Conflict & Justice

Rape charge upheld for former Israel president


Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav arrives at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on Nov. 10, 2011.


Menahem Kahana

TEL AVIV, Israel — One of the ugliest sex-and-violence scandals in Israeli history has come to a close. On Thursday Israel’s Supreme Court unanimously rejected the appeal of former president Moshe Katzav, who was forced out of office in 2008 when confronted with an array of sexual assault charges, and was convicted on two counts of rape last March.

His 7-year jail sentence also stands. He was not sent directly to jail but has been ordered to begin serving his term on Dec. 7, an unusual courtesy granted him by the justices.

The tactics employed by Katzav and by his attorneys were roundly criticized by the 3-member Supreme Court appeals panel. Among the problems they highlighted: the defendant was found to have lied outright to the Court about his scheduling. In addition, whereas his attorneys argued that the president had enjoyed a “consensual relationship” with one of the claimants, the disgraced former president himself continued to maintain that he had never had sexual contact of any type with the woman.

The names of victims of sexual assault are not routinely made public in Israel, but at least four women are known to have presented evidence of sexual assault against Katzav, who according to the judge’s decision made use of the presidential residence as if it were a private sexual playground.

The presidency is a largely ceremonial position in Israel, with candidates voted on by members of the parliament. Before being elected president, Katzav served for close to 30 years as a Likud mayor and later, minister and member of parliament representing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party. Katzav was the subject of decades of raised eyebrows and tittering rumors about adulterous and/or violent habits before the formal charges were brought against him.

Opposition leader Tsippi Livni and Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich, both women who are preparing to mount challenges to Netanyahu later this year, declared that this is a “a sad day for the state of Israel,” while emphasizing that no man is above the law. Yachimovich emphasized that “justice, especially justice for the female citizens of this country” rang out from the high court today.

In an interview three days ago, Mr. Katzav’s chief attorney, Zion Amir, seemed to suggest that Katzav may take violent action against his own well-being rather than face a long jail sentence.

“No, he’s not prepared for that. Not at all. It is unimaginable. Let’s not talk about what might happen. Let’s skip this question,” he said.