Moshe Katsav 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Moshe Katsav’s conviction for rape, sexual assault and harassment truly is “a
sad day for Israel,” as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu aptly noted
It is a bitter end to Katsav’s “rags to riches” story of a poor
Iranian immigrant turned president. He had been a trailblazer for ambitious
young men and women from Sephardi families who hoped to reach positions of power
in what had been an Ashkenazi-dominated political world.
In light of his
tremendous success, Katsav’s fall is all the more painful. This was most evident
in Kiryat Malachi, the town where Katsav grew up and was later elected mayor at
the record young age of 24. The reactions of residents there, many of whom had
known Katsav for most of his life, ranged from denial to disgust, to fierce
anger at his betrayal.
The Katsav conviction also sullied Israel’s name
internationally. Foreign news media, rarely anything but eager to slam the
Jewish state, pounced on the juicy story of Israel’s figure-head turning out to
be a base sex offender.
“Ex-leader of Israel declared serial rapist,”
read a prominently placed headline on Pravda
’s website. Britain’s Guardian
Spain’s El Pais
featured similar headlines.
CNN led its website with
“Former Israeli president Katsav guilty of rape” for hours. Al-Jazeera also
chose Katsav as its top story and, for good measure, added details from the
sexual misconduct trials of former justice minister Haim Ramon and former
defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai.
The unanimous conviction on all the
major charges by Judges George Kara, Miriam Sokolow and Judith Shevah raises
serious questions about the professionalism of the offices of the
attorney-general and the state attorney. In 2007, both had been willing to
remove the most severe charges of rape against Katsav within the framework of a
plea bargain. In February 2008, the High Court of Justice upheld the plea
agreement, rejecting petitions brought by women’s rights organizations, after
the state attorney and the attorney-general claimed that the rape-related
testimony was not reliable enough to ensure a conviction.
It was only the
hubris of Katsav, who demanded to be cleared of all the charges against him,
that paradoxically resulted in justice being done. Rape victims had watched
helplessly as the state attorney and attorney-general debunked their testimony.
It must have been no easy task to continue to work with the prosecutors
BUT THERE is also a positive side to the Katsav
It is tangible proof that no one, not even the state’s most
elevated citizen, is beyond the reach of justice.
Equality before the law
is protected in Israel, regardless of the extent of one’s political clout or
This is a testimony to the strength of Israeli
His conviction also mark the ongoing deconstruction of an
intolerable machismo – once prominent among IDF figures and others – according
to which a certain amount of rakishness was considered integral to a uniquely
Israeli “new Jew” masculinity. The court’s verdict takes Israel another step
toward clearing up any cultural ambiguities about “what she means when she says
no,” to paraphrase a popular song of the 1960s. (Tellingly, as part of the
increased awareness of a woman’s right to protection from crass sexual advances,
Dan Almagor in the 1990s changed the lyrics in his song – “You say ‘no’ so
nicely that it sounds more inviting than ‘yes’” – after its message was derided
by Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin in the Kibbutz Shomrat rape case.)
Perhaps most important of all, however, the conviction gives a major boost to
sexually victimized women fearful of stepping forward. The Katsav trial, coming
after the guilty sentences handed down in the Ramon and Mordechai trials, is
further proof that a woman has a fair chance of defending her honor in a court
of law even against the most powerful masculine figures. The Tel Aviv District
Court’s insistence on conducting the entire trial behind closed doors to better
protect the identities of the victims was central to this bolstered
ONE SMALL bit of business remains. In the garden of the
President’s Residence, Beit Hanassi, there are sculptured busts of all previous
presidents, including our eighth. In light of his conviction, and as a symbolic
step toward the removal of the stain to Israel’s honor, it would behoove the
government to remove Moshe Katsav’s bust from that exalted company.