The parole board was set on Sunday to hear former president Moshe Katsav’s plea for early release from Ma’asiyahu prison in Ramle, where he has served approximately two-thirds of a seven-year sentence for rape .Katsav was convicted of two counts of rape, one count of committing an indecent act using force, one count of committing an indecent act, two counts of sexual harassment, one count of harassing a witness and one count of obstructing justice. He entered Ma’asiyahu prison in December 2011.Controversy erupted regarding his plea request two weeks ago with rumors that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and current President Reuven Rivlin were pushing for an early release and implying that the former president’s sentence would be commuted if the parole board does not release him.Following the reports, however, Rivlin’s spokeswoman issued a statement of clarification that he has not supported the idea of giving clemency to Katsav, and will discuss the possibility only if the matter comes up in an appeal directed to his office. Even then, he will not make a decision without consulting with the Justice Ministry and taking into account all the relevant factors, as all his predecessors have done when appeals for clemency or pardons were put to them, she said.Similarly, Shaked’s spokeswoman has said that, contrary to reports, she has not yet taken a position on the matter. Rather, she views the issue as not having arrived on her desk, and she will not prejudge or try to sway the parole board’s ruling on the matter.In response to the possibility that Katsav’s sentence might be commuted, MKs Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) and Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) proposed a bill under which a president who wants to pardon a criminal would have to consult with the sentencing court.“The institution of presidential pardons is already problematic since it is run by a politician,” Gal-On said. “In order to prevent political pressure or considerations in pardons, the president should not be allowed to pardon someone without seeking the advice of the court.”Gal-On added that leading public figures, like Katsav, “must take responsibility and not circumvent the parole board, especially in this kind of case.”The bill is not meant to take away the president’s authority to grant pardons, she said, but rather to give the court a chance to tell the president its considerations.The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel sent a letter to Rivlin and Shaked opposing a pardon for Katsav.“Sex crimes are unique and cause one of the greatest traumas a person can undergo,” the letter reads.“Rape and sexual assault are murder of the soul, and the price the victims pay is unbearable. It often takes years until the victims are able to function fully and normally. In light of these unique aspects of sexual crimes, rules were set for commuting criminals’ sentences.Among other things, they must take responsibility and internalize the severity of their deeds.“Moshe Katsav never took responsibility for his actions and denies them to this day, and, therefore, never received rehabilitation therapy in prison as other sex criminals are given,” the letter continues. ARCCI pointed out that many women do not report sexual abuse to the police in part because they feel a lack of support from law enforcement and the public. A pardon, it said, would send victims a destructive message that a rapist deserves to be pardoned simply because he held a lofty position.“Katsav is a serial sex offender, and the fact that he is a former president should not be a consideration in favor of his release, rather, the opposite is true. Not only did he never regret his deeds, but he spread lies about his victims and continued psychologically torturing them during the trial. The thought of an early release is outrageous and unacceptable,” the organization said.Lahav Harkov and Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.