Accompanying his eldest grandson to his first day of school on Sunday turned into a political minefield for embattled President Moshe Katsav Sunday, as MK Shelly Yacimovich described his presence at the school as "a very dangerous message."
Katsav, who is being investigated by police for alleged sexual harassment of a former employee, and his wife Gila accompanied the first-grader to the Moreshet Menachem Begin state-religious school in Givat Shmuel, where the president was greeted by scores of flag-waving children. Among them was Shireen Rosenberg, a student who first met him in 2001, after her brother Eliran, 14, was killed in a terror attack while awaiting a ride to school at a gas station near Kfar Saba.
Accompanied by local council head Zamir Ben-Ari and education officials, Katsav also visited first-time students in a local kindergarten and a nearby middle school.
"Gila and I are very happy to join you in the opening of the school year," the president told the assembled students and teachers at Moreshet Menachem Begin. "We are excited that our grandson is beginning first grade, and it is a celebration for our family to see our oldest grandson beginning to learn in school."
But vocal Katsav critic Yacimovich was anything but happy to learn of his visit. The head of the Knesset committee for children's rights said that "the last thing that I would want is for my children, when at school, to have to receive a man who is under investigation for sex offenses. This is a very negative message to students, especially girlsâ€¦ The message being passed to girls is that sex crimes are treated as inconsequential - and that is a very dangerous message."
Police have been investigating claims by Katsav that one of his former employees was attempting to blackmail him, and contradictory claims by the employee, known as A., that he engaged in sexual contact with her while she worked at Beit Hanassi.
Less than two weeks ago, Yacimovich appeared on national television to declare that she had met with A. and felt "a deep sense of sympathy" for the woman whom she repeatedly described as "helpless." The two met for several hours, said Yacimovich, emphasizing that A. told her that Katsav had not just sexually harassed her, but had raped her.
Following that meeting, Yacimovich called for Katsav "to gather his belongings and leave Beit Hanassi."
On Sunday, she renewed her call, saying that "it cannot be that a person under suspicion for sex offenses will act as if nothing happened. He is insisting on staying in his position and is causing the entire country very great embarrassment. The president and his cronies attack the injured party without embarrassment. He must know that even his incomprehensible behavior must have boundaries."
Following Yacimovich's comments, MK Ronit Tirosh, a former director-general of the Education Ministry, voiced her opposition to her calls for Katsav's resignation.
"Shelly Yacimovich should show a bit more restraint after the headlines that she made with her previous attack on the person who is holding the position of president," Tirosh said. "The role of the president and the institution of the presidency must be respected, but MK Yacimovich chose to throw out the baby with the bathwater."
In honor of the opening of the school year, the former teacher offered her cohort a civics lesson: "In the educational system, we teach our children to see every person as innocent until proven guilty, especially when concerning the respect of the president of Israel. The fact that Yacimovich is lambasting the president and has already determined his sentence, damages the status of the Knesset as legislators and in the separation of powers."
Katsav, meanwhile, continues to function as president. On Monday morning, he will receive the credentials of four new ambassadors - Danielle Del Marmol-Guilbert of Belgium, Farkhod Ibragimovich Khakimov of Uzbekistan, Tom Richard Vaughan Phillips of Great Britain and Asta Skaisgiryte Liauskiene of Lithuania.
Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.
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