The Katsav story is no Shakespearean tragedy

Why isn’t the disgraced president already behind bars? Katsav should already be serving his time rather than receiving a platform in the media.

Katsav in court for appeal 311 R (photo credit:  REUTERS/Baz Ratner )
Katsav in court for appeal 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner )
Former president Moshe Katsav granted a series of interviews over the weekend, but his interviewers failed to ask one central question: Why isn’t the disgraced president already behind bars? As a convicted rapist, sentenced to seven years in jail, Katsav should already be serving his time rather than receiving a platform in the mass-circulation tabloids and on the radio airwaves to once more protest his innocence. Given the amount of time Katsav has had at his disposal during the period of his appeal to the High Court, he surely does not need additional time to sort out his affairs before beginning his sentence next month. With a monthly pension of around NIS 50,000 still coming to him despite his crimes, Katsav has a morethan comfortable financial cushion.
In a sickening twist on the old joke about the definition of chutzpa (a man convicted of murdering both his parents asking the court for mercy because he’s an orphan), Katsav told Ayala Hasson in an Israel Radio interview that he was the real victim in this saga, conveniently ignoring the women he’s been convicted of raping and sexually harassing. Meanwhile, he told Yediot Aharonot: “for five and a half years they’ve been scouring my body with metal combs, letting my blood day after day, it’s been a war without any respite.”
His apology to the women concerned: “If I hurt any of the women, then I apologize and deeply regret it” is totally meaningless, because he then quickly added in the Yediot interview “it wasn’t my intention [to hurt them]. And they know this. When every one of them goes to sleep at night, she knows that I didn’t do anything wrong.”
One has to hope this refusal to take responsibility for his actions will knock on the head all the misguided talk of President Shimon Peres pardoning his predecessor. Until Katsav understands the gravity of his crime, there is no hope for his rehabilitation.
In fact, as far as Katsav is concerned, it is not his actions that have led him to face a long stretch behind bars but the fact that he was elected Israel’s eighth president.
“I despise the concept of the presidency.
That is the only reason for my fall, for the fact that I’ve become a broken vessel.
Cursed is the day that I was elected president of the State of Israel, because if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said.
The former president might like to see himself as a Shakespearian hero, whose rapid rise from poverty to presidency – “I was a political meteor. I reached the top positions at the earliest age and fastest speed” – brought about his downfall, but the truth is more mundane. Rather than suffer from a tragic flaw, Katsav is a man who failed to control his base sexual impulses and abused the power he held over his female subordinates. The only tragedy here is the effect his behavior had on his victims.
KATSAV’S INSISTENCE on the fact that it was his election as president that brought about his undoing, does however raise another important issue: the absolute importance of ensuring the principle of separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government in order to prevent abuse of power.
His conviction, while a shameful moment in Israeli history in the sense that a rapist could become the country’s president, was also a proud moment, showing that nobody, not even the symbol of the state itself, is above the law.
Only countries with a truly independent judiciary can ensure that politicians are unable to bend the laws to suit themselves.
In this regard, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision last week to oppose having the Knesset Constitution Committee hold hearings for Supreme Court nominees was an important step in preventing politicians from seeking to influence Supreme Court justices.
By arguing “we must preserve the separation of powers, and the Supreme Court is above everything,” Netanyahu was faithfully reflecting the Herut movement’s Jabotinsky legacy which, as far as the democratic character of the state is concerned, is a liberal, humanistic manifesto.
The prime minister deserves praise for preventing this attempt to subordinate the judicial authority to the elected authority, but he is still allowing Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to lead processes to change the way in which Supreme Court candidates are chosen, and coalition head Ze’ev Elkin and Likud MK Yariv Levin to sponsor and encourage a number of wide-ranging bills that harm the tenets of Israeli democracy.
As someone who spent a large and significant portion of his life in America, Netanyahu knows that Israel’s status as a Western democracy is based on its sharing a belief with the United States and the countries of the European Union in the separation of powers, the rule of law, civil rights and the freedom of the press.
All of these issues are now under threat from the right-wing members of the prime minister’s party, egged on by the nefarious influence of his senior coalition party Yisrael Beiteinu. The prime minister needs to take a stand and stamp out this dangerous trend before Israel begins to lose its democratic anchors.
Democracy is not, unlike MK Levin’s simplistic belief, just the rule of the majority.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.