Moshe Katsav, who served as Israel’s president from 2000 – 2007, was convicted on Thursday, Dec. 30 in Tel Aviv District Court of two counts of rape, sexual assault and other sexual abuse crimes. The unanimous verdict, handed down by a three-judge panel, came more than four years after the accusations first surfaced.
The trial, which lasted one year, stemmed from incidents involving three female employees, whose names were kept confidential by the court. One incident occurred while Katsav was tourism minister from 1996-1999; two occurred during his tenure as president.
The 65-year old Katsav, who immigrated to Israel from Iran in 1951, was offered a plea bargain two years ago that may well have resulted in a suspended sentence. He rejected that deal, however, opting instead to clear his name in court. While a sentencing date has not yet been set, Katsav now faces a minimum of four years and a maximum of 16 years in prison.
Women’s groups in Israel were quick to applaud the decision. At the same time, according to the Jerusalem Post, they urged the court to strip the disgraced statesman of the privileges and benefits he receives as a former president, including his pension, and the use of a driver and secretary.
“We welcome the judges decision in this case and are happy that the victim’s testimonies were finally recognized and accepted,” Ronit Erenfroind-Cohen, head of the Department for the Advancement of Women at the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) told the Post after the verdict was handed down. “However, there is still the issue that he [Katsav] is receiving all his benefits from the State of Israel and the government must look into this.”
Michal Rozin, executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI), who was present in the courtroom when the guilty verdict was read, said that Katsav’s name should not necessarily be removed from the list of those that had served as presidents but rather should be used to prompt Israeli society to take a long hard look at itself.
“I think it is a sad day for the State of Israel,” she said, adding, “it is time for the state to look inside itself and ask whether it is justified that he still receives a salary or a driver and staff.”
“This ruling will give strength and power to all women in this country,” concurred Naamat President Talia Livni. “I see this as a big victory because it shows that the system is able to uphold the law and make sure justice is found,” she said, adding, however, that the question remains “how he got chosen to be president?”