tel Aviv courthouse, however:
Nobody is above the law.
This, too, is a positive sign of change in the
way the country is ruled – particularly at a time when the list of lawmakers
turned lawbreakers includes former finance minister Avraham Hirchson, serving a
jail sentence for embezzlement, and former health minister Shlomo Benizri, doing
time for corruption, and when even ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert is mired in
various financial scandals.
Katsav will inevitably appeal, in the legal
sense, but the verdict itself is significant for the Knesset (which elected
him), the presidency, the media, and even the feminist
Curiously, former justice minister Yossi Beilin – from the
other side of the political and social map to Katsav – suggested this week on
Channel 1’s Politika show that President Shimon Peres should commute Katsav’s
sentence as soon as it is handed down because “it would not be right for
Israelis to see a former president in prison.” He added that Katsav’s real
punishment would be having to face his wife, children and neighbors.
trial had been traumatic for the country, Beilin said, but added: “For Israeli
democracy, this was a type of test that it passed. Something happened that
happens almost nowhere in the world, and we need to be proud of our
Although the boost to pride was welcome, Beilin’s suggestion did
not receive popular support.
Indeed, no sooner had the verdict been
handed down than calls were heard for the removal of Katsav’s sculpture from its
place among the bronze busts of all former incumbents at the President’s
Residence in Jerusalem.
Again, I found myself at odds with the public
sentiment. You cannot – or should not – rewrite history. Nothing can change the
fact that Katsav served almost a full term as head of state. Rather than remove
the bust, a line should be added to the plaque giving the dates he held the
post, and recording forever the reason he so dishonorably lost the position. It
might serve as a humbling reminder to future presidents that everyone is equal
in the eyes of the law. That does the country justice.The writer is
The International Jerusalem Post.