Monday, January 3, 2011

Black Holes of Davida: Moshe Katsav

Since the role of president in Israel is kind of the vice president in America, mostly as a figurehead, I never really kept tabs on the presidents of Israel - it’s the prime ministers that matter. I was pretty young when Moshe Katsav was in office, like in sixth and seventh grade, so when I first saw the headlines about how he was finally convicted of rape charges, I had to sift through my memory banks to remember who he is. Once I did, I remembered that when he left office, it was amid a load of controversy and scandal about rape and sexual harassment charges.

Apparently it wasn’t just a bunch of rumors. In 2006, a woman worker (called Aleph, the Hebrew letter for A, by the media) in the Ministry of Tourism came forward and accused him of raping her. After woman after woman began making allegations against him (in total, ten), he took a three-month leave. In March 2007, Knesset tried to impeach him, so he resigned in July. Katsav planned to agree to a plea bargain to plead guilty to some counts of sexual harassment, receive a suspended jail sentence, and give compensation to two of the women who made claims against him. The public, especially women’s rights groups, were extremely against the bargain, and in April 2008 he called off the bargain.

The trial began in March 2009, and he was formally charged with rape and other sexual offences. On December 30, 2010, a three-judge panel found him unanimously guilty of two counts of rape, indecent acts by force, and sexual harassment against Aleph, in addition to sexual harassment against Hei (H), a woman worker in the President’s Office, and indecent acts by force and sexual harassment against Lamed (L), an eighteen-year-old National Service volunteer in the President’s Office. In total, ten women made claims against him, but five could not testify, since the statute of limitations ran out. (I personally find statutes of limitation ridiculous in crime cases. How can there be a statute? Is a person any less raped after two days or twenty years? Is a person any less unfairly paid after two days or twenty years?)

Katsav can face up to 49 years in jail; the maximum jail sentence for rape is sixteen years, the minimum four. The decision for how long his sentence will be is expected in a few months. Until then, his lawyers plan on appealing the court decision.

Gila Katsav, his wife, stated that “I feel very bad” about the situation, but was not with him when he was sentenced. Elana Maryles Sztokman wrote about her concern for Ms. Katsav, since he began ordering her around during an interview with a reporter, and when she did what he told her to do, she said, “You see? You still need me.” She’s stuck with him throughout this whole mess, and he still treats her like she’s nothing? I feel bad for Ms. Katsav. Even though Ms. Sztokman criticizes her for sticking by him and therefore enabling him, I think it’s a little insensitive to judge someone quite so harshly in this kind of situation. Could Ms. Katsav have stood up and condemned her husband? Yes, she could have, and I would have praised her loudly if she did. However, I feel it’s not fair to discriminate against her, since it’s an extremely difficult and fragile situation with a lot of mixed feelings and emotions, and God only knows what kind of abuse (verbally, physically, or sexually) she’s had to deal with.

While this entire case is a huge embarrassment for Israel and the Jewish community at large, I have to commend government officials for standing up for it rather than letting it get swept under the rug. Ronit Amiel, the prosecutor, said, “This is not a happy day, or an easy day, for the State of Israel, but it is a day of honor for Israel’s system of democracy. It shows that in Israel, even princes and presidents who need to be brought to justice will be.” Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu agrees with Amiel that this is a sad day for Israel, but is glad that this shows that “all are equal before the law, and that every woman has exclusive rights to her body.”

I dub Moshe Katsav an inductee into the Black Holes of Davida - people who let us feminists down by advocating misogyny, sexism, abuse, and other anti-woman thoughts and actions.

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