Former Israeli President, Moshe Katzav has been jailed for seven years after being found guilty following a rape case against him.
With tear-soaked eyes and accompanied by his sons, Moshe Katzav exited the Tel Aviv District Court where the sentence had been passed on Tuesday morning, marching on to commence a seven -year in jail sentence and two years probation for rape. The case involved a host of other sexual offences.
On December 30last year, Katzav was convicted of two count charges of rape and sexual harassment of former female employees who were subordinate to him during his tenures as tourism minister and later as president.
A four-hour plea hearing was held behind closed doors last February after the High Court of Justice rejected an appeal by local journalists to allow the press to be present. The judges had scheduled Katzav’s sentence reading for March 8.
The judges, however, made available an abstract of the prosecution and defense sentencing pleas.
The prosecution then demanded that Katzav be sent to serve a considerable jail term, not only for the severity of his crimes, but also for “disgracing the presidency.” It also requested that the convicted ex-president compensate his victims.
Katzav’s attorneys asked to exempt him from imprisonment or consider a mitigated sentence, since he already is “a zombie,” referring to the former president’s emotional state since his conviction.
They reiterated the suffering incurred by Katzav as a result of the prolonged trial, which began in March 2009, saying that during this time he was a victim of “waves of hatred and contempt that are unprecedented in Israel’s legal history.”
However, as sentences were passed on Tuesday, the three-judge panel ruled that Katzav will pay 100,000 shekels (28,000 U.S. dollars) in compensation to “Aleph,” who claimed to have been raped and sexually harassed by Katzav when she worked at the President’s Residence.
“The fact that Katzav was a minister and a president makes this case unprecedented. His former titles can’t be taken to his credit. On the contrary, it makes his acts more severe,” said Judge George Karra in the argument that preceded the reading of the sentence.
“The offense of rape is the most severe among sexual crimes, Katzav committed rapes with violent forces and exploitation of his victims’ weakness and his high rank, which is why the punishment must be clear and concise,” Karra said, adding, “No man is above the law.”
Katzav, 65, Israel’s eighth president, is the highest-ranking Israeli official ever sent to jail.
On Tuesday, he continued to maintain his innocence, bursting out at the judges: “You’re wrong! It’s a lie!
The girls know that they are lying!” Israel’s Tel Aviv District Court last October had handed down a verdict against the former Israeli president, finding him guilty of two counts of rape and multiple counts of sexual abuse of women he had worked with during his tenures in the Tourism Ministry and the presidency.
The historic verdict highlighted a scandal that erupted over four years ago, when several women who were subordinate to Katzav first approached the police and filed complaints of falling victim to rape, molestation and indecent sexual acts.
Katsav assumed the presidency in 2000. Seven years later, he was forced to announce his resignation in disgrace.
He was the first in that capacity in Israeli history to stand trial and be convicted of sexual crimes. Owing to the sensitivity of the case and the media buzz, legal proceedings were held behind closed doors.
The former president’s defense lawyers request that the reading of the verdict would be held without the media present was ultimately denied.
Prof. Emanuel Gross, a lecturer at the University of Haifa’s School of Law, told Xinhua that while he was saddened by the fact that the symbol of Israeli democracy had committed such “heinous” crimes, he felt proud of the way the country’s legal system handled the affair.
“I’m proud that we have such a good system, which was able to investigate and indict the symbol of our country, ” said Gross. Israel’s criminal code for the offense of rape carries a penalty of four to 16 years’ incarceration.
The affair could have ended in 2007, had Katzav not willingly chosen to reject a plea bargain offer which promised that the most severe charges would be dropped and he would be given a suspended sentence.
Instead, he opted to take the case to court to prove his innocence. In a fiery two-hour televised press conference in January 2007, the former president lashed out at the Israeli media, accusing it of conducting an ethnically-motivated campaign against him from the moment he had assumed the presidency after defeating then- contender and Noble Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres. Katzav, 65, was born in Iran and immigrated to Israel with his family at the age of six. He was raised in Kiryat Malachi, a destitute town in southern Israel that he still calls home.
Following his discharge from the Israel Defense Forces, he enrolled at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and graduated with a degree in economics and history. At the age of 24 he was appointed to head Kiryat Malachi’s local council.
Prior to entering politics, he had worked, among other things, as a bank teller and a journalist.
His political career in the Likud party was often cited as a source of inspiration for children of underprivileged Jewish immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa.
In the course of the legal proceedings, which were launched in March 2009, Katzav harshly criticized then-Attorney General Menahem Mazuz, who accepted the findings of the police investigation and filed an indictment against him on charges of rape and sexual molestation.
In the 2007 televised appearance, he had also slammed the State Prosecutor’s Office for not lifting a media gag order on the identities of the plaintiffs, saying it hampered him from effectively defending himself in light of their severe accusations.
His victims, known by the initials A., L. and H., enjoyed the massive support of Israeli women’s right groups throughout the trial, all the more so when the verdict was read last October.
Several women’s rights groups viewed the affair as a test-case for what they perceive as the country’s far from satisfactory laws on sexual harassment and the lax attitude with which it is tolerated.
“It’s a landmark, symbolic day in the struggle that we’ve been leading over the years,” one activist told reporters outside the courtroom.
She said the feeling among the country’s women’s rights groups was that the case had to be brought to court for a fair trial. “We feel satisfied today that the court actually did justice with all of these women who were severely abused by Katzav,” she said.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Likud party and two time prime minister of Israel reaction to Katzav’s sentence says the 7 year jail sentence for former president Moshe Katsav marks “an important day for justice in Israel.”
President Shimon Peres on Tuesday said in response to the seven year jail sentence of his predecessor Moshe Katzav that “this is a sad day but everyone is equal before the law.” Peres made the comments while touring the Israeli northern border.
Asked if he thought that Katsav’s statue should be removed from the garden at Beit Hanassi in Jerusalem, Peres said that it was not necessary to reject the past.
“The legal process has not yet ended but I do not think that we need to change history,” Peres said. “This is not Russia and we do not need to change the past for the good and bad.”
Peres said that the conviction and sentencing of Katzav did not have a direct impact on the presidential institution in Israel.
According to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday responded to the sentence, saying “This is an important day for justice in Israel.”
“It showed that there is equality before the law and that no one is above the law. It also showed that women are equal and it is forbidden to harm them,” Netanyahu stated.
He added that the sentence illustrates how different Israel is from it’s surrounding countries, referring to the Jewish state as “a fortress of the rule of law.”
Source: Jerusalem Post