Impeachment talk grows in Knesset as Katsav digs in
Senior legal official calls on Katsav to resign pending decision on indictment; Katsav plans to attend Knesset opening.
Talk of of Knesset impeachment of President Moshe Katsav rose in volume on Monday, as the president resisted calls to suspend himself in the face of the possibility that he may be indicted for a range of alleged criminal offenses.
"It is clear that this president must end his term, and immediately," Education Minister Yuli Tamir said Monday. "The process of ending his term must be hastened," she told Army Radio, "and if he does not do this by himself, the Knesset will have to give him a clear hint that his road has come to an end."
By law, a minimum of 20 Knesset members are needed to sponsor an impeachment measure. Knesset law stipulates that the 20 must demand a special committee debate to launch the process to oust a president. The president or his counselor must be summoned to make their stand. A decision to oust the president then requires a 75-percent majority in the committee, which submits the decision to the Knesset plenum for approval. A majority of 90 MKs is required to approve such a decision.
A high-ranking Justice Ministry source Sunday urged Katsav to suspend himself until the attorney general decides whether to indict him, in view of the police recommendation to charge Katsav for rape, fraud, and other offenses.
"If the president knew what I know," the senior source said, "he would have decided already to spare the public and himself the great embarrassment they are experiencing."
The source spoke after the police released its recommendation to indict Katsav for rape and fraud.
Meanwhile, notwithstanding the police's recommendation, the president is planning to attend the opening meeting of the Knesset's winter session on Monday. The director general of the President's Residence, Moshe Goral, informed the Knesset on Sunday that Katsav would attend the session, but will not make a speech.
Several Knesset members from across the political spectrum said they would either excuse themselves from the plenum or refrain from standing up as the president arrives in protest of his presence in the parliament.
Katsav lawyer Zion Amir said the president would not take any decisions before Attorney General Menachem Mazuz states his opinion on the affair and decides whether there is sufficient evidence to indict the president.
Justice Ministry sources said the criminal investigation against the president has created a very difficult situation. However, Mazuz does not intend to come to a decision or issue a statement concerning the matter until after he grants Katsav a hearing.
A source close to the investigation said the suspicions were very serious and cast a heavy shadow on the presidency, since the number of women volunteering complaints against Katsav is now very significant.
If Mazuz decides to indict Katsav, he will not be able to bring charges against him formally as long as Katsav is president. Nor can Mazuz terminate Katsav's term as president or suspend him from his post on the grounds of temporary incapacity to carry out his duties.
The Justice Ministry expects that the Knesset will act to oust Katsav - should it come to that decision - before the end of his term, in July 2007, or for Katsav to step down should Mazuz decide to indict him.
The High Court of Justice dismissed Sunday the first petition demanding Katsav's resignation. The petitioner, attorney Yossi Fuchs, also demanded an interim order prohibiting Katsav from taking part in the ceremony at the Knesset on Monday.
MK Colette Avital (Labor), who intends to contend for the presidency, said: "Katsav must resign. This is very serious. I hope he does not come to the session opening to spare himself and us the embarrassment." Avital added that she asked the Labor faction to issue a statement to this effect.
The executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI), Tal Kramer-Vadai, said the police's recommendation to indict Katsav could encourage women to complain. However, she said the public campaign against the first complainant could also send out the opposite message and deter women from doing so.
ARCCI activists have demonstrated several times outside the President's Residence in Jerusalem.
"When we shouted that the emperor has no clothes, the crowd that gathered there showered us with contempt and hatred," Kramer-Vadai said.
"Society is still not supporting the victims or hearing their voice. People don't want to break the circle of silence. We are not gloating, but we want to make the silenced voice of the victims heard. They're a huge public that nobody wants to acknowledge," she said.