Ex-Israeli president Katsav found guilty of rape

 

FORMER ISRAELI president Moshe Katsav has been found guilty on two counts of rape.

Katsav (65) was also found guilty of sexual harassment and obstruction of justice in the case that shocked Israel and marked the most serious criminal charges ever brought against a high-ranking official.

He faces a prison term of between four and 16 years for each rape. Defence lawyers said their client would appeal to the supreme court.

Reacting to the verdict, handed down at the Tel Aviv district court, the victim, dubbed “A”, who was raped twice, said “justice has been done”. The dramatic verdict yesterday morning came 4½ years after the first allegations surfaced of sexual harassment by the former president.

He was convicted of raping and sexually abusing A, a former employee from the tourism ministry. He was also convicted of sexually harassing “H”, from the president’s residence, and of sexually abusing and harassing “L”, also from the president’s residence.

Despite the intense public interest, the one-year trial, which ended in June, was held behind closed doors in order to protect the identity of the complainants.

Because of this, there was little indication of how the panel of three judges would rule.

The verdict however was damning. The judges unanimously accepted almost all the arguments of the victims stressing that “when a woman says no, she means no”.

They also ruled that the former president fabricated evidence, noting that his testimony was “riddled with lies”.

As the verdict was being read out, Katsav uttered the words “no, no”, under his breath.

He made no comment to the waiting reporters as he was ushered from court to travel to his home town of Kiryat Malahi in the south of Israel. He was ordered by the court to surrender his passport.

Throughout the ordeal, Katsav’s wife Gila and his five children stood by him. After the verdict his son Boaz remained defiant.

“We will continue to walk with our heads high,” he said, “and the entire nation, with God’s help, will know that father, the eighth president of the state of Israel, is innocent.”

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said it was a sad day for Israel. “The court stated two messages very clearly today: about the equality of all citizens before the law, and every woman’s full right to her own body.”

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni welcomed the court’s decision, saying it was a clear message regarding public figures in Israel, but, more importantly, conveyed a message to the victims.

“Society’s job is to support anyone courageous enough to come out after all these years, and help her against those who try to libel her. The message conveyed by the court today will strengthen Israeli society,” Ms Livni said.

Yesterday’s verdict marked a sad chapter in what had been classic Israeli rags-to-riches story.

Katsav was born in Iran, one of eight children, and emigrated to Israel with his family as a young child in 1951. The family spent their first years in Israel living in an immigrant tent camp.

Katsav joined the right-wing Likud party led by Menachem Begin and by 24 was the mayor of his home town, becoming the youngest mayor in the country.

He quickly rose through the ranks and served in a number of ministerial positions before being elected president in 2000, defeating the favourite Shimon Peres in what was viewed at the time as the ultimate victory for the underprivileged Sephardic community.

Throughout the trial, Katsav claimed he was innocent and the victim of a political witch hunt. He angrily denounced the media and the Israeli establishment, which he claimed were out to topple him.

The turning point in the affair came in 2008 when Katsav rejected a plea bargain, under which he would have admitted to lesser charges and paid a fine. He vowed to fight to prove his innocence, in a decision the judges yesterday told him had been a mistake.

According to most legal commentators, the verdict was so clear cut that an appeal will not stand a chance.