(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
President Moshe Katsav asked the Knesset House Committee Monday to grant him a 16-hour leave of absence in order to avoid presiding over the swearing-in of Dorit Beinisch to the position of Supreme Court president.
Legal representatives for the president had originally requested a two-hour leave, but were forced to change that request after MKs said that they would only consider voting for the measure if it were a longer time period.
Katsav has come under harsh criticism for refusing to step down from office while police investigate several accusations of rape and sexual harassment against him.
The committee will vote on the issue on Wednesday. Committee chairwoman, MK Ruhama Avraham (Kadima) announced that she was cutting short her vacation in order to oversee that meeting. Avraham has repeatedly asked the president to step down from office and has consulted Attorney General Menahem Mazuz over how she might use legal action to force the president to resign in light of the charges against him.
Katsav, however, has remained steadfast in his refusal to leave office and repeated his position Monday that he has no intention of stepping down.
When asked if he would resign, Katsav responded that although many people wanted him to step down, "we must wait until the end of the investigation, there is no other way."
On Monday, Katsav informed Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik of his intention to file for a leave of absence. Itzik is the next in line to swear in Beinisch if Katsav does not attend.
Itzik then relayed the request to Avraham and the rest of the committee members, many of whom are not presently in the country. On Monday, it remained unclear who would attend the committee meeting and how they would cast their vote.
"It will probably be like most other votes, we will all oppose it and there will be a lot of drama," said one MK. "Eventually though, it will probably pass."
Many MKs said that the president was using the Knesset to take a brief leave instead of an extended period of absence.
MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz) said, "It is inconceivable that the president would hold a gun to the heads of MKs to authorize a one-day leave. It is an embarrassing and convoluted solution."
Gal-On and MK Yoram Marciano (Labor) both urged the president to take a three-month leave while the investigation on him is conducted.
According to the Basic Law on the Presidency, the House Committee can only approve or deny the president's request for a leave, without addressing the amount of time involved. Avraham has announced that she would like to pass an amendment to the law that would allow the committee to decide on the time frame of the president's leave of absence.
Meanwhile, the president met Monday with Polish President Lech Kaczynski at Beit Hanassi and discussed his decision to absent himself from Beinisch's swearing in.
The reason that he decided not to participate in the swearing in ceremony, he said, was because he did not want it to be overshadowed by controversy.
Claiming to be a victim of malicious libel, Katsav said that he would maintain the fight for his good name and reputation. "That is the right of every citizen, no less the President."
As Katsav and his wife Gila accompanied Kaczynski and his wife Maria to their convoy of cars, Gila Katsav squeezed her husband's hand, and then caressed his arm before accompanying Maria Kaczynski on a tour of Yad Sarah.
Just before entering the car, she turned around and gave a small wave intended strictly for the President.
Katsav's political adviser Avi Granot said that none of the President's plans for state visits abroad had been cancelled, and a visit to the Czech Republic was in the process of being organized.
Granot said that he was at a loss to understand the fuss around Katsav's request to recuse himself from Beinisch's swearing-in ceremony. "It's the most important day in her career. He didn't want to spoil things for her and everyone is coming down on him like a ton of bricks."