The entrance seemed almost presidential: surrounded by his entourage, wearing a fine suit, his snow-white hair well coiffed. Welcome the eighth president of the State of Israel. As opposed to past photos of him on the way to synagogue in Kiryat Malakhi, hunched and unshaven, it seemed for a moment that Moshe Katsav had arrived for a state visit.
In the small and crowded courtroom − the Tel Aviv District Court was not built for presidential trials − silence fell. Katsav seemed to be joking with his lawyers. The only words that came out of his mouth, woe to the ears that heard them: “Good morning to Gideon Levy. A special good morning to Gideon Levy. You are the only one here who deserves a good morning.”
Who am I to argue? Katsav is still very aware of the cameras. He remained standing; he did not sit in the defendant’s dock as required as long as the cameras were in the hall. As if that would make any difference, the photograph in the dock. As it happens, he knew what he was doing. When he sat down on the wooden bench, he sank − bowed and cowed, introverted, alone in the world with his bottle of water. He took a sip from time to time, suddenly the defendant. His face revealed nothing.
Judge George Karra was much less aware of the moment. The esteemed judge began reading the summary of the verdict almost in a whisper, his eyes cast down, ignoring calls of “we can’t hear” and the “shhh ...shhh.” The first pages were fairly dull − refuting Katsav’s lawyers’ arguments about what was necessary for justice to be served. Karra read them in a monotone. He also needed the occasional drink of water, drinking from a cheap, single-use cup, as if to remind everyone that judges are also people, a matter that has been discussed extensively over the past few days in another context.
Then began the best (and most difficult) show in town: the rape conviction. “Herein: the incident in the office in Tel Aviv”; “Herein: the incident in the hotel”; “Herein: the incident in the apartment.” The pulling down of the pants, the sexually arousing conversation − a mixture of sex and authority. His father’s memorial, the event for Iranian immigrants and the minister who welcomed the woman co-worker in his shirt and underwear in room 1817 at the Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem.
Karra delivered the verdict quietly and decisively, twisting the dagger again and again, bringing down all the defense’s arguments. My colleague Merav Michaeli, sitting next to me, texted the rape-crisis-center activists demonstrating outside and their cheers wafted into the courtroom. A judge convicts a president, and beating drums rise from the street in an almost bizarre kind of play.
“A. fell onto the bed, the defendant leaned over her and pulled at her pants and managed to get them off, he spread her legs and penetrated her, although the defendant did not climax because the defendant managed to push him away,” Karra read from page 9. The formulations were legalistic and sanitized, but the picture that emerged left no room for doubt: serial rapist, habitual sex offender, liar, hiring, courting, attempting to have intercourse, dismissing. The judges tore apart the version of Katsav and his high-powered lawyers, warmly and remarkably embracing the complainants and believing every word they said.
Above all, it seemed the judges were angry at the defense’s tricks: the defendant who claimed he did not have intimate relations with the complainants, and his lawyers who argued that he did but they had been consensual. Along with the fatal mistake of rejecting the (shameful) plea bargain, this was their second fatal mistake. One could not help wondering, in light of the clear verdict, why the defendant needed those prestigious lawyers, and what good all his public relations advisers did him.
One could breathe a sigh of relief yesterday. The prosecution did not frame, the media did not tell tales and the public did not lynch. The judges carried out their task. One could also breathe a sigh that was not one of relief: How many other Katsavs are there in authority who pulled up dresses and pulled down pants, who forcibly penetrated victims using their authority and have never been brought to George Karra’s courtroom?
And when the judge read: “we have therefore decided to convict the defendant of two counts of rape and one count of indecent assault,” all in the indictment’s first clause, a young woman stood up and left the room, tears in her eyes. She was the only woman in the row where the patriarchal family was sitting, surrounded by men, almost all wearing skullcaps.
His son shouted: “Not true, not true.” But it was too late.
The signature on the verdict and the last stab: Katsav is to surrender his passport so he won’t flee the country. And the ceremony was over. In all of our anti-democratic fest, one moment of equality before the law, the blink of an eye of Israeli pride.
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