(photo credit: Knesset Website)
"An ordinary person has no chance to complain against a high-ranking public figure."
That was Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich's reaction to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz's announcement on Thursday that he had signed a plea agreement with outgoing President Moshe Katsav to drop both rape charges against him and not take the case to trial.
"This sends a difficult and painful message to victims of sexual crimes in particular and the public in general that an ordinary person has no chance to complain against a high-ranking public figure, who can afford expensive lawyers and top public relations personnel," Yacimovich told The Jerusalem Post in a interview.
"The prosecutors believe the victims, the police believe the victims, even many in the legislature believe the victims, so why not let the court hear their story and allow the truth to come out in the light?" she asked.
Women's rights groups, individual activists and other female politicians also slammed Mazuz's decision.
Rina Bar-Tal, director of the Israel Women's Network, told the Post the failure of the state prosecutors to take the case to trial meant that the public would never learn the truth about the president's actions. She called it a political "cover-up."
"This is a really sad day for Israeli democracy and society, including both men and women," she said. "It sends a clear message to women that they have no rights to complain against public figures in cases of sexual harassment and rape."
Sharon Mayevsky, spokeswoman for the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, which runs a hot line for victims, expressing concern that victims would be deterred from reporting sex crimes.
She urged those who had been attacked to utilize the services offered by the association's hot line (1202 for women and 1203 for men).
Na'amat Director Talia Livni called the plea bargain "a spit in the face of all women," adding that it highlighted "a lack of respect by the president for the police and the state prosecution service."
Adi Dagan, spokeswoman for the Coalition of Women for Peace, said Mazuz's decision to let Katsav off with a suspended sentence and financial compensation to the alleged victims was likely based on criticism he had received following the successful prosecution of former justice minister MK Haim Ramon.
Ramon was convicted in January of an indecent act for forcibly kissing a female employee without her consent. In March, the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court cleared the way for him to resume his political career by ruling that his offense did not involve moral turpitude.
"[In that case], Mazuz was blamed by many in the media and the government for taking the prosecution too far," Dagan, herself a victim of sexual assault, told the Post.
"We can connect what is happening with Katsav to the end of Ramon's story," said Bar-Tal. "It's obvious that if this goes ahead, Katsav will no doubt end up back in politics. There is just no punishment for such public figures."