Former Katsav aide: We lose sight of the good he did

Improved relations with Israeli Arabs and Diaspora were key accomplishments, insists Avi Granot.

katsav 88 (photo credit: )
katsav 88
(photo credit: )
Several months go, when the word "rape" began appearing in the media in connection to allegations against then-president Moshe Katsav, the Education Ministry decided to teach school children what the word means and how to respond to sexual advances and harassment by adults or other children. Naturally, television cameras were there when the lessons were introduced, and television reporters began to interview youngsters in class, specifically in connection with Katsav. One young boy said, "Maybe he did bad things, but that doesn't mean we should forget the good things." Indeed, both the press and the public, former presidential advisor Avi Granot said, have lost sight of the "good things" Katsav did in office. Mounting a spirited defense of Katsav in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Granot is not ready to acknowledge that Katsav was guilty of any wrongdoing. He points out that much criticism is being leveled in hindsight at both David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan. "They may have made a lot of mistakes," says Granot, "but that does not detract from the great things they did, just as anything Moshe Katsav did or did not do should detract from his great achievements." To most people, Katsav was a rather bland president - photogenic, but not especially charming or charismatic. Even journalists who regularly covered Beit Hanassi would be hard-pressed to point to outstanding moments in Katsav's six and a half years of activity, prior to his suspension in January. Yet according to Granot, Katsav did do great things for which he may not be given credit by future historians, but for which he deserves the gratitude of the nation. When Israel was focusing most of its foreign policy attention on the United States, says Granot, it was Katsav who decided on a policy of rapprochement with Europe, particularly new member states of the EU, all of which he visited in addition to veteran members such as Germany and France. "Don't forget," says Granot, "that Moshe Katsav visited France before [former] prime minister Ariel Sharon, and that it was Katsav's visit that paved the way for Sharon's success in Paris." It wasn't only on the diplomatic front that Katsav scored points for Israel, says Granot. He was extremely concerned about Israel's relations with the Jewish Diaspora, recalls Granot, and he established the Forum for World Jewry to try to work out a strategy aimed at bringing unaffiliated Jews back into the fold and strengthening their ties to Israel. Katsav initially presented his idea at an opening session of the Knesset and eventually the concept took hold. He held meetings with leaders of major Jewish organizations from around the world, individually and a plenary basis. Many of those leaders were grateful for Katsav's interest and continued to correspond with him and express their appreciation even after his reputation was blackened, says Granot. The outcome of those meetings is the upcoming inaugural conference on "The Future of the Jewish People," organized by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, which worked closely with Katsav when he was promoting the idea of a world Jewish forum distinct from the World Zionist Organization and other Jewish umbrella organizations. Katsav wanted to incorporate organizations and individuals who had no interest in or contact with Zionism, because he placed Jewish unity above Zionism. But where Katsav truly excelled, Granot says, was in forging a relationship with Israel's Arab communities and their leaders. "No political leader invested so much time and effort in the Arab sector as Moshe Katsav," declares Granot. Katsav lobbied hard for Arab citizens' rights and when his troubles began, the Arab leadership was reciprocal in its support of him. At the last annual dinner Katsav hosted for the Arab leadership, Sheikh Abdallah Nimr Darwish from Kafr Kassem rose to the podium and declared, "We don't want a media tsunami to pass judgment on the number one citizen of Israel before he has been tried in a court of law." Katsav also championed the rights of senior citizens, and initiated programs in tandem with the Joint Distribution Committee to improve the welfare of Israel's elderly population, Granot says. He was also the first president to introduce a synagogue at Beit Hanassi and on the day before his resignation came to thank the congregants for making use of it. All these and other reasons, according to Granot, entitle Katsav to have his bust placed in the Beit Hanassi garden alongside those of his predecessors. "After all, he was the eighth president of Israel," says Granot. If there were busts of the seventh and ninth presidents but not of the eighth, he says, future visitors to the grounds - long after the dust has settled on the Katsav affair - will ask about the identity of the eighth president and want to know why there is no monument to him. Granot also observes that the fiscal scandal that tainted the reputation of Katsav's immediate predecessor, Ezer Weizman, did not preclude his bust from taking its rightful place on the lawn. By the same token, Granot sees no reason why Katsav, who - after all - was one of the leaders of the nation, should not be buried, when the time comes, with other leaders of the nation.