The letter of her law: Aleph

Kinneret Barashi - attorney for 'Aleph' - presents her client's version of events.

By RUTHIE BLUM LEIBOWITZ
February 2, 2007 06:28
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According to Kinneret Barashi, Moshe Katsav has complained about her client's - and other of his accusers' - having been allowed to remain anonymous throughout the ordeal that has led to his leaving the president's residence and facing indictment for rape and sexual misconduct. "But he signed a law... which forbids revealing identifying details of plaintiffs in crimes of sex or violence," says Barashi, with an air of triumph. Barashi, the attorney representing the first woman who filed a complaint against Katsav, is referring to the Victims' Rights Law. Indeed, the president is a signatory on all laws passed by the Knesset. And as it happens, this particular law was passed in 2001, early in Katsav's presidency. In sharp contrast to that of her client - who has come to be known as "the first Aleph" (the second one having come forward to accuse Katsav of having raped her when she worked for him at the Tourism Ministry) - Barashi's pretty face has appeared on every TV channel almost daily for the past several weeks. This, insists the 32-year-old attorney who has been practicing law for five years, is the result of her having to respond to "media spin" emanating from the Katsav camp. Perhaps. But Barashi, who has known her client personally since their university days, seems as comfortable on camera as she does in the trendy Tel Aviv cafe, "Gavriel," where this hour-long interview takes place. In fact, her entry into the premises causes all eyes to turn in her direction - the consequence of her newfound niche in the celebrity circuit. At his press conference last Wednesday, President Moshe Katsav attacked the media for convicting him without a trial. You, too, have said that your client was treated unfairly by the press. Would you care to comment? A number of newspapers behaved irresponsibly by taking Katsav's "spins" at face value, without asking for our response. It's not that they had anything personal against my client; they don't know her. Do you agree that the media has been biased against Katsav? Absolutely not. In fact, he used the media throughout the entire affair. How do I know this? Almost every night during the first three months, I would get phone calls from the press requesting my reaction to claims, with details that even the police didn't have. Katsav also said that he was targeted because of his ethnic background - that he's not one of the Ashkenazi elite. As a Sephardi yourself, would you say there is no truth to this accusation? It's all an excuse. He knows he is going to be convicted, so this was a way for him to enlist pity. As a lawyer, surely you've seen defendants in all kinds of emotional states. Isn't it unusual for someone who is certain he is going to be convicted to insist forcefully and publicly that he is innocent? Wouldn't a person guilty of a crime lie low, rather than shout from the rooftops and fight for his job? I've met many criminals in my career, but I've never encountered this kind of behavior. He even created a Web site, on which is posted the details of the investigation. The man doesn't know the law. Katsav, the president of the state, doesn't know the law. He signs on laws he's not even familiar with. What do you mean? In what sense doesn't he know the law? Through his emissaries and the media, he has been questioning the legitimacy of the plaintiffs' identities remaining concealed. But he signed a law - "Hok Zchuyot Nifga'ei Avera" [the Victims' Rights Law, passed in 2001] - which forbids revealing identifying details of plaintiffs in crimes of sex or violence. [All laws passed by the Knesset are signed by the president.] This whole episode became public when Katsav informed Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz that he was being blackmailed, correct? Not exactly. Actually, it wasn't until a journalist faxed Katsav a list of questions about my client that he contacted the attorney-general - whom he thought of as his personal lawyer. He told Mazuz about my client, thinking that [Mazuz] would immediately publicize it, which would frighten her into silence. Katsav didn't want the attorney-general to open an investigation. [Here, she takes out some mimeographed documents and points to several phrases in an official letter from Beit Hanassi to Mazuz.] Look, after Mazuz came out with the announcement [about the investigation into Katsav], Katsav wrote to Mazuz: "In my opinion, not every emotional upheaval, accompanied by an emotional outburst is backed up by some criminal act…There cannot be any truth to this claim… and it seems to me that the threat [on the part of the plaintiff] wasn't serious…In addition, it was specifically stated during our meeting… that in my approaching you, it was not because of something criminal." In other words, Katsav hadn't intended to press criminal charges [against my client]. Treating Mazuz as his lawyer, he was basically ordering Mazuz not to go public, and saying that he [Katsav] would announce to the media that he had submitted a complaint to the attorney-general. Are you saying that Katsav was trying to preempt exposure, by himself contacting the attorney-general - the way former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced in 1993 [while running for the Likud leadership] that he was having an affair after being told there was a video cassette with evidence of it? No, there wasn't anything to preempt. As I said, it was Katsav's own spin about my client that the media published. I mean, do you really think the police or the State's Attorney's office were weaving the spins about her? Of course not! And who do you think had the cassette with the [conversation between Katsav and my client] that was given to Yediot Aharonot? Katsav's lawyers claim that it was the police who gave it to the paper. No! And it is not an accurate cassette. It doesn't include the full transcript. Parts of it were removed. Which is why there were other newspapers that refused to publish it. In any case, Katsav told Mazuz not to go to the media, and then he himself did. Yet, during his press conference, Katsav said that the leak to the press came from Mazuz's office. I'm not a spokesman for the Justice Ministry, but what I assume happened was that when Mazuz saw that Katsav had gone to the media, he then also did. Katsav has been behaving like a dictator - telling everybody else what they should or shouldn't do or publish - as though he's everybody's boss. Why did your client confront Katsav before filing a complaint with the police? And if she was actually traumatized by his alleged sexual misconduct, why did she continue working for him? I'll tell you as much as I'm allowed to here. The reason she confronted him was to tell him to stop saying bad things about her to prospective employers. Every time she went to another job interview in the public sector, she was rejected. Finally, one of the people she encountered told her to stop even trying to return to the public sector, because Katsav had informed everyone that she was unprofessional. So, she went to Katsav and told him to stop doing that. She said, "I went through what I went through - and it can never be rectified. But don't keep ruining my life!" That's when he told her he would compensate her financially. That part he didn't record; he only recorded on tape what was convenient for him. That's one of the things left out of the transcript that was published in Yediot. What she said in response was: "Even if you paid me $2 million, it wouldn't make up for what you did to me." What is unclear in your client's case, however, is the issue of her having returned to what she is claiming is the scene of the crime. She didn't go to the police. Why? She was under threat, pressure, humiliation. She left the office immediately after the incident, and didn't return for two weeks. Why did she return at all? She received a threat that she'd better return or else… a threat that if I had received it, even I would have returned. She returned to work, and when it happened again, she left for good. A girl like that, who has the president of the country in front of her - a president whose rage you witnessed during his press conference when he yelled at [Channel 2's] Gadi Sukenik... that was in front of cameras and millions of people; imagine what it would have been like one-on-one. He is both verbally and physically violent. It's true that a person shouldn't be judged by his behavior when he's angry. But in this case, if you're the president, standing in front of the flag of the country while the whole world is watching, and are capable of exhibiting that kind of rage… such behavior is clearly a pattern. Still, the question remains - even among people not particularly sympathetic to the president - as to why your client and all the other women who came forward waited so long before complaining? I mean, you speak of Katsav as though he were a serial rapist. Now, Benny Sela is a serial rapist. Do you really expect us to place Katsav in his category? If so, why did the women in the Benny Sela case have no problem coming forward immediately? Who's Benny Sela compared to the president of the state of Israel? Benny Sela doesn't have close ties to the government. And what is a simple, 29-year-old girl supposed to do? Go to the police and file a complaint? She doesn't know that she can approach the head of investigations - in this case Cmdr. Yohanan Danino - she doesn't know that she can pick up the phone and talk to him. She thinks she has to go the nearest police station and sit with an investigator - not that I'm minimizing his value or anything - and she doesn't think anyone would believe her. She wouldn't have thought the same thing if she were complaining against Benny Sela. And Katsav knew that. He assumed she wouldn't dare complain. According to the facts of the indictment, this was his method. He behaved in an identical way with each of the women. Isn't it strange, though? Usually, a man in power doesn't have to use force to get sex. In fact, men in power often are attractive to women precisely because they are in power. Let me tell you something. My client is an extremely good-looking girl, who is surrounded by young, handsome, intelligent suitors. And surely you'd agree that it would be very difficult to be attracted to Moshe Katsav. Let's be honest. Whether or not a man is intrinsically attractive, when he is in a position of authority - a professor, say, or a politician - he might easily attract women who wouldn't give him a second glance if he were any man-in-the-street. Look, my client was Katsav's office manager, which meant that she came in contact with important men all the time. Status and glory don't interest her in the least. She sees a Hollywood actor, a head of state or a bartender equally. I've known her for 12 years, since our university days. If the alleged sexual misconduct had not been made public - when Katsav went to the attorney-general - would that have been the end of it? No. It was made public precisely because Katsav felt the rope tightening around his neck - which is what made him approach the attorney-general in the first place. You claim that Katsav bad-mouthed your client to prevent her from getting another job in the public sector. What possible motive could he have had for that? To show his power. Look, he thought that because of his power, she would go with the flow, and then it wouldn't be rape, it would be an affair. But that's not what happened. When he saw that it wasn't going in that direction, and he raped her twice… But can we really call whatever allegedly happened between the two of them "rape"? And what is the legal definition of rape? [The attorney-general, in preparing a draft indictment subject to the imminent hearing with Katsav's lawyers, is not set to charge Katsav with rape in the case of Barashi's client. He is planning a rape charge in the case of the second complainant "Aleph."] What he did - according to the indictment - was verbally sexually harass her repeatedly. The legal definition of rape is penetration without consent. Even if it's not penetration with genitalia, but with another object. Furthermore, according to a Supreme Court ruling, there's no requirement that there be a use of force for it to be considered rape. Nor does the victim have to have said no - as long as the no was implied by her behavior. This, according to the lawmakers, is because some women freeze on the spot at the prospect of being forced into sexual relations. In such a "frozen" state, a woman is unable to say no. She becomes like an object - an empty vessel. What I'm trying to understand is whether you are saying that throughout his career, his pattern was to have affairs - or that his pattern was to obtain sex by force. I don't know. What I do know is that in order for anybody to receive a letter of recommendation from his office, they had to write a letter praising Katsav as a boss. How do we know this? Because the only such letters Katsav saved were those of the plaintiffs. He saved such letters for 10 years. Now, what boss who has to give a letter of recommendation requests a letter of praise? To this day, there is a former employee at Beit Hanassi, whose name I won't reveal - one who worked there since before Katsav's term - who is not being given a letter of recommendation, because he won't write a letter praising Katsav. My client had to have a letter of recommendation from the president's office in order to get another job. But for six months, she was stuck because she wasn't willing to write that a letter. Finally, she realized she had no choice, so she wrote it quickly by hand and sent it. Is she working today? No comment. This is a very small country, in which rumors spread like wildfire. How is it possible that everything you describe went on for so many years without its having come out? I'm telling you - because he used threats. Tell me about the libel suit you're filing against Katsav for accusing your client of being a prostitute? First of all, it's a claim Katsav made indirectly through one of his media advisers, who went on Razi Barkai's radio show and said that my client was a prostitute and borderline crazy. I filed a libel suit against him and I will file one against Katsav. How can you claim libel when your client's identity isn't known? Doesn't libel involve harming a person's reputation? How can someone anonymous have his reputation damaged? What do you mean her identity isn't known? [A Katsav lawyer] once let her name slip on air; her picture has been distributed on the Internet; and everyone who sees her with me understands it's her. For libel, it's enough for two people to know the identity of a person. Will the day arrive when your client's identity is revealed to everybody? Will she become a well-known media figure, for example? After what she has been through throughout this entire ordeal, I think it would be a mistake for her to reveal herself. If they [Katsav and his legal team] had behaved differently, she would have revealed her identity right from the beginning. If Katsav weren't president, would the investigation have been more speedy? If he weren't president, he would have been arrested immediately and held until the end of the process. I have a client who touched a woman, and the second she filed a complaint, he was arrested. If she had accused him of rape, he not only would have been arrested, but held until the end of the proceedings. It's Katsav's immunity that enables this. What's your view of the Haim Ramon case? [This interview took place before the guilty verdict was reached.] The way he has dealt with it - stepping down and dealing with it as a citizen - is the way a public figure should behave. At his press conference, Katsav accused the police of leaks. Now, everyone in this country knows that leaks from public institutions occur regularly. Is there no truth to Katsav's claims here? I have no idea. But I can tell you with certainty that the person who headed this investigation - Lt.-Cmdr. Yoav Segelovich - is one of the most discreet people I have ever met. So, it's really hard for me to believe it in this case. During the press conference, Katsav proved what a liar he is. He appeared to believe everything he was saying. It seemed to me that he would have passed a polygraph test. The fact is that he refused to take a polygraph test. Do plaintiffs also undergo polygraph tests in cases like this one? The results of a polygraph are not admissible in court in criminal cases - only in civil ones, when both sides agree. But it is a tool for the investigation, so plaintiffs are often asked to undergo polygraphs for clarification. Did your client undergo a polygraph? Not only a polygraph; she agreed to cooperate 100 percent. Everything the investigators asked of her, she complied with. What effect do you think this case is having on the country? We have lost as a country, but we have also gained something by proving that this is a state of law. That's what I say whenever I'm interviewed by the foreign media: that the upside of this case is that it shows we are a country which upholds the law - that our democratic process and legal system work and are strong enough to say that its leaders are not above the law.

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