No pardon for Katsav

As long as Katsav refuses to admit that he is a rapist and express remorse for his actions, he cannot begin the process of rehabilitation.

Katsav in court for appeal 311 R (photo credit:  REUTERS/Baz Ratner )
Katsav in court for appeal 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner )
Moshe Katsav refuses to give up. When allegations against the former president first surfaced over five years ago, he chose to fight. He foolishly rejected an unjustly generous plea bargain extended to him by former attorney general Menachem Mazuz, insisting instead on waging a legal battle to clear his name completely – and lost.
He appealed to the High Court of Justice in the hope that the seven-year prison sentence for rape and sexual harassment imposed by the Tel Aviv District Court would be overturned – and lost again.
Now, instead of humbly accepting the verdict and saving Israeli society yet another embarrassing reminder of how he besmirched the presidential title for base ends, Katsav – through a surprisingly large and vocal group of close friends – is pushing for a pardon from his successor, President Shimon Peres.
Katsav’s lawyers, apparently uncomfortable with the sheer chutzpa of such a move, and the very real danger of a public backlash, have refused to verify or deny reports of a pardon request. However, one unlikely supporter of a pardon is former justice minister Yossi Beilin, who said on Sunday that he wouldn’t want to see a man who served as a state symbol sitting in prison so long, as he believes Katsav does not represent a public danger.
To this day, Katsav has denied having sexual relations with any of the women he was convicted of raping and harassing. He, therefore, cannot even request the pardon himself, since doing so would be a tacit admission of guilt.
The argument being made on Katsav’s behalf is that Israeli democracy successfully passed the test when the High Court rejected Katsav’s appeal. The justice system has made its point that no one, not even the president of Israel, is above the law. But sending a former president to prison would be a degradation of the institution of the presidency.
We beg to differ.
Pardoning Katsav would undermine the principle of equality before the law by providing special treatment to men in positions of power.
More importantly, a pardon would send out a highly problematic message to women: A man who abuses his authority to extract sexual favor might be prosecuted.
But ultimately, he will be shielded from justice – by another powerful man.
The vast majority of women who are rape victims do not come forward. They fear the reactions of police, state prosecutors, the courts and even friends and relatives.
Indeed, the objectification of women continues to promote a blame-the-victim dynamic. If women wear revealing clothing or show outward expressions of friendship towards men, they are accused of “provoking” outbursts of rape.
Cultural ambiguities about “what she means when she says no,” to paraphrase a popular song by Dan Almagor from the 1960s, while less pervasive, are stubborn and deep-rooted. Judicial decisions help change public perceptions.
In the 1990s, after Supreme Court judge Mishael Cheshin derided the song’s message during the Kibbutz Shomrat rape case, Almagor changed the lyrics to: “You say ‘no’ so nicely that it sounds more inviting than ‘yes’.” This was an improvement, though by no means a full appreciation of a woman’s right to say no.
A presidential pardon would be a setback to Israeli society’s move towards gender egalitarianism.
What’s more, Katsav might still represent a danger to society. He and his supporters seem not to have fully comprehended that abusing one’s position of authority is a form of coercion comparable to the use of physical force.
As long as Katsav refuses to admit that he is a rapist and express remorse for his actions, he cannot begin the process of rehabilitation.
Now, just one small bit of business remains to be taken care of.
In the garden of Beit Hanassi, the President’s Residence, there are sculptured busts of all previous presidents, including Israel’s eighth president, Moshe Katsav.
In light of his conviction, and for the sake of removing the stain to Israel’s honor, Katsav’s bust should be removed from the garden.