The seven-year prison term imposed on Moshe Katsav on Tuesday caught many in the
media and in the legal system by surprise. People who wagered that the judges
would afford all possible leniency to the former president and convicted rapist
underestimated the judges’ zeal and willingness to make an example of
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In their decision, the judges proved that all are equal before the
law. By sentencing Katsav to a sentence more or less on par with what he would
have received had he been an ordinary citizen, they demonstrated that as far as
politicians go, the Israeli justice system is blind.
But the disagreement
between the judges on the length of the sentence raised the question of whether
or not justice was also deaf. In her minority opinion, Judge Judith Shevach said
that the sound of the drums pounded on by the protesters outside the courtroom
during Katsav’s verdict reading reverberated inside the courtroom. What she was
alluding to was the concerted campaign to convict Katsav that accompanied him
from the moment the suspicions first came to light over four-and-a-half years
The media played a central role in the proceedings and, according to
Judge George Karra’s ruling, also played a role in determining the length of his
sentence. Karra said that had it not been for the aggressive media campaign,
Katsav’s sentence would have been significantly longer.
The position that
Katsav’s lawyers argued and which the judges, to various degrees, accepted, was
the claim that the media had arranged a sub judice trial of Katsav, without
knowing all the facts and without attempting to present a fair and balanced
depiction of the events.
Katsav lawyers argued that, fed by continuous
leaks from the State Attorney’s Office, the media predetermined Katsav’s guilt
and prejudiced both the public and, to a certain extent the judges, against
They argued that the campaign was so one-sided and so severe that it
constituted a breach of due process, entitling Katsav to an acquittal. They also
argued that in light of what he and his family had suffered as a result of the
campaign, he should be spared a prison term.
None of the judges adopted
the arguments fully, but in her minority opinion, Shevach said that the media’s
behavior was enough to justify a sentence of only four years.
In any case
the defense’s arguments carried significant weight, as it was practically the
only mitigating factor that the judges accepted and led them to significantly
reduce the sentence from the maximum penalty of 16 years in prison. The media,
which was so keen on punishing Katsav, turned out to be the main reason for his
getting a lesser sentence.
Part of the Katsav’s punishment stems from the
determination by the judges that his crimes constituted moral
turpitude. This means that the former president will be stripped of
nearly all the benefits he was awarded by his former office.
As a former
president, minister and member of Knesset, Katsav was entitled to benefits
including an office, assistants, a driver, a vehicle, reimbursements on housing
expenses and free phone and newspaper subscriptions for the rest of his
life. Moreover, he will be stripped of an annual government stipend worth
NIS 1.8 million.
Katsav’s lawyers have already said they would appeal
both the sentence and the verdict to the Supreme Court. They claim that the
district court judges did not take into sufficient account the extent to which
the media campaign harmed due process, and they are convinced that the Supreme
Court will give more weight to the issue.
Another avenue for Katsav is to
apply for a presidential pardon. Though current President Shimon Peres
said that such a move was not being considered, Peres’s term ends in 2014 and
his replacement may see things in a different light.
In the meantime,
Katsav faces one, and possibly more, civil suits.
A woman who claims she
was raped by Katsav, Aleph from Beit Hanassi, has already said that she would
sue him for millions in damages and it is highly possible that the other Aleph,
from the Tourism Ministry who was at the center of his conviction, will also sue
Throughout the entire affair Katsav has completely refused to admit
that he had done anything wrong. Such an attitude, though consistent and thus
expressing conviction in his innocence, limits his ability to defend himself in
court. Just as it prevented him from signing a plea agreement two years ago,
which would have erased the major charges, today it harms his chances for a
Unwilling to admit to wrongdoing, even in light of overwhelming
evidence that was enough to convince a threejudge panel to unanimously decide to
convict him, Katsav has desperately stuck to his story. But by attributing all
the wrongdoing to his victims, claiming they knowingly lied about him, he has
repeatedly presented himself as a man lacking in compassion, yet expecting
compassion from others.
A free and independent judiciary is something
that the Israeli public can be proud of. The judges who tried Katsav’s case,
like all judges, work under difficult and strenuous conditions. The fact
that they have the ability and courage to make difficult decisions despite the
conditions is a credit to them and to the Israeli society.
On a day that
a former president is sentenced to jail for rape, that is no small thing.