Katsav advisers quit after his tirade

Justice Ministry slams speech in which former president says his "noose is A-G's lifeline."

Katsav Kiryat Malahi conference 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Katsav Kiryat Malahi conference 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Moshe Katsav's media advisers resigned on Thursday night after the former president, suspected of sexual offenses that include rape, blasted Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz and the law enforcement authorities in an unprecedented attack at a two-and-a-half-hour press conference in Kiryat Malahi. Motti Morell and Ronen Tzur notified Katsav of their decision following the conference but noted that they "believe in his complete innocence and hope he will be fully acquitted." After over two hours of attacks on Mazuz, the Israel Police, politicians, the women who complained against him and the media, he failed to conclude with the bombshell revelations that had been promised in advance. The Justice Ministry branded his appearance "pathetic" and full of false and distorted claims. If he wanted to clear his name, he should do so in a court of law, said a ministry spokesman. "For almost three years, you, the people of Israel, have been watching a street trial," said Katsav. "The attorney-general, police and DA have crossed every red line in their attempt to incriminate me. I stand here before you crushed and hurting, but determined. I am not giving up. I am not raising my hands in surrender." Katsav added that he could "look every citizen straight in the eye and say that during 40 years of public activity, I acted with dignity, honesty, responsibility and without any trespass of the law. I am sure that at the end of the day, history will judge me well," he said. The vast majority of the speech was devoted to a theme similar to that of his January 2007 appearance at Beit Hanassi, which has been immortalized in the Israeli press as the "J'accuse" speech. "My noose is Mazuz's lifeline," said the former president. "My speech serves as a response to interviews made to the press by Mazuz and the police, to which I couldn't reply for two years for fear that I would be charged with interfering with the investigation." Katsav argued that on July 5, 2006, he had told the attorney-general about a blackmail threat he had received from the woman later known as "Beit Hanassi Aleph." But, he said, "Mazuz was careless and acted rashly, and within three days he revealed the incident to the press even though he was committed to secrecy." Katsav noted that only after he had told Mazuz of the blackmail threat did the woman who tried to blackmail him start telling the press that he had molested her. Further, Katsav argued, Mazuz had established a police special investigation team charged with "collecting gossip and rumors from the street" against him rather than probing the alleged extortion attempt. Attorney Kinneret Barashi, who formerly represented Beit Hanassi Aleph, discounted Katsav's claims later Thursday, saying the alleged blackmail had been probed, but that Katsav had taken weeks to hand over tapes that allegedly documented it. Barashi added that crime scene investigators had later written a professional opinion that the tapes had been doctored. Katsav said Mazuz had asked for a gag order on documents that shed critical light on the case in Katsav's favor so the "street trial" could continue, and criticized the press for not asking the court to cancel the order "because they feared that their vicious attacks on me would be proven baseless." At another point, the former president chronicled a long list of situations in which he may have offended Mazuz and thus provoked him. He also suggested that Mazuz had ramped up the case in an attempt to escape criticism for dropping the investigations against former prime minister Ariel Sharon in the Greek Islands affair. But Mazuz was hardly the only target. At one point, Katsav began to condemn specific journalists, singling out two Israeli dailies and particularly journalist Shalom Yerushalmi of Ma'ariv. When Yerushalmi's coworker Rino Tzror attempted to object to the claims, he was forcibly removed from the room, as was Yerushalmi moments later. The mood in the Kiryat Malachi wedding hall became increasingly strained after this, with large numbers of local residents gathering to support their hometown hero by trying to silence the restive journalists. On Wednesday, Katsav's confidants had suggested that, unlike the "J'accuse" speech, the former president would respond to questions. However, journalists' optimism dwindled as the speech continued. In the end, Katsav took no questions. By the beginning of the second hour, all of Israel's news networks had dropped coverage of the event. The Justice Ministry, however, took the protracted tirade seriously. "Katsav's speech was a chain of false claims and distorted facts during an unbridled crusade of personal defamation against the attorney-general and the heads of the law enforcement system," said Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen. "The attempt by Katsav to turn his trial into a media circus is an expression of his loss of control and constitutes a breaking of basic norms of behavior on the part of someone who only recently held high governmental positions. "The criminal process is not a press conference in which one can voice every allegation and any defamation, no matter how unfounded," he added. "In any case, Mr. Katsav stated that he wishes to express his innocence. If that is in fact his desire, the proper venue for that is a courtroom, in a proper court proceeding, and not in pathetic, false speeches and attempts to intimidate the law enforcement community." Following the speech, two of Katzav's public relations consultants resigned, citing "essential differences" concerning the holding of the event. Motti Morel and Ronen Tzur wished Katzav well, saying they still believed in his innocence. Jpost.com staff contributed to this report.