Katsav should resign

The president has every right to fight to clear his name, but not while remaining president.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
It is truly a dismal day when we learn that the president of our country, the man who is supposed to embody the best in our nation and, it goes without saying, to be an exemplar of good citizenship and of the rule of law, is to be indicted for numerous serious crimes. While Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz says in his letter to President Moshe Katsav that he is open to being convinced in hearings to withhold an indictment, it is difficult to imagine Mazuz will be shown evidence that will substantially change the horrible picture before us today. That picture is of 10 women who have accused Katsav of crimes ranging from sexual harassment to rape. The cases of five of these women were dismissed because the alleged crimes occurred long enough ago that the statute of limitations applies. Mazuz decided to dismiss the case of one other woman. The draft indictment therefore alleges offenses against four women. Regarding one woman who worked for Katsav in 2003-4, the police reportedly recommended a charge of rape, while Mazuz has so far decided on charges of: using his superior position to obtain sex; nonconsensual sex; assault while abusing a position of power; and sexual harassment. With regard to a second woman who worked for Katsav while he was minister of tourism in 1998-99, the draft indictment would charge the president with rape and sexual assault. Charges of sexual assault through abuse of power and sexual harassment are included regarding two women who worked for Katsav at Beit Hanassi. Finally, the draft indictment includes charges of breach of trust and fraud for the alleged purchase with state funds of dozens of silver goblets as personal gifts, obstruction of justice and harassment of a witness. Today, Katsav is expected to hold a press conference in which he will announce that he wishes to suspend himself until the pre-indictment hearing process, which could last for months, is completed. Katsav has previously pledged to resign if Mazuz did decide to request an indictment following such hearings. We sincerely hope that Katsav will reconsider this position and resign immediately. We are acutely aware that any citizen, including the president, is innocent until proven guilty. Yet there is a long standing practice, backed by Supreme Court decisions, that requires cabinet members to resign if indicted. We believe the president should be held to a slightly higher standard, and should resign now that a draft indictment has been submitted, particularly in the case of an indictment for such serious and extensive crimes. The president has every right to fight to clear his name, especially given his claim that he is completely innocent of all charges. He should not do so while remaining president, even while under suspension. Suspension, moreover, is not something that Katsav can do on his own authority; such a step must be approved by the Knesset. Many members of the Knesset have already said they will vote against suspension. While there may or may not be the votes necessary to fire Katsav against his will, forcing a Knesset vote on the issue would only prolong the suffering and embarrassment that the president has caused to the country. In addition, suspension would mean that Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik would become acting-president, thereby delaying the process of choosing a new head of state and postponing an extremely awkward moment for the presidency and the nation. We hope that Katsav will see that he has an opportunity, by resigning now, to salvage some small measure of respect by his willingness to do what is clearly in the nation's best interest. As it happens, doing so would also be in his own interest as well. We hope, of course, that Katsav is able to prove his innocence, at least by the evidential and reasonable doubt standards employed by the law. We cannot see, even if a court renders "not guilty" verdicts on all counts, that Katsav can return to the presidency, to a term that ends in July in any case. The urgent priority now is to choose a new president who will attempt to restore respect to this institution, which we still believe holds the promise of serving the people, rising above politics, and upholding the rule of law.