Comment: Katsav's rending battle cry

President seeks to muster all the prestige of his office to wage a "world war" to save his name.

January 25, 2007 01:09
2 minute read.
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For some 50 minutes on Wednesday night, a raging, emotional President Moshe Katsav sprayed furious accusations - first and foremost against the media, and also against the women who have given police testimony against him, against the police, against the state prosecution, against the attorney-general. The process which on Tuesday had culminated in Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz's decision, pending a hearing for Katsav, to indict him for rape and other charges, the president declared, was a gigantic conspiracy. He was being "taken out for execution," in his own extraordinarily potent language, without even being given the opportunity to defend himself. And his plight, he asserted, could befall any and every other citizen of this country - all potential prey of a ravenous media, an immoral police force, state prosecutors who cannot distinguish between truth and lies. His starting point was the assertion that the media had been out to get him, personally hostile to him, from the very moment he took office. Looking for verbal ammunition to bolster the point, the president quoted a dramatic headline that appeared on a front-page analysis piece in The Jerusalem Post at the time of his election, "The end of Zionism." Contrary to the implication Katsav sought to create, however, this article was not a personal attack on him; writer Amotz Asa-El was arguing that there had been a "spit in the face of a Zionist icon" - Shimon Peres, the defeated candidate - "by non- and sometimes anti-Zionist small-time politicians." Katsav, "the humbly born and softspoken man who... was later a young, diligent, and relatively responsible, if lackluster and unimaginative, cabinet minister," Asa-El noted in the piece, "would not possibly have won if not for the blanket support he received from Shas and United Torah Judaism." In truth, until the allegations of sexual impropriety began to surface against him, Katsav's presidency was often positively reported, certainly in this newspaper. He was widely regarded as a less divisive figure than president Peres might have been, as a head of state who was managing to stay out of partisan dispute, and credited for well-meaning, if not terribly effective, efforts to foster improved relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel and between Israel and the Diaspora. The charges Katsav levelled against the police and state prosecution were terrible, indeed: The police were accomplices in the media lynch, coordinating malicious leaks; police investigators were willfully receptive to false allegations extracted from disgruntled ex-employees and would-be employees, but determinedly shoved aside evidence that would serve his narrative; the attorney-general himself prejudiced the investigation. In a carefully prepared onslaught that nonetheless left him flailing for self-control at times, the president sought to muster all the prestige of his office to counter the forces arrayed against him, placing his word not merely against that of the complainants but against the ethos of the police and prosecutors. He vowed a "world war" to save his name. But this is a battle, as he now acknowledged, that Katsav, innocent or not, cannot continue to wage from Beit Hanassi - a head of state ripping and excoriating the state's own institutions of law and order. When all was said and done, after all, he was asking the citizenry, in his cause, to sacrifice their respect and fealty for those institutions.

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