Judge in Katsav trial known to be independent, fearless

Christian Arab George Karra, once a defense attorney, is ‘well acquainted with the criminal sphere,’ says head of the Bar Association’s Forum on Criminal Affairs.

Moshe Katsav 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Moshe Katsav 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Much has been made of the fact that the conviction of former president Moshe Katsav by the Tel Aviv District Court last week was a tribute to Israel’s vibrant democracy, where all men and women are equal before the law.
That view, however, is regarded by many others as a poor man’s consolation for the incontestable fact that the holder of this august office turned out to be a serious and serial sex offender.
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However, there was another aspect of the trial that said something unqualifiedly positive about Israeli democracy, and that is the fact that an Arab from Jaffa presided over the panel that judged the former president of the Jewish state.
Even more telling was the fact that very little has been made by the media of the fact that Judge George Karra held such a pivotal role in the legal procedure involving the former president. Despite all the tensions between Jews and Arabs in Israel, this seems to be taken for granted.
Karra, 58, was born to a distinguished Christian family in Jaffa. According to a close friend, Ahmed Mashharawi, his immediate family in Israel is small by Israeli Arab standards. Karra has two brothers who live in Brazil. A sister died of cancer. He has three daughters, including one who lives in the US.
Karra studied at Terra Sancta primary school and Eshkolot secondary school in Jaffa. According to his Courts’ Administration biography, he completed his law studies at Tel Aviv University in 1973 and opened his own office in 1975. He was in private practice until 1989, when he was appointed to Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court. After 11 years, he was promoted to Tel Aviv District Court and was appointed a senior court judge last year.
Mashharawi said that Karra took his job very seriously and had cut himself off socially so that he can concentrate on his work in an entirely independent way.
“He has a very small circle and does not talk much,” said Mashharawi, who added that he had known Karra for 40 years and that the judge’s brother had been a classmate.
“He doesn’t mix and he does not talk via others,” Mashharawi said.
He added that Karra was a very reliable and credible judge and was not afraid to make decisions.
One of Karra’s best known cases involved a local crime family known as the Hariri clan. Although the state had reached a plea bargain with the defendants and agreed to sentence some of them to five years, Karra ignored the nonbinding recommendation and sentenced them to 15 years.
“The family paid a heavy price for his decision,” said Mashharawi. “He was threatened and had a bodyguard for several years."
According to a Channel 2 news report, a bomb disposal unit checked his car every morning.
Attorney Rachel Toren, head of the Bar Association’s Forum on Criminal Affairs, agreed with Mashharawi that Karra was a “serious and courageous judge.”
He has been around a long time and is very experienced. Before becoming a judge, he was a defense attorney and he is very well acquainted with the criminal sphere.”
Toren added that although Karra is not a harsh judge, if he decides that the defendant is guilty, he will hand down a tough sentence.
“He has no trouble meting out stiff punishments,” she said.
Meanwhile, a forum of jurists requested from Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein that he open up a criminal investigation into associates of Katsav who assisted him in gathering damaging evidence against the complainants in his trial for rape and sexual assault.
Army Radio quoted a letter sent to Weinstein from the jurists as saying, “This is a publicly important legal action. The law must be upheld for all those who actively contributed to the terrible result: The committing of serious sex crimes.”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.