Former Israeli president goes on trial on rape charges


There is massive public interest in Israel’s ‘trial of the century’, writes MARK WEISSin Jerusalem

FORMER ISRAELI president Moshe Katsav goes on trial today at Tel Aviv district court accused of rape and sexual assault.

In May Mr Katsav entered a plea of “not guilty” after being charged with two counts of rape and an indecent act against a female aide when he was tourism minister; the sexual harassment of two other aides while president; and obstruction of justice.

The proceedings were adjourned during the summer recess and will be held behind closed doors to protect the identities of the complainants.

However, due to the massive public interest in what has been dubbed Israel’s “trial of the century”, the court is likely to allow publication of some of the proceedings.

The former president has maintained his innocence, claiming he is the victim of a political witch-hunt. He has attacked the establishment and the media for “leading a brainwashing campaign” to bring about his downfall. His wife and family have stood by him.

Mr Katsav, who faces a maximum sentence of 16 years in prison, has hired some of Israel’s top lawyers in an effort to clear his name.

The first prosecution witnesses to testify will be two women who worked at the president’s residence who claim they were sexually assaulted by Mr Katsav.

The defence team have already made it clear that they intend to highlight what they claim are “significant inconsistencies” in the complainants’ testimonies.

The Association of Rape Crisis Centres in Israel plans to protest outside the courtroom in solidarity with the women who filed sexual harassment complaints.

The trial was originally scheduled to take place over four days a week. But Mr Katsav’s lawyers complained, saying they would not be able to deal with other cases they were working on. Only after the defence team threatened to resign did the court agree to cut the sessions to three a week.

The court refused a request from Mr Katsav’s lawyers for an additional hearing ahead of the trial, and a request to move the venue from Tel Aviv to a court closer to Mr Katsav’s home in Kiryat Malachi in the south of the country.

This has been a bad week for Israeli public figures. On Sunday, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert was indicted in three separate corruption affairs, and two former ministers began jail terms after being convicted on corruption charges.