Women's groups disheartened by court decision

Tuesday's decision may lead to further petitions and appeals from women's groups.

barashi + amir 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
barashi + amir 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Women's organizations are reeling over Tuesday morning's High Court ruling against their collective petition protesting former president Moshe Katsav's plea bargain, in which Katsav avoided rape charges by pleading guilty to lesser charges and paying a monetary fine instead of serving jail time. A collection of women's groups, including the Women's International Zionist Organization, Na'amat and the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, had petitioned Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz's decision to accept the plea bargain on June 28, 2007. Tuesday's decision may lead to further petitions and appeals from the women's groups. "We wish to express our deep outrage with the Supreme Court decision," they said in a statement. "Even in our starkest predictions we did not entertain the possibility that the Supreme Court would uphold the plea bargain in such a clear-cut way. It was proven today that there is no justice in Israel; the rule of law is over." "This very much concerns us," said Irit Gazit, head of legal services at WIZO's Division for Advancement of the Status of Women. "We hope to get permission from the Supreme Court to try to pursue more legal action." The verdict troubles women's groups for multiple reasons. On one hand, a general trust in the judicial system has been shaken. "Justice has not been done," said Talia Livni, president of Na'amat. "The state should review its attitude toward the way it handles sexual harassment of women and its treatment of high-ranking officials." Na'amat and WIZO were both rankled by the process as much as the result of Katsav's trial, feeling that he "got away due to his position" because he had access to different pre-trial procedures and well-connected attorneys. "He had advantages," said Livni, that the average citizen does not. "Money and status have triumphed over the truth, women and society," said Gazit. On another level, these organizations fear that the verdict will have an adverse effect on the readiness of rape victims to come forward and press charges against their assailants. WIZO feels that the result of this case "may send them [the victims] the message that it's not worth complaining." In its annual report to the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women last November, Tal Kramer, director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, presented statistics that show a drop in the number of rape victims reporting crimes to the police. He noted how difficult it is for women to go to the police and that something needs to be done to "break this cycle of silence." Tuesday's ruling, activists said, stings of complete disinterest with regard to these trends. In view of the ruling, WIZO is considering the establishment of a support system for women who do not want to concede their right to prosecute, but continue to seek truth and justice through civil procedures. "We send our thoughts to these women [whose testimony against Katsav was disregarded] and to all victims of sexual harassment and assault," said Gazit. "We encourage them not to give up."