Former Israeli President Convicted of Rape
After a trial lasting a year, a Tel Aviv district court comprised of a panel of judges has found Issrael’s former president, Iranian-born Moshe Katsav, 65, guilty of rape and sexual harassment in a case filed four years ago on behalf of three women who worked for him. Katsav was Israel’s eighth president, a position of largely ceremonial powers, but was forced to resign in 2007 two weeks before his term ended.
The Guardian UK reports today:
The sexual offences took place during Katsav’s terms as president and as minister of tourism. Complainant A accused the former president of raping her on two occasions, while complainants H and L accused him of sexual harassment. The verdict confirmed all the three accusations. Katsav was acquitted only of charges that he had harassed a witness.
Since the accusations first arose, the former right wing president has portrayed himself as a victim of ethnic discrimination. Israeli political life has long been dominated by Jews of European origin, while Katsav and many of his supporters are of Middle Eastern origin…
“No basis was found to the claim that the relations took place with her agreement,” he said. The court added that Katsav’s version was “riddled with lies”.
The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said that today was “a sad day for the state of Israel and its residents”. He added: “Today the court conveyed two clear-cut messages, that all are equal before the law and that every woman has exclusive rights to her body.”
These are the most serious charges ever brought against an Israeli leader. Oddly, the case was brought to the attorney general’s attention by Katsav himself who complained of being blackmailed by one of the accusers. According to the original indictment, Katsav forced a woman to his office floor, pulled off her clothes and raped her. A second time he summoned her to a hotel in Jerusalem for work and then raped her on the bed.
Katsav was originally offered and agreed to a controversial plea bargain that required he resign two weeks before his term ended, having pled guilty to lowered charges of sexual harassment. Detractors suggested he was getting a lenient deal because of his powerful position and an opinion poll showed that 73% of the country thought the decision was unjust.
The Guardian UK reported:
Kinneret Barashi, a lawyer for one of the women who accused Katsav of rape, said she was “very much infuriated” by the court’s decision today. “If the attorney general’s decision was wrong, deficient, riddled with shortcomings, distorts reality, causes many people emotional upheaval and leaves a woman’s body defenceless, then I think it would have been proper to intervene in such a vile plea bargain,” she said.
However, Katsav later rejected the plea bargain, intent on proving his innocence. He maintains that the charges against him are based on racism due to his Middle Eastern origins. In 2009, Katsav appeared on TV to protest his innocence for a full two hours during which he criticized journalists and his accusers. He charged the press of printing “poisonous, horrible lies” and at one point began screaming at a reporter. Katsav blamed the media for the allegations against him and swore that he would, “fight to my last breath, even if it means a world war, to clear my name.”
Today Katsav was found guilty of two charges of rape. Legal experts estimate he could spend as from four to ten years in jail, though he is appealing the decision to the supreme court. Women’s rights activists consider the public outcry against Katsav as positive change in public opinion, as the sexual misdeeds of high-ranking officials have long been tolerated in Israel.
I can’t help but be struck by the difference in reaction to rape allegations against high-ranking and/or powerful people. This case also involves an odd sequence of events, going a step further, it involved an original complaint brought forth by the accused for blackmail, and time lapsing before one of the rapes is reported. This case also involves women who interacted with the accused long after the incidents.
As Jacklyn Friedman explained in her appearance on Democracy Now, the circumstances and reporting of rape are not always a clean event, sterile of other factors or perceived motives and often the accused and the accuser have a relationship that continues past the actual event. In fact, Katsav originally suggested that these women were angry about employment issues and his staff suggested that he was simply not helpful in getting them employment after they left his office and this made many women angry. It could even be argued that Katsav had a seemingly semi-plausible public relations defense in terms of his allegations that this was a witch hunt based on his Middle Eastern origins.
Yet in this case, the public supported the investigations and indeed protested the original plea bargain. Perhaps the salacious way in which these allegations were reported early on swayed public opinion in favor of the victims. In fact, in 2007, Katsav’s attorneys sent a letter to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz criticizing him for “not preventing leaks of the investigation to the press,” after leaks of his telling one woman that he fantasized about her during intimate activities hit the press and suggestions that “everyone knew who was current flavor the month was” seemed to back up the notion that sexual harassment was occurring.
Press leaks. High-powered man. Delays in reporting. Multiple women coming forward. This sounds eerily familiar and yet the two were prosecuted in the press very differently. Of course, Julian Assange is clearly a wanted man and therefor it may be much easier to believe that he’s being set up by the government than it is to believe that he may have sexually assaulted two women. And the early inaccurate leaks that came from the Daily Mail made is sound as if the charges against Assange were based on some odd Swedish law that made having sex without a condom a crime, when in fact, they were much more serious than that. But it may be that the story that first hits the press is the one that sticks, and in Assange’s case, the notion of mocking “sex by surprise” proved too tantalizing for most pundits.