A plague on all your houses

Neither Katsav's rejection of his plea bargain nor Mazuz's handling of the scandal gets our sympathy.

katsav court 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
katsav court 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Former president Moshe Katsav's rejection last week of the plea bargain he signed with the state prosecution on June 28, 2007 has propelled the lingering scandal into yet another unpredictable spin. This tale of disgrace appears fated to retain its grasp on us whether we like it or not. Eight different women have accused Katsav of committing sexual crimes; to all intents and purposes, he denies the charges. It was the desire to avoid a smut-laden spectacle that doubtless led Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz's to make the plea bargain in the first place - a reasonable motive, foiled mostly by Mazuz himself. In jurisprudence, failure is often measured by preliminary predictions of success. And Mazuz's original sin was indeed prosecutorial bluster. The amassed evidence patently didn't justify the press conference in which the attorney-general announced that the president could be indicted on two counts of rape. Mazuz later sought a second opinion from Central District prosecutor Ronit Amiel, who decreed it too wobbly to stand up in court. When this meshed with previous assessments by Jerusalem District prosecutor Eli Abarbanel and Prosecutions Division head Efrat Barzilai, a plea bargain became an honorable way out not just for Katsav - but also for Mazuz. Media coverage emboldened various interest groups to petition the High Court against the plea bargain, further putting Mazuz on the spot. He had to own up that he had no solid case. Though the majority of justices upheld the plea-bargain deal, public pressure forced Mazuz to insist on including the censure of moral turpitude. At this point - Tuesday of last week - Katsav seemingly had little to lose and everything to gain by backtracking. There was no guarantee the court would abide by the plea bargain. And since Mazuz had already elaborated on the paucity of evidence, he'd surely have a hard time making a case now. The court will now have to rule on whether the prosecutor was right to withhold certain evidence from Katsav's defense team, something Katsav's lawyers have complained bitterly about. YET DESPITE the egg on its face, the prosecution continues to insist that Katsav will rue the day he reneged on the deal; that he'll now have the book thrown at him. It will, however, be tricky for the prosecution, having attested to being unconvinced by its own witnesses, to now persuade the court of their reliability. Not only will a harsher indictment appear vindictive, it will be perceived as an attempt to punish the accused for insisting on a trial. For Mazuz personally, the easiest course would be not to try Katsav on anything more severe than the charges left in the now-abrogated plea bargain. But he may again be unable to resist pressure from interest groups and pundits. Whatever the prosecution's woes, Katsav should not feel safe. His attorneys clearly identified Mazuz's weaknesses and played them to the hilt. Nevertheless, while in a jury system there exists a 50-50 chance of a guilty verdict, Israeli judges very rarely rule against the prosecution in felony cases. This judicial proclivity to convict, along with the public mood, ought to deprive Katsav of any peace of mind he may have, despite his lawyers' one-upmanship. WE REGRET that this salacious saga will continue to make headlines, here and abroad, as Israel prepares to mark its 60th independence day. This is not where we want the world's attention to be. And Israel has more important issues to focus on. There is plenty of blame to go around: to Moshe Katsav, for his apparent inability to place the nation's interest above his own, from the moment the case began to dominate his presidency; to Menachem Mazuz, for promising more than he could deliver; and to some of the local media for treating this case as if it involved someone who was famous merely for being famous, rather than Israel's number one citizen.