It is worth listening closely to the public discourse that has developed here since the conviction of former President Moshe Katsav; it is frighteningly ambivalent. "Yes, but"; "Perhaps it's all a frame-up" and "Who knows what really went on there." Oh, the "bitter" and the "dangerous" women, they've gone and done it again, those barracudas. Oh, for the old days, when all this was permitted and nobody said a word, the days of "Honey, make me a cup of coffee," and "What do you really mean when you say no," the days that Katsav simply did not know were gone.
Again and again the questions come up as to why the first "complainant A." sent a love letter to Katsav and why the second A. continued to work for him. Why did she go up to his room and why did she come down, why didn't she resist more and why didn't she shout, why were they silent and why did they complain. While only a few explicitly question the verdict an atmosphere of doubt permeates the discourse. When people are convicted of crimes such as murder, robbery, fraud or embezzlement everyone trusts the courts without doubts or misgivings. But when it comes to men convicted of rape and other sexual offenses everything is wrapped in skepticism - sick skepticism, one should add.
It is true that for sexual offenses everything stands or falls on the court's trust, or lack thereof, in each party's version of events. But there is no alternative to relying on the court; otherwise all rapists who did not commit their crimes in public would go free. What happened behind closed doors at Tel Aviv's Textile House and in the luxury hotel? Whatever the court says happened.
It seems that even today it's difficult to figure out what Israeli society means when it says no. Katsav was convicted by two courts, unanimously, but he was not convicted - certainly not unanimously - by the court of public opinion. Many still see him as a victim - of circumstance, of changing mores, of recalcitrant women. Some would go even further and say Katsav is the victim of his ethnicity. The complainants, in contrast, still face contempt and humiliation in the worst case and disbelief in the least-worst case. In any event they are not seen as courageous national heroes, as befits them. The fact they were not courageous enough to reveal their identity publicly also contrasts with the victims of other crimes, who are never ashamed to do so.
Katsav, who embarked last week on a campaign to clear his name, plucked at those very strings. He is the victim, and none other. Shockingly, even in 2011, quite a few in Israeli society, are not entirely convinced of this. In recent interviews Katsav has said he was sorry "If by chance I caused discomfort." But what is the temporary discomfort of a few women compared to the lynch visited on him, the sacrificial lamb, by the public? That, too, meets with considerable sympathy, perhaps even compassion. Calls for his pardon have already been voiced, and not only because he is a former president. No one is demanding a pardon for the former finance minister who was convicted and sent to prison, or for the former prime minister who is now on trial. No one thinks Abraham Hirchson, whose offenses pale next to Katsav's, is a victim. But Hirchson is a thief and Katsav a rapist, and in these parts the celebrity thief goes to prison and the celebrity rapist goes for a pardon.
The basis for all this is still male chauvinism in all its glory. It turns out that despite all the changes and ups and downs it is still with us. Less visible, less politically correct, but still here, alive and kicking. Men - especially, but not only - still treat any female complainant with disbelief and any sexual offender of Katsav's type with understanding. The back-alley rapist is denounced in Israel these days, but not the bedroom rapist. After all, only he and she know what happened; anyway, what did he do that was so bad, and maybe she actually wanted it and then changed her mind.
After two court verdicts we all know what happened there, and what he did evokes disgust. If that is not convincing enough, we'll take out the doomsday weapon: How would you feel if A. were your daughter?
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