Once again the story of Moshe Katsav has taken a large share of Israeli media. Yesterday was the occasion for the Supreme Court to reject his appeals against a verdict of guilty for two instances of rape and several counts of sexual harassment, and to affirm the lower court''s sentence of seven years.
While there is a chance of asking the Court to reconsider, one of his elite attorneys has said that the prospect is problematic. In their reading of the verdict, which began at 9 AM and continued for more than an hour, the three judge panel indicated in the strongest of terms that the testimony of the plaintiffs was credible, and that Katsav''s defense was tainted by lies. The panel--composed of two Jewish women and one Arab man--agreed unanimously to affirm the lower court''s verdict and sentence.
The Court is providing Katsav a more generous period to arrange his affairs and prepare for incarceration than most convicted rapists. He is due to report on December 7. Other individuals in the situation of appealing a sentence are expected to bring personal items to the court, prepared to enter prison immediately after the Supreme Court''s decision.
Katsav has hurt his own case on several occasions, and seems destined to continue doing so.
Going back to his time as Member of Knesset and then Minister in various departments of middling prestige, he had a reputation as a sexual predator. Women office workers warned their younger colleagues who might come into contact with him. His election to the presidency benefited from opposing Shimon Peres. Numerous Knesset Members--including some of Peres'' party colleagues who had promised him support--feared Peres as a loose cannon who would use the office not as a ceremonial post and rubber stamp of government decisions, but as a platform for his own political agenda. "Anybody but Peres" is the conventional explanation of Katsav''s victory in the Knesset election of 2000.
When I asked one Knesset member if he knew of Katsav''s reputation, he answer was, "We knew, but hoped that the high expectations of the office would cure him."
Katsav began the process against him when he complained to the Attorney General that one of his secretaries was blackmailing him with threats of false accusations.
The complaint provided the opportunity for judicial and police authorities to move against what they had long known, but refrained from pursuing in the absence of a formal complaint. It did not take long for the Attorney General''s investigation to turn from a case of blackmail to a case of sexual harassment. The publicity produced other complaints, and the rest is history.
Katsav''s continued assertions of innocence have not helped him. At one point his attorneys arranged a plea bargain, in which Katsav would plead guilty to lesser charges and not face any jail time. Although he had indicated his agreement with the deal, he reneged at the last minute, against the advice of counsel.
While he claimed time and again that he never had sexual relations with the women accusing him, his attorneys tried the tactic in appealing the initial verdict--without success--that there were relations, but consensual.
Family members who have come loyally to every court appearance, and neighbors from the town where Katsav began his political career as mayor at the age of 24, continue to proclaim his innocence. The former president has been represented by three of the most distinguished criminal lawyers of the country, along with a number of lesser lights, presumably financed by the donations of supporters. One of the lead attorneys said after that the rejection of the appeal that both lower and Supreme Court judges were mistaken in relying as much as they did on the muddled testimony of claimants about a crime that allegedly occurred 11 years ago. However, the same attorney was hard pressed to answer a question about the credibility of Katsav.
Now that he faces incarceration, Katsav''s continued insistence on innocence will put him into the category of an unrepentant sexual offender.
Still to be determined is his assignment within the penal system. A lack of contrition may result in his placement in the general population, and not in what might be the preferable departments for religious prisoners or elderly prisoners. Sexual offenders are in the lowest social status, more exposed than others to the offenses that prisoners commit against one another. The formal status of an sexual offender who does not admit his crimes also makes him ineligible for home vacations and a shortening of his sentence for good behavior.
Family members are worried about his acting against himself, and keeping close watch. The next media circus will come on the day he leaves home and travels to wherever he is assigned. Then we may put the Katsav story to rest.
Perhaps he will devote the next seven years to Shooting Myself in the Foot, with several detailed chapters.