He''s now # 1418989 in the Maasiyahu Prison, near Ramla. This is a minimum security facility, which houses white collar and other convicts not judged to be a danger to society. And within this prison, Moshe Katsav has been assigned to the unit for religious prisoners. To some, this may be the lightest of the light, but his activities will be to pray three times a day and to spend the rest of his time studying Torah and other sacred texts.
The former resident of the presidential mansion, and until yesterday the resident of an impressive private residence in Kiryiat Malachi, will be limited to the prison allotment of telephone calls and visits. Normally he could expect a home vacation after one and one-half years in prison, but that may depend on admitting and repudiating his crimes.
His initial roommate and the teacher of the first lesson he will hear is Shlomo Benizri, a one-time colleague in the Knesset and Government. Benizri served as Minister of Health and Minister of Labor and Social Welfare. He''ll remain a colleague of Katsav in Maasiyahu for only part of Katsav''s 7 year sentence. Benizri entered the religious unit of Maasiyahu in 2009 with a four year sentence for accepting bribes.
One or both may win early release for good behavior, but in Katsav''s case that may be difficult. Among the conditions for early release is recanting the criminal behavior that caused the imprisonment. Katsav continues to assert his innocence of all wrong doing and insists that he was railroaded by lying witnesses and misguided judges.
There is still a chance that the former president will get another day in court. His attorneys are preparing a request for an extraordinary second hearing by a larger number of Supreme Court judges than heard his first appeal. Even his attorneys have expressed their doubts about another hearing. The unanimity of the lower court and the three-judge panel of the Supreme Court that heard his appeal does not suggest credibility with respect to Katsav''s claims about injustice.
The five and one-half years that have passed since Katsav began his own downfall by complaining to the Attorney General about a former worker''s effort to blackmail him has given us time to mull various sides of this case.
Katsav''s prison term is not only his personal punishment, but a national stain. The president was a rapist, sexual harasser, and found guilty as well of pressuring witnesses and other improper efforts to influence the court proceedings.
However, the stain should be more narrowly applied. The general public was not more aware of Katsav as sexual predator before the formal investigation begant. The comparison might be drawn to the American public''s ignorance of John Kennedy''s sexual appetites when it elected him president. American voters are less innocent in the case of Bill Clinton. (I''m not aware of any charges of rape against Kennedy or Clinton, but Paula Jones'' story qualifies as sexual harassment.)
It is now apparent that substantial numbers of insiders, including Knesset members, knew of Katsav''s reputation before his election as president. More important was a prevailing sentiment, "anybody but Peres" (his opponent at the time). In the absence of a complaint, the police and judicial authorities--who also are said to have known about Katsav''s reputation--did not act against him. While a formal complaint might be a requirement for police or judicial proceedings, the stories circulated on high should have been enough for party colleagues and other Knesset members to keep Katsav from the presidency.
Currently there is a move underway to strip Katsav of presidential symbols retroactively. He lost his car, driver, and personal assistant (usually given for life to a former president) upon his initial conviction. Now the proposal is to remove his images from the photographs and sculptures of former presidents in the presidential residence, and to prevent his eventual burial in the section of the Mt Herzl cemetery reserved for national leaders. The proposals have been put on hold pending the response of the Supreme Court to his attorneys'' request of an additional hearing.
Still puzzling is Katsav''s shrill and repeated insistence of innocence. Even while his attorney''s are trying the plea of sexual relations by consent, Katsav himself continues to insist that there was nothing more than fatherly hugs. His large family and a substantial coterie of townspeople and other supporters echo his claims of being unjustly convicted. They are promising to create a website to detail the evidence in his behalf and to expose the mistaken interpretations of evidence used to convict him. In the days before he was scheduled to enter prison, family members and political supporters, including at least one Knesset Member, announced that he would be in danger even in the religious section of a minimum security prison. They said he would be sharing facilities with individuals whose petitions for pardon he rejected as president. These advocates were unsuccessful in asking that Katsav be allowed to serve his sentence under house arrest.
Katsav''s intemperate outbursts compared to the detailed information heard from prosecutors and two sets of judges makes it easy to view him as someone claiming, "everyone is crazy but me."
Among the explanations for Katsav''s continued insistence are:
- A mindset brought about by his traditional patriarchal background and years in the elite getting away with being a sexual preditor (said to have been his reputation since being the elected mayor of Kiryiat Malachi at the age of 24) may have led him to believe that no woman could resist his charms, or would dare accuse him of wrong doing.
- His skills as a manipulator brought him to the presidency and continues to produce expressions of support from family, friends, and others, some of whom seem to have contributed substantial sums to provide him with a high priced team of the country''s leading defense attorneys. Perhaps he believes that he can manipulate enough of the country''s public and judiciary to escape this guilty verdict.
His behavior has led prison officials to place him initially under a suicide watch. Katsav''s response to those expressing concern about suicide was to repeat his assertion of innocence, and saying that he was strong enough to endure whatever persecution misguided officials would impose upon hm.
Experience in the case of Shlomo Benizri, former Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson (currently serving a sentence of 5 years and 5 months for embezzlement), and other worthies who ate at the tables of the Prison Authority is that the public loses interest shortly after their well-filmed entry to prison.
Currently on trial for fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate documents, and tax evasion is former Jerusalem Mayor, Minister of various portfolios, and ultimately Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Olmert is the highest ranking official other than Katsav to have been put on trial. Money is not as salacious as rape, and the record of imprisonments has been shorter than Katsav''s term for great people caught with their hands in the till. A former political star (Aryeh Deri) who spent 22 months in Maasiyahu (out of a 3 year sentence for accepting bribes) may actually be in the midst of a political comeback.
Olmert has been calmer than Katsav. His claims of innocence have come without shouts, or a waving of finger or fists toward accusers. It has been more than two years since Olmert''s indictment, and even longer since the beginning of investigations. Signs are that considerably more time will pass before we can make any final assessment of his career.