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It is difficult to think of a precedent for the president of a democratic country launching a tirade against the entire system at whose pinnacle he sits: the media, police, legal system and, albeit less explicitly, the political system. In response to his expected indictment, our president has launched his own indictment of our entire democratic polity, alleging that it is racist and rotten to the core.
President Katsav's selfish choice to issue a blanket assault on all the institutions on which our democracy rests is inexcusable and, though not criminal, is an even greater blow to our society than the crimes that he allegedly committed.
On Wednesday, this newspaper called on Katsav to resign because of the seriousness of the draft indictment against him and in order to act above the letter of the law. But Katsav's decision to impugn our entire legal system compounds the need for his removal from office.
According to Katsav, the media decided that his political success was unacceptable because he did not belong to the Ashkenazi establishment. He claimed that the media, throughout his career and including during his presidency, was out to get him. "The police set themselves a target - to get a conviction against the president, because the media would like that," Katsav charged. "There is a dangerous symbiosis here."
Not since the heyday of Shas have we seen a politician so blatantly play the ethnic card. The principal function of the president - beyond representing a paragon of citizenship and legal rectitude - is to unite our divided society: Jews and Arabs, rich and poor, religious and secular, and Ashkenazi and Sephardi.
Many had thought, as the president himself suggested, that his ascent to the highest post in the land was emblematic of at least this last rift being behind us. Now Katsav has taken a giant wedge and hammered it home into a wound that, if not healed, was healing.
Now also, millions of Israelis who believe that our system is rigged against them have encouragement from the highest source. What happened to me could happen to anybody, Katsav said.
That, of course, depends whether our legal system is in fact as totally corrupt as our president alleges. Unfortunately, his bitter complaints against police and prosecutors who leak to the media, if not necessarily valid in every instance, cannot be neatly dismissed. Such leaks are an extreme compromise of defendants' rights, are illegal, and must be punished and stopped.
It can similarly be said that the media does have a habit of "convicting" suspects on its pages. Yet the idea that Katsav was singled out for such treatment is ludicrous. As Haim Ramon, Ehud Olmert and many others will testify, the media is an equal opportunity prosecutor. If it does discriminate, it is more likely to be along ideological, rather than ethnic lines.
However valid some of Katsav's criticisms may be, it should be obvious that he cannot make them, particularly against the legal system, as president of the nation. He has every right to defend his innocence, but he has no right to do so at the expense of the very system that he heads.
Since Katsav's tirade, another obligation has arisen, and that is for the system to defend itself. Our legal authorities have, like it or not, been indicted by the president, almost as much as that system is expected to indict him.
It is critical, therefore, that if an indictment is issued, a trial follow as quickly as possible so that the public can see the evidence that led to the pressing of such serious charges.
Unfortunately, there is no good outcome of this situation. Whether the charges against Katsav are flimsy or lead to a conviction, our society will have been dealt a serious blow.
Though a Knesset committee on Thursday narrowly supported Katsav's suspension request, many MKs said that they would support a separate measure to remove Katsav from office altogether when it is considered next week.
Our legal system does need to address the widespread sense that it is elitist and leaks like a sieve, a sense that Katsav attempted to tap into. But that is a longer term project that Katsav has made both more urgent and more difficult - by coloring it in ethnic terms. The first step is not to compound the damage Katsav has caused by leaving him in office.
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