One on One: 'I have nothing to fear'

Katsav tells the 'Post' his version of the events that led to his resignation - and Mazuz's recent decision to indict him for rape.

By RUTHIE BLUM LEIBOWITZ
March 26, 2009 21:36
One on One: 'I have nothing to fear'

Katsav 248.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

Two weeks ago, Moshe Katsav convened a press conference. The much-touted event was given great publicity and buildup. After all, the former president, soon-to-be-indicted for rape and sexual misconduct, was going to break his long silence. Finally, he was going to tell his side of the story that, though splashed across news pages, made gossip columns pale in comparison. Katsav's speech, expected to last for about 45 minutes (with reporters speculating about whether they would be allowed to ask questions when he was done), was broadcast live on all three channels. In the end, Katsav spoke for three full hours, during the course of which - though no questions were permitted - a number of journalists tried to respond angrily to certain statements. A verbal altercation ensued, and one member of the press was escorted out by a guard, while another stormed out in a huff. This was not the first time Katsav had a run-in with reporters. Two years ago, at Beit Hanassi, during his announcement that he would be stepping down, Katsav and Channel 2's Gadi Sukenik got into a shouting match. Then, as now, the coverage subsequently centered more on the tiff - and timing - than on the tachlis. The following interview, conducted earlier this week at Katsav's home in Kiryat Malachi, is the former president's attempt at setting the record straight. His wife, Gila, who has not been spared her own share of headlines since the case came out in the open - when it was leaked to the press - was in attendance throughout. In retrospect, how do you feel about your March 12 press conference? Of course, the media didn't deal with its content, but focused on its length and with why I didn't take questions. It could be that the criticism of its having been too long was valid. But still, this was the first time I was breaking my silence, and telling my side of this whole affair. Even during my press conference two years ago at Beit Hanassi, I didn't give my version. Is it true that your lawyers advised you against holding both your first press conference two years ago, and your recent one, while your media consultants advised you to go ahead with them? And if so, why did the latter resign? To protect Moshe Katsav, after three years of media lynching, is hard. They were also under attack. As were my lawyers. Take Avigdor Feldman. For many years, he defended terrorists for ideological reasons - sometimes even pro bono. He was hated for this. But the anger and hatred toward him for defending me is much greater than they were over his defending terrorists. Both my lawyers and my media consultants believe in me. But it's true they thought my speech was too long. And my lawyers weren't against my holding a press conference, just against my answering journalists' questions. Meanwhile, during the past three years, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz has been talking so often and so openly about the case. He has given briefings to journalists, and the police and State Attorney's Office have been leaking material from the investigation, something which they are forbidden by law from doing. In fact, a week ago, the attorney-general informed us officially that a senior source within the Justice Ministry transferred 1,400 computer files to a member of the media. This is outrageous, yet nobody seems to be shocked by it. We, on the other hand, haven't received all the material. Are the police required to provide you with all the material? Yes. And my lawyers went to court to demand that it be given to us, but all kinds of excuses were made for why it wasn't. Yet suddenly we see the Justice Ministry confirming that somebody transferred it - in violation of the law, of course - to someone in the media! Is it any wonder, then, that journalists said that if the attorney-general didn't indict me, he should resign? Mazuz began to brief journalists from the very beginning of the affair in 2006. That's when the snowball began to roll, because the media assumed that if the attorney-general was making such serious accusations about me, he must know what he's talking about. Nobody asked him whether the investigation had been completed, or on what it was based. In the end, it turned out that everything Mazuz said to the media and to the High Court of Justice was misleading. The fact is that, a year later, he himself told the High Court that the girl from Beit Hanassi in connection with whom this whole thing began in the first place - who, by the way, gave interviews to Corriere della Sera and The Sunday Times, and I intend to sue both of those newspapers over those publications - was a liar. That's why she is not included in the indictment. And let's review how the whole affair began. I reported to Mazuz on that girl's attempt to blackmail me. Instead of investigating the blackmail charge - as he himself admits - he began by investigating rumors and gossip about me. When she was summoned for questioning, and asked if she had tried to blackmail me by demanding $200,000 - all of which is on a tape I provided - she said that I had sexually harassed her. In response, Mazuz appointed an investigative team. Now, the minute Mazuz began, both covertly and overtly, to leak information and express his opinion about it, he became obliged to stand behind his own pronouncements. He had climbed up a high tree and couldn't climb down. This influenced the witnesses, who said to themselves, "If the attorney-general is making those statements, I had better adjust my testimony to jibe with them." It also influenced the police investigators, who said to themselves, "If the attorney-general is saying these things, we had better direct the investigation according to the goal and direction he is signalling." It also influenced the State Attorney's Office, an office that is subordinate to him. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was saying that he had become a victim of Mazuz's errors. Coupled with the media's saying that if he didn't indict me, he would have to resign, this caused Mazuz to fear a call for his resignation even more if he didn't indict me, in spite of the fact that he himself told the High Court several times that the chance of an acquittal in this case was "colossal." What initial motive could Mazuz have had to investigate gossip about you before examining your complaint about being blackmailed? Do you think he had a personal vendetta? I don't know. But he and I have a history of clashes. When Mazuz was appointed attorney-general in 2004, the first thing he did was close the case against prime minister Ariel Sharon in the Greek island affair. The media crucified him for this. They called him a coward and corrupt, among other serious accusations. When my case came along, Mazuz saw it as an opportunity to prove that though he had closed the case against a prime minister, he would be a hero when it came to confronting the president. That's one. Another is that when he took up his post, he launched an attack against then state attorney Edna Arbel, accusing her of "designating targets and framing people." I thought that was an extremely harsh statement. To say such a thing about the state attorney who became a Supreme Court justice is casus belli. It's something that should spur a commission of inquiry. I said that his accusation was a stain on the holiest of holies of the State of Israel. And it's possible that my reaction hurt him. Yet another point of contention between us: Soon after he was appointed, Mazuz attended an Israel Bar Association conference in Eilat. During the week prior to that conference, there were reports about IDF officers and pilots refusing to serve in or fly over Gaza. At the conference, Mazuz expressed understanding of their refusal to serve. In my view, this was an irresponsible statement. We are at war with terrorism - and at that point it was rampant in the streets of the country. An attorney-general who expressed himself in this way was giving legitimacy to a refusal to participate in the struggle against terrorism. Subsequently, at a ceremony at Beit Hanassi for newly appointed judges, I made a statement in which I criticized those who express understanding for a refusal to serve the IDF, and Mazuz was there. Though I didn't attack him personally, he knew what I was referring to and probably wasn't happy about it. Another clash we had was over the settlers in Hebron in April 2006. I was approached by the rabbis of Judea and Samaria, who they told me that Mazuz was refusing to recognize an agreement the settlers had reached with the IDF [according to which families living in the former Arab market would evacuate their homes. In exchange, the government would void any legal status that the city's Arab municipality maintained at the site, and that subsequently the houses would be leased to the city's Jewish community.] They asked for my intervention on their behalf. So I went to Mazuz and I said, "An agreement was signed. Honor it. Tension is high in any case, because of the disengagement from Gaza. And your position can only serve to give the settlers a greater sense of alienation from the rest of society than they already have." It could be that this bothered him. Another example: A few months before my case came to light, there was a controversy between Sharon and the Knesset over the date of the elections. Sharon wanted them to be held as early as possible, and the Knesset wanted them to be put off as long as possible. As president, it was my job to determine when they would be held. I didn't want to merely dictate a date. I wanted Sharon and the Knesset to reach an understanding. So I convened a meeting with representatives of the cabinet and the Knesset. Mazuz was also present, and suddenly I grasped that the attorney-general was clearly coming out on the side of the government and pushing for an early date. I then decided to appoint an outside legal adviser, Prof. Suzie Navot, for this and other constitutional issues. This undoubtedly was insulting to Mazuz. There are many other examples of clashes between us that I won't go into now. But there is another element at work here, as well. Mazuz, like me, comes from a development town. I'm from Kiryat Malachi; he's from Netivot. He, too, has to prove himself to the elites. And he sees in my case an initiation into the club. Are you referring to the Ashkenazi elite? Well, look, my wife is Ashkenazi. The elites - all those who are persecuting me and in so doing are trampling on due process and a person's presumption of innocence - are the first who should be saying, "Let's allow the process of justice to be carried out according to the law." But in my case, Mazuz not only didn't complete an investigation before going public with it, he didn't even wait for there to be a complaint filed against me. In fact, no complaint has been filed against me as of yet from anyone, other than a 70-something woman whom I will talk about later. Speaking of which, let's talk about the women who have accused you of rape. You have said repeatedly that this entire case is based on gossip, and that the media have already tried and convicted you. But, the assessment on the part of most of the members of the media I have spoken to or read is that you are not a rapist, but rather a serial womanizer or someone who engaged in a number of consensual affairs. If, as you claim, even this is not true, what, in your opinion, is at the root of the rumors? Can you think of a public figure in the democratic world about whom there are no rumors? But what about the specific women in your case? There were three girls who had worked for me during different periods of my political career - all of whom were affiliated with the Likud - each of whom asked me to hire her when I became president. One worked for me when I was transportation minister at the end of the '80s. And she complimented me repeatedly for being a great boss. A second worked for me at the Tourism Ministry, and I fired her after less than a year. The third was the one who worked for me at Beit Hanassi, the one who blackmailed me, and who is not part of the indictment. It is the one from the Tourism Ministry who is the key witness right now in the case. I fired her after her behavior as my office manager had become intolerable. She lost documents; she threw a chair at one of my assistants; she fired 10 secretaries; the cleaning women weren't willing to come and clean the office when she was present, because she would treat them so badly; she wanted to accompany me on work-related trips in Israel and abroad, even though I told her repeatedly that I needed her to be at the office. At the time, she was 36 and single. From the testimony of witnesses in the investigation, I know now what I didn't know then - that she was in love with me. She would put on makeup before I arrived at the office; she would open a button of her blouse before entering my room. She used to forbid the typists from bringing me documents, insisting on delivering them herself. She used to tell my assistants not to enter my room when she was in there with me. They didn't obey her, of course... At some point after she was fired, she got married. Then, when I became president, she left me dozens of phone messages saying she wanted to come and work for me. All kinds of pop psychologists are suddenly coming out of the woodwork to explain this by saying it is behavior characteristic of post-trauma. But if that were so, why wouldn't she want to return to work at the Tourism Ministry? After all, she had never worked at Beit Hanassi. When she still worked for me, in September 1998 - months after the time she claimed I raped her - she sent me a greeting card for Rosh Hashana, which says the following [here he produces a thick document, hundreds of pages long, and locates the quote he is looking for]: "I wanted you to know that there is someone who genuinely worries about and loves you with a genuine and simple love, [expecting] nothing in return, someone who is totally loyal to you. May you continue to be paternal and concerned. May you continue to be loved by everybody. Keep smiling. You will always occupy a warm corner of my heart, and I will continue to love you and worry about you much and always." I ask you: Are those the words of someone who was raped? And does it make sense that after I allegedly raped her, she left me dozens of messages? She used to call Beit Hanassi regularly, and I never returned her calls, because I knew she was twisted. Once she phoned and said, "Tell the president I gave birth to a daughter." A couple of weeks later, she called and said, "Tell the president that I want to come and show him the baby." Then, a year or so later: "Tell the president that I just gave birth to a boy." And once, at the annual open house at Beit Hanassi on Succot, she appeared with her children, and, unlike as is customary of visitors, who shake the president's hand and move on, she remained for an entire hour. Gila asked me, "What is she doing hanging around here for so long with her children?" In addition, there was a young haredi girl who used to babysit for her. One evening, she asked the girl to look after her kids, but the girl said she was having her engagement party that night, so she wouldn't be able to come. In response, this woman said: "If you don't come here to babysit, I will ruin your engagement." Another story about her that came out in the investigation: She lived in a rented house on a moshav, and she was in a fight with her landlord. One day, out of the blue, she moved. That night, the house burned down. An investigation by the police revealed that it was arson, but there was no conclusive evidence pointing to her as the arsonist, even though she was the prime suspect. In her interrogation, she actually said, "In order to topple him [Katsav], I am willing to lie." She actually said this. After I fired her, she told someone that she was going to accuse me of harassing her sexually. But what about the 10 other women who have since come forward? The minute it became clear that the testimony of the girl from Beit Hanassi didn't stand up, Mazuz had a problem. That was when the real witch-hunt began - and it involved going back 20-30 years and locating every girl I ever worked with. Then they summoned them and began pressuring them to say something about me. Well, I'll tell you what each said. [Here he resumes looking at the documents.] One of these was an adviser to both Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. And she became the head of Peres's campaign for the presidency, which means that she had good reason to be frustrated when I beat him [in the race for president]. Anyway, she was summoned by the police, and this is what they said to her: "According to our investigation, Moshe Katsav tried to rape you 28 years ago." I ask you, is this not McCarthyism? What was her response? She told them they were crazy; that it never happened; that she indeed opposed me politically, but the rest of it was a lie. The next woman summoned was the spokeswoman for the Jewish National Fund. It was suggested to her that I got her that job so that she would keep quiet about my having sexually harassed her when she was the spokeswoman for the Tourism Ministry. She, too, said this was completely false. The third was "Lamed" from Beit Hanassi, a young girl - unlike the others, who are all older - who worked for me for five years. She worked very hard preparing my 60th birthday party, which was a large, fancy event. On the way to the party, which was held in Herzliya, she was in my office, and I got up to thank her by giving her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. In her testimony, she said I didn't kiss her. I'm telling you I did. For crying out loud! I gave a girl a kiss on the cheek to thank her for all her hard work! What's more natural and human than that? In her interrogation, she said five times, "He did not sexually harass me." The fourth was a girl who now works for the Employment Service, who worked for the Labor and Welfare Ministry when I was its minister (1984-88). She was told by the police that I promoted her to her present position in order to keep her from revealing that I had harassed her sexually. She, too, said this was utterly false. Not only that, she said that I didn't even know her, and she's right. I didn't and I don't. It's true that she was promoted, but it had no connection to me whatsoever. The fifth claimed that on her last day at the Tourism Ministry, I patted her on the back. [Here, he asks my permission to demonstrate, and does so.] She also said that once, during the period she worked there, I passed her from behind and pulled off the rubber band holding her pony tail. A sixth said that I asked her questions about what her parents did for a living. A seventh said: "The president gave me a casual hug, after I did some work. There was nothing beyond that. I didn't feel that anything was wrong." An eighth said she was once photographed with me at Beit Hanassi, and during the photo, I took her hand. That's it. [Here he shows me how he touched her hand.] The ninth said that I hugged her, but nothing was inappropriate about the hug. The 10th woman on this list was actually the only one who did file a complaint against me. A woman of over 70 called the police, and said she wanted to file a complaint against me for sexual harassment. The police immediately summoned her for interrogation. She told them that when I was the mayor of Kiryat Malachi, and she was a 23-year-old school teacher, every morning I would harass her, to the point that she couldn't stand it any more, and because of me, she left Kiryat Malachi a year later. The police asked her when that was. She said it was in 1963. Well, what do you know about that? In 1963, I wasn't the mayor of Kiryat Malachi; I was in 11th grade. And that's the only complaint they've got. The whole thing about 10 women coming forward is a big bluff. Proof of this is that five people from the State Attorney's Office told Mazuz to close the case. One of these was Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel, the prosecutor who obtained a conviction of [former defense minister] Yitzhak Mordechai for indecent acts. And if he told Mazuz, as he did, to "toss the case into the trash," well, that says it all. Normally, when a district attorney recommends closing a case, the attorney-general, who is usually more lenient on these matters, accepts it. But Mazuz didn't accept the recommendation. Instead, he transferred the case to Tel Aviv, to be reviewed by two other district attorneys. Here, too, after eight months of examination, the two district attorneys also recommended against an indictment. Ronit Amir, the head of the investigation team, called the case a "flimsy tin boat that might be able to sail, but not return to shore." Mazuz didn't accept her opinion. Twelve different lawyers during 2007 said there shouldn't be an indictment. That's why they wanted a plea bargain. I'm not the one who asked for it. They did, because they knew they had no possibility of a conviction. Why did you mention that the three first women were affiliated with Likud? The two women who wanted to come work for me at Beit Hanassi, but whom I didn't hire - the one from the Transportation Ministry and the other from the Tourism Ministry - had both been Bibi Netanyahu's secretaries. The third, from Beit Hanassi, had been active in Bibi's camp within Likud. But you, too, hail from Likud. So why would people from your own side want to hurt you? They live in a political atmosphere that perhaps the readers of The Jerusalem Post are not familiar with - the attitude of: "He didn't give me what I want, I'll show him; I'll take revenge." If everything you say is true, both about Mazuz and about the women, aren't you looking forward to the opportunity to tell your story in court, at your trial? Well, yes, I have nothing to fear, and there's no doubt that Mazuz's case will fall apart, and that I will be acquitted. If I had had anything to fear, I wouldn't have fired Aleph from the Tourism Ministry, and I subsequently would have take her calls. If I had had anything to fear, I wouldn't have complained about Aleph from Beit Hanassi. If I had had anything to fear, I would have hired Aleph from the Transportation Ministry when she asked me for a job. If I had had anything to fear, I wouldn't have cancelled the plea bargain. I am not afraid of the trial. But this case has destroyed my family, and it costs a huge amount of money - half a million dollars. If you are acquitted, won't you be awarded court costs? Let's say I am. Is it really worth it to have spent these last three years, and the two or so more ahead, with all the horrible headlines - and to sit in court listening to all the lies about me? But there's another, no less important point here, about what Mazuz has done to the war against sexual harassment. Sexual harassment does go on in this country. But because of Mazuz's handling of this case, from now on, any woman who complains about sexual harassment will be considered a liar, even if she is a true victim. Another problem is that anyone who is blackmailed will prefer to pay up and not to complain. Are you saying you're sorry you complained? Of course! If I hadn't, I wouldn't be in this situation. Why did you complain? What was Aleph from Beit Hanassi threatening to expose if you didn't pay up? She said she would release tapes. But there was nothing on those tapes that I was afraid of having exposed. Why didn't you simply tell her to go ahead and publish the tapes, then? That's what I did! But that's why I went to Mazuz. Ironically, two days before, I was about to take my complaint to the police inspector-general, Moshe Karadi. But then I read a full report in the paper that disclosed details about the investigation of Arkadi Gaydamak, and I thought that if that was published, it was a sign that the police were not discreet. That's why I decided to go to Mazuz instead. Has your experience in this case led you to view suspects in other investigations differently? Yes. When I was president, I received 10,000 requests for pardons. Hundreds of these were from convicted prisoners claiming they had been framed. I have to admit that I didn't believe them - that I had contempt for such claims. Today, I confess that I was wrong. I now believe that there is such a phenomenon in this country as framing people for crimes they didn't commit. At any time during this three-year period, has Prime Minister Olmert - who himself has been under investigation by Mazuz and is soon to be indicted as well - expressed sympathy for your plight? The only leader who expressed support was Ehud Barak - and he's the one everybody says is insensitive. On the day that Mazuz said he intended to indict me, Olmert, at the Herzliya Conference, called on Moshe Katsav to return to his house in Kiryat Malachi. I say to him now, "I'm proud to return to my house in Kiryat Malachi, the house I've been living in since I got married 40 years ago. I don't have any other houses. You have many houses that you could return to, but you don't, even though your own legal situation is worse now than mine was when you made that declaration."


Related Content

Supreme Court President Asher Grunis
August 28, 2014
Grapevine: September significance

By GREER FAY CASHMAN