(photo credit: )
The writer is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Israel is not only a beleaguered country, with violence, heroic soldiers, sacrifice, and great weather. There is also sex.
The minor event concerns (former) Justice Minister Haim Ramon, who resigned when charged with sexual harassment. The details include a soldierette who asked to be photographed with him, and a French kiss said to be against her wishes. He says it was a trivial event that lasted only a few seconds. She emerged from the embrace in shock, and complained to some ranking officials who were nearby. Although only he and she were in the room at the time, the people she cried to immediately afterward are serving as key sources in the police file. Initially, several commentators and female Knesset Members came to the defense of the Justice Minister. They said the recently strengthened law against sexual harassment was meant to deal with weightier events, and that the person charged had no reputation as a harasser. A day later the second point came into question, as another woman told of being on the receiving end of unwanted attention. So far no date has been set for the beginning of a trial. He wants quick judicial action. The way things happen here, it can take a while longer.
More awesome are the stories about President Moshe Katsav. He is currently enduring his second day of several hours of police questioning. The stories are that his sexual appetites are so well known that female employees of the presidency warn newcomers and trade stories about encounters with him. Journalists report that his reputation goes back to the time when he had middle- and minor ministerial posts in transportation and tourism. If so, why was he chosen as president? Perhaps because Knesset members who choose among candidates preferred playing games of party one-upsmanship rather than considering what problems might be hidden in each candidate's closet.
Today's cartoon in Ha'aretz shows a miserable Katsav complaining of a headache, while his well-padded wife is about to give him another whap on the head with a frying pan.
Also in the air, but so far less exciting, and less well established, are claims that the president has tilted in his discretion in requests for pardons of criminal offenses in favor of certain claimants. Maybe in exchange for money.
Every person is innocent until proven guilty, but . . .
The stories that reach the media are most likely leaked by the police. It is not a nice thing they do, but it is part of the political culture. We hear that the president threatened to fire employees, and to assure that they could not work elsewhere, unless they complied with his requests. The words "serious harassment," "rape," and "sodomy" appear in the reports. The president is said to have juggled affairs with two employees at the same time. One who thought she was the prime focus of his attention (despite saying that he forced himself on her) was said to have become jealous when she discovered the competition, and took her revenge by beginning an affair with a male employee of the presidency.
This may be juicier than the Clinton White House, if not in the same league as the Kennedy White House.
Katsav reached the headlines and the cartoons immediately before the increased violence in Gaza and then the war in Lebanon. The president began the inquiries when he told the attorney general that a female employee was threatening blackmail. A day or so later he recanted. By then it was too late. The investigative bureaucracy was underway, and journalists felt free to let go with the stories they had been sitting on for years. Commentators predicted that the president would resign within a month, but the wars provided him a respite.
Why did the president raise an issue that seemed bound to generate charges against him? Why was he chosen as president? One commentator has said that he is the first person chosen to be president on the basis of being nothing more than a political operator. His predecessors were politically active, but they offered something more by way of a distinctive career.
The cloud remained on Katsav despite the recess of attention during the war. We did not hear much about his activity, but now there are reports that he and his wife paid memorial visits to more than 70 families of those who died. (This is standard presidential behavior. It says something about Israel's culture. We do not read that the Bushies, or even their representatives, express any personal involvement with individual Americans who have lost loved ones in the national defense.)
Now the fighting in the North is small stuff, and no one is yet paying attention to Gaza. So the president and his problems are back in the headlines and the cartoons. Formally there is another year left in his term.
We are also concerned about the protests of reservists who have returned to civilian life; demands for the resignation of the prime minister, defense minister, and chief of the military general staff; and various options about commissions of inquiry. But compared to sex in high places, it is all small change. There is already a short list of presidential possibilities. Speculation is that the Knesset will be choosing among them soon after the holidays (i.e., by October), if not before.
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