(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
For most of his term, President Moshe Katsav had seemed an admirable president, a credit to his office.
Those who had worried that Shimon Peres might be elected to the post, and that his would be a divisive, interventionist presidency, instead, in Katsav, found a man who seemed to understand the imperatives of this ceremonial office - including the requirement to stay out of the partisan political fray, the opportunity to reach out to underrepresented elements of the Israeli demographic, and the need to function as a focus of national unity, or at least of the aspiration to unity.
Those who remembered the shot-from-the-lip utterances and swirl of financial corruption surrounding his predecessor, Ezer Weizman, found in Katsav an apparent exemplar of understated propriety.
When allegations of sexual misconduct first surfaced regarding Katsav, many, perhaps most of the public found such claims hard to reconcile with the persona they had come to know.
Now the police, after exhaustive investigation, has seen fit to recommend that Katsav be charged with the gravest of the sexual allegations that had been leveled against him, and with a host of other allegations that have come to light as the probe has continued. It is, frankly, an appalling and dizzying array of allegations.
Police recommendations of this kind, it must be stressed, have no formal legal value. It is the attorney-general's absolute prerogative, and one that has been exercised time and again in recent years in cases relating to holders of the country's highest offices, to dismiss such police recommendations for indictment and, sometimes almost derisively, close the cases concerned.
Even now, with the police having completed its work and publicized its devastating conclusions, the presumption of innocence remains with the president.
Had he chosen to suspend himself when the investigation began, Katsav would have spared his office the staining and diminishing that even unproven allegations of this nature have dealt it. But Katsav, insisting that he was the victim, not the predator, resolved to battle through from Beit Hanassi.
It has been argued that an innocent man, and one concerned, too, with the well-being of his country, would have stepped aside. A guilty man, hopeful to evade justice and concerned with his own fate to the exclusion of the good of his nation, this argument continues, would be expected to cling defiantly to office.
But a norm in which the holder of high office, when confronted with allegations that have not been tested by the state's prosecutorial authorities, is expected to suspend himself from his position would be problematic, indeed. Any leading figure, faced by what might be the most malicious and unfounded allegations, would be expected nonetheless to step aside to clear his name, no matter the damage caused by his vacating the post at potentially crucial periods.
Since Katsav remains adamant that the allegations against him are baseless, and has elected thus far to counter them while retaining his presidential post, the onus now falls on Attorney General Menahem Mazuz to evaluate the material deemed so conclusive by the police team that assembled it.
Mazuz owes it to the complainants, the president, and the citizens of Israel to resolve this deplorable saga speedily and credibly. He must either press charges or, if not, detail why there is no case for Katsav to answer.
Mazuz is not legally required to provide such an explanation. But were he to conclude that justice is done by not pressing charges, he would need to ensure, after an investigation where the conflicting narratives have been made so public, that justice be seen to be done by explaining why.
If, in such a context, the case is closed, Katsav will be vindicated. If the president is charged, he must and surely will step down to face his accusers in a court of law.
No matter how it is resolved, and how troubling the allegations of appalling wrongdoing in the highest echelons of Israel's leadership, there is some comfort to be drawn in the renewed confirmation that democratic Israel will not tolerate illegalities and improprieties at the top of its leadership hierarchy, and will thoroughly probe such alleged misdeeds. As this dismal business shows in particular, modes of behavior relating to the treatment of women by the men who employ them, interactions that would not raise eyebrows in many other parts of this region, are not tolerated here.