katsav - Rafael Ben Ari / Israel Hayom - December 30 2010
Former President Moshe Katsav in his hometown of Kiryat Malachi this week. Photo by Rafael Ben Ari / Israel Hayom
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Residents of Moshe Katsav's hometown, Kiryat Malakhi, cotninued to defend the former president following his rape and sexual abuse conviction on Thursday, blaming the media for the court's decision.

Kiryat Malakhi residents gathered in cafes across town to watch as the judges handed down Katsav's verdict.

"He probably made a mistake, but the girls who were with him… set him up," said Ilana Belhasan, a local resident.

Katsav was convicted of raping and sexually assaulting A., a former employee at the Tourism Ministry. He was also convicted of sexually harassing H. from the President's Residence, of sexually abusing and harassing L. from the President's Residence and of obstruction of justice.

The unanimous verdict was handed down more than four years after complaints surfaced of grave sexual offenses against various subordinates, during his terms as tourism minister and as president.

Prosper Siluk, a former Kiryat Malakhi council member said he knew Katsav since his days as a university student.

"I was a council member when Katsav was mayor. He contributed greatly to Kiryat Malakhi," said Siluk. "With all due respect to the court, the judges are also human and it seems that they were influenced by the media and women's groups, who relentlessly attacked him."

Zion Asulin, another resident, supported the former president. "I believe in Moshe Katsav's innocence. This conviction is unpleasant for the family and the residents of Kiryat Malakhi."

"If he is guilty that is very unfortunate," said Asulin, "too bad he didn't accept the plea bargain. He had a way out and didn’t take the opportunity."

Dorit Amar, Katsav's neighbor, was surprised by the verdict.

"We're all stunned. Everyone in Kiryat Malakhi loves him. We did not expect this. I think the judges took it too far… I think there was injustice done to him," Amar said.

"I thing the court mistreated Moshe Katsav," another resident said. "He did not do anything wrong, and he is not guilty. He was attacked by the media and that's why the judges made that decision."

Throughout Katsav's trial, the former president and his attorneys blamed the media for bias against Katsav in their coverage of the case.

In a March 2009 press conference, Katsav accused the legal establishment of using the media to determine his case and said that Attorney General Menachem Mazuz had leaked information to journalists.