Netanyahu, Livni hail Katsav ruling

PM laments ‘a sad day for Israel;’ MK calls for suspension of former president’s benefits; Livni says ruling will "strengthen Israeli society."

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL, GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
December 31, 2010 03:09
4 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

netanyahu stinkeye 311. (photo credit: Haim Tzach)

Although many of former president Moshe Katsav’s former comrades in the the Likud Party refrained from issuing statements in reacting to his conviction on two counts of rape, many politicians did speak out Thursday, with some calling to suspend privileges that Katsav enjoys due to his status as a former president.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu described Katsav’s conviction as “a sad day for the State of Israel,” but added that the Tel Aviv District Court had “sent two messages, loud and clear: that all men and women are equal under the law, and that women have full rights over their own bodies.”

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Setting a rare tone of bipartisan consensus, opposition leader Tzipi Livni reflected similar sentiments, saying that “any day in which a public representative is found guilty of rape is not a simple day for the State of Israel.”

Speaking at a conference at the University Center of Ariel, Livni said that the court’s decision “sends a clear message in regards to public officials in Israel, but even more importantly, a message to victims – lately there’s been a feeling that it’s women against men, but it’s not. It is a matter of victims and those who take advantage of them, harass them, rape them and exploit their weakness.”

“The role of society is to support those who who have the courage to speak out, after years and years,” she said, referring to “Aleph,” who made her complaint against Katsav years after the event.

“The message coming out of the court today will strengthen Israeli society,” she continued, but emphasized that “there’s no joy involved for anyone” in the verdict.

MK Arye Eldad (National Union) went a step further, complaining that “one cannot accept a situation in which a president of the state who was convicted of serious sex offenses continues to enjoy the rights granted to former presidents, such as funds to operate a private office.”

Eldad threatened that “if there is a need to change the legislation to do what common sense alone should be able to deduce, then the Knesset will pass a specific law on the subject.”

Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, whose office is charged with coordinating the national program to improve treatment for victims of rape and sexual assault, also welcomed Thursday’s ruling. “This is an important decision for Israeli society, and specifically for women and victims of sexual assault.

The Welfare Ministry supports victims of violence and sexual assault 365 days a year, and I call upon any woman who feels that she has been harmed to gather the strength to not remain silent.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that “this is a difficult and sad day for the State of Israel, a day in which our former president was convicted of such serious crimes.

“However, this is also a day in which our justice system proved again that everyone is equal before the law,” Barak added. “The justice system is a central source of strength for Israeli democracy.”

“This is a sad day for Israel, but at the same time it is also a day that confirms the strength of the rule of law and the fact that everyone is equal before the law,” said Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

With its verdict the court delivered an important message, that a “woman’s body is her property” and a man should not think otherwise.”

That message was strengthened by the fact that the person who was convicted of rape had formerly been Israel’s number one citizen, said Ya’alon.

News of Katsav’s conviction drew few responses from the Jewish world, either because community leaders were away on vacation or because they did not want to say anything on the matter.

In Hungary, for instance, Jewish leaders preferred to ignore the case, local Jewish journalist Peter Breuer told The Jerusalem Post.

“I’ve asked them if they wanted to respond but they declined,” Breuer said. “They believe raising this issue might only encourage anti- Semitism. Personally, I believe this is an internal matter of Israel. It doesn’t do us much credit, so perhaps it’s best we deal with other things. On the other side, it goes to show that Israel is a democratic country in the Middle East where even the president is not above the law.”

Leaders of the Jewish communities in France and the UK also declined to comment on the case, while most Jewish American organizations were unavailable to comment, as they had shut down for the holiday season.

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this story.


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