Politicians agree Katsav sentence shameful, but just

PM: Nobody is above the law, not even a former president; Livni: I have great hope the country is in process of repairing itself.

By
March 22, 2011 14:36
3 minute read.
Former president Moshe Katsav

Katsav walking from court 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)

 
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For all their disagreements, Israel’s politicians were in near-consensus Tuesday when asked to respond to the sentence placed on former president Moshe Katsav: All agreed that having a former president sent to jail was shameful, but that the courage to do so spoke to the strength of Israel’s democracy.

“This is an extraordinary day in the State of Israel. This is a day of sadness and shame, but it is also a day of deep appreciation and pride for the Israeli justice system,” said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

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“The court issued a sharp and unequivocal ruling on a simple principle, that of equality before the law. Nobody is above the law, not even a former president; all are subject to the law,” he said. “Therefore, it would be worth remembering sometimes that when we look around us and see how different our state is – a bastion of democracy, human rights and individual rights, and a bastion of the rule of law.”

In a similar vein, President Shimon Peres said that “today is a sad day for everyone. However, it illustrates that in the State of Israel, no one is above the law, and everyone is equal before the law.”

Asked if he thought Katsav’s statue should be removed from the garden at Beit Hanassi in Jerusalem, Peres said that it was not necessary to reject the past.

“The legal process has not yet ended, but I do not think that we need to change history,” Peres said. “This is not Russia, and we do not need to change the past for the good and bad.”



Peres said the conviction and sentencing of Katsav did not have a direct impact on the presidential institution in Israel.

“There is no such thing as a presidential institution. There is a president,” he said.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, stated that “a day in which a president of Israel goes to jail for rape is not a happy day.”

She declared that “we cannot take away his presidency after the fact, but we can take away his freedom,” noting that the president was meant to be above the people, with the strength of his status as a symbol.

“Along with my distress, I have great hope that Israel is in the process of repairing itself,” she added.

Right-wing MK Arye Eldad (National Union) said that “the prison sentence placed on Katsav was significant and commendable. The sentence is especially apt in light of the recent unexplainable calls made to relieve him from a prison sentence altogether or to pardon him immediately. These calls, which were expressed by a group of rabbis, were unacceptable. They ignored the victims of the offenses. The court should be commended for its just decision.”

Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, who said she knew the victims personally, told Army Radio that the sentence was “harsh but fair.”

“I suppose that an ordinary rapist would have received the same sentence, perhaps slightly more severe,” said Yacimovich.

She rejected Katsav’s defense’s arguments that the media had negatively influenced the trial.

“The person who created the violent media debate and crossed all lines was Katsav himself, when he attacked victims in the press,” she asserted.

A slightly different narrative was expressed by Kadima MK Orit Zuaretz, a member of the Committee on the Status of Women, who chose to attack those in Katsav’s circle who had known of the offenses but failed to report them.

“All those who knew but were silent – journalists, politicians and aides – roam among us and continue on with their lives. Today a message was sent to them, too: The bonds of silence carry lingering guilt, and we as a society must expunge the foul phenomenon,” said Zuaretz.

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