Katsav's Fall

It was only the hubris of Katsav, who demanded to be cleared of all the charges against him, that paradoxically resulted in justice being done.

Moshe Katsav 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Moshe Katsav 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Moshe Katsav’s conviction for rape, sexual assault and harassment truly is “a sad day for Israel,” as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu aptly noted Thursday.
It is a bitter end to Katsav’s “rags to riches” story of a poor Iranian immigrant turned president. He had been a trailblazer for ambitious young men and women from Sephardi families who hoped to reach positions of power in what had been an Ashkenazi-dominated political world.
In light of his tremendous success, Katsav’s fall is all the more painful. This was most evident in Kiryat Malachi, the town where Katsav grew up and was later elected mayor at the record young age of 24. The reactions of residents there, many of whom had known Katsav for most of his life, ranged from denial to disgust, to fierce anger at his betrayal.
The Katsav conviction also sullied Israel’s name internationally. Foreign news media, rarely anything but eager to slam the Jewish state, pounced on the juicy story of Israel’s figure-head turning out to be a base sex offender.
“Ex-leader of Israel declared serial rapist,” read a prominently placed headline on Pravda’s website. Britain’s Guardian and Spain’s El Pais featured similar headlines.
CNN led its website with “Former Israeli president Katsav guilty of rape” for hours. Al-Jazeera also chose Katsav as its top story and, for good measure, added details from the sexual misconduct trials of former justice minister Haim Ramon and former defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai.
The unanimous conviction on all the major charges by Judges George Kara, Miriam Sokolow and Judith Shevah raises serious questions about the professionalism of the offices of the attorney-general and the state attorney. In 2007, both had been willing to remove the most severe charges of rape against Katsav within the framework of a plea bargain. In February 2008, the High Court of Justice upheld the plea agreement, rejecting petitions brought by women’s rights organizations, after the state attorney and the attorney-general claimed that the rape-related testimony was not reliable enough to ensure a conviction.
It was only the hubris of Katsav, who demanded to be cleared of all the charges against him, that paradoxically resulted in justice being done. Rape victims had watched helplessly as the state attorney and attorney-general debunked their testimony. It must have been no easy task to continue to work with the prosecutors afterwards.
BUT THERE is also a positive side to the Katsav conviction.
It is tangible proof that no one, not even the state’s most elevated citizen, is beyond the reach of justice.
Equality before the law is protected in Israel, regardless of the extent of one’s political clout or powerful connections.
This is a testimony to the strength of Israeli democracy.
His conviction also mark the ongoing deconstruction of an intolerable machismo – once prominent among IDF figures and others – according to which a certain amount of rakishness was considered integral to a uniquely Israeli “new Jew” masculinity. The court’s verdict takes Israel another step toward clearing up any cultural ambiguities about “what she means when she says no,” to paraphrase a popular song of the 1960s. (Tellingly, as part of the increased awareness of a woman’s right to protection from crass sexual advances, Dan Almagor in the 1990s changed the lyrics in his song – “You say ‘no’ so nicely that it sounds more inviting than ‘yes’” – after its message was derided by Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin in the Kibbutz Shomrat rape case.) Perhaps most important of all, however, the conviction gives a major boost to sexually victimized women fearful of stepping forward. The Katsav trial, coming after the guilty sentences handed down in the Ramon and Mordechai trials, is further proof that a woman has a fair chance of defending her honor in a court of law even against the most powerful masculine figures. The Tel Aviv District Court’s insistence on conducting the entire trial behind closed doors to better protect the identities of the victims was central to this bolstered empowerment.
ONE SMALL bit of business remains. In the garden of the President’s Residence, Beit Hanassi, there are sculptured busts of all previous presidents, including our eighth. In light of his conviction, and as a symbolic step toward the removal of the stain to Israel’s honor, it would behoove the government to remove Moshe Katsav’s bust from that exalted company.