All the President's Sins / The Saddest Day

It's a sad day, possibly the saddest day for statesmanship in Israel. I have no other way of putting it because I have no other feeling - just sadness. Now the cloud is descending not just over the president, but over the entire government. Even if the lawyers and advisers consult through the night, leaving all the lights at the President's Residence blazing, yesterday's announcement that the attorney general plans to indict President Moshe Katsav on charges of rape and abuse of power has dimmed the lights.

I did not vote in the Knesset for Katsav when he ran against Shimon Peres for the presidency. But after the election, I invited Katsav to my home and made coffee for the two of us. We were photographed shaking hands and embracing, and thus did Katsav receive the blessing of the Peres supporters. There is only one president, after all, and he really is everyone's president.

Even Leviticus 4:22 didn't take into account the possibility of a nasi (a leader, or "president" in modern Hebrew) who knowingly sins. There it imagines only that a leader, if he sinned, did so unwittingly. And who could have imagined a suspicion that the Bible didn't raise about a leader of Israel?

The president allegedly committed "indecent acts," which means exactly what it says. But all the tricks and ruses that were meant to save his skin are 10 times more indecent. Katsav did not have the right to stain his pants with the coffee of fraternity we shared or to drag the country into the gutter. Whether he is guilty or innocent, he did not have the right to expose the citizens of Israel to the dark corners of his bureau and embarrass them day after day.

If Katsav is truly certain of his innocence, he is, of course, allowed to fight for his name - but it's a struggle he absolutely must not wage from the President's Residence. Katsav's name may be his dignity, but while his name was bestowed upon him by his parents, he received his presidency by election, and he is no longer wanted by his voters.

Even the country's leading citizen does not have the right to shame the public. The President's Residence is not meant to serve as a city of refuge.

On Monday, Channel 10 news reported that one of Katsav's attorneys had conspired with one of Israel's leaders of organized crime to slander the complainant identified as A. I was sure that during the broadcast, the President's Residence would send an urgent notice that Katsav had suspended himself. But the notice has been taking its time in coming. That's how I reached the conclusion that Katsav was not doing his part, that Katsav must go.

Since the accusations came to light some six months ago, I have refrained from writing about the subject or expressing my opinion on it. I gave Katsav the benefit of the doubt. But in the current situation, even if there is a doubt, there is no more doubt. The issue at hand is no longer the dignity of the president, but the unrelinquished dignity of an entire nation.