(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
President Moshe Katsav rejected Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz's recommendation Sunday that he step down temporarily while the state prosecution decides whether to indict him on charges of rape, sexual harassment and other crimes.
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"The obligation of the authorities is to do everything to seek the truth and not allow a media lynching to disrupt the investigation of the truth," Katsav said in a statement released in the evening.
Katsav has rejected repeated calls to resign following allegations of sexual offenses that led police to recommend his indictment. Those calls intensified Sunday, as a chorus of MKs pressed the president to heed Mazuz's advice.
Beit Hanassi remained tightlipped about the affair.
"We are working here. Nothing is different, nothing has changed today from yesterday. We are busy working," a highly placed official told The Jerusalem Post following Mazuz's words.
"The right thing to do," Mazuz told the High Court of Justice Sunday, "would be that in a situation in which there is a police investigation against the president of the state regarding suspicions involving a serious criminal felony that by its nature and circumstances includes moral turpitude, the president should consider taking a temporary break from his responsibilities by asking the Knesset to approve a temporary cessation of exercise of office."
Mazuz was in court to respond to a petition by attorney Yossi Fuchs asking the justices to either dismiss Katsav or to suspend him until Mazuz decides whether to file charges. In the petition, Fuchs wrote that if the president is indicted, after he has been given a hearing, "It would not be in accordance with proper standards and would be unworthy for the president to continue in office and it would be incumbent upon him to opt for the process of declaring a temporary cessation of his responsibilities and powers until a final decision is made about whether to put him on trial."
In his response, Mazuz wrote that the High Court could not hear petitions dealing directly with Katsav because the law grants the president immunity from all such judicial proceedings.
He also wrote that since Katsav has already declared that he would suspend himself if Mazuz decides to indict him, at this point the attorney-general could only advice him on what he thought he should do.
Mazuz said that the more serious the charges are and the more advanced the investigation, the stronger the president's obligation to suspend himself becomes. He added that even though, according to the law, only the president can initiate a suspension, "this does not change or diminish his responsibility and obligation in these circumstances."
Two weeks ago the police recommended that the Katsav be indicted on charges including rape and aggravated sexual assault, following a lengthy investigation into complaints by several women who worked for Katsav during his tenure as president and, before that, as a cabinet minister.
Police also recommended he be charged with fraud, illegal wiretapping and other offenses. He is still being investigated on suspicions of disrupting a police investigation and harassing a witness.
MKs have been issuing calls for Katsav's resignation since the allegations surfaced two months ago. Deliberations have begun in the Knesset's House Committee aimed at forcing the president to resign.
"Since the president has already made it clear he has no intention of operating according to the proper norms indicated by the attorney-general, the Knesset has the moral obligation to impeach him," said MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz).
"I am reiterating my position and am calling on the president to notify the Knesset House Committee regarding a temporary leave of absence until the legal proceedings against him come to an end," said MK Ruhama Avraham (Kadima). "I hope that we are not obliged to remove the president by force... The president must avoid a humiliating removal from office by the members of Knesset."
MK Yoram Marciano (Labor) also said that Katsav should resign, adding that the president should "clear his name from his home in Kiryat Malachi, and not from Beit Hanassi."
In order to impeach the president, 20 MKs must sign a proposal to begin proceedings in the House Committee. The panel would call a special meeting and invite the president or his counselor to appear in his defense. The committee would then vote, and if two-thirds supported the impeachment, it would move to the plenum where another vote would take place. In the plenum, 90 of the 120 MKs would need to vote in favor of impeachment.
Despite the controversy, Beit Hanassi spokeswoman Hagit Cohen confirmed that Thursday's official commemorations marking the 11th anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin would begin with the traditional candle-lighting ceremony at the president's residence.
Reports emanating from Beit Hanassi suggested that the police would leak further negative information about Katsav in an attempt to have the ceremony moved from Beit Hanassi so that he would neither preside over it nor participate in it.
In an interview published in Yediot Aharonot on Friday, Yuval Rabin, the son of the slain premier, said he hoped the president would take the initiative and cancel the event, just as he had canceled other events on his schedule.
But if Katsav remains adamant about the ceremony taking place at Beit Hanassi, it is unlikely that anyone from the Rabin family will boycott it, despite the embarrassment.
AP and Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.
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