When the 15th Knesset voted Moshe Katsav into office as president in July 2000, it did not know about the criminal behavior attributed to him now. That was the Knesset of the Barak government's twilight, anxious to punish Ehud Barak for his failed management of state affairs. That was the Knesset seething with Shas' vengeance over Aryeh Deri's conviction. That was the Knesset already touched by the Likud Central Committee's fingerprint. It was a Knesset indifferent to Katsav's personal characteristics and suitability to the high office. For these reasons, the dissembling politician managed to overcome his challenger, Shimon Peres, and march proudly toward the President's Residence.
The 17th Knesset, which decided three days ago to make do with Katsav's announcement of "temporary incapacity," is a Knesset insensate to moral values and the public good. It is a Knesset that knows full well who the man is whose public fate it must decide, a Knesset that had the opportunity to get to know the attorney general's draft indictment, that observed the way the president defended his name. Despite all this, the Knesset chose a weak vaccination for the state against its infected president: It avoided impeachment, and made do with temporary abdication. Even the symbolic gesture of removing him from the President's Residence was not insured.
That is the real face of the Israeli legislature at the start of 2007: a bunch of cynics grasping on to hypocritical reasons to purify the abomination of their act. These self-righteous people explain that as long as Katsav has not been officially charged, he should not be treated harshly; that even if the serious suspicions against him are translated into official criminal proceedings, the verdict must be in before his public fate is decided.
Thus, the Knesset has supported the patently clear process of sweeping things under the rug to make things easier for Katsav and to save him from paying the full public price for his behavior. The route the Knesset chose to get back at Katsav allows him to continue enjoying all the rights of a president, to prepare for his legal battle from an advantageous position, and especially, to not have to come to terms publicly with his actions. Temporary incapacity might even allow Katsav to reach the end of his term before he stands trial.
The 17th Knesset is knowingly ignoring the public moral significance of Katsav's behavior. Even if he is declared innocent in a court of law, he should be ousted from office for his very entanglement in circumstances that led to the accusations listed in the draft indictment. Israel has a right to a president not accused of sexual harassment by a long list of young women. Where did we go wrong in that we have a president who admits to having selected questionable or fraudulent (his claim) women to work for him? Why do we deserve a president who defends himself from accusations by means of underworld acquaintences? What sin did the state commit that its president stands before it and attacks the fundamental elements of the democratic regime: the police, the State Prosecutor's Office, the attorney general, the press? Why must we suffer an individual in the President's Residence who stirred up ethnic passions in a calculated way?
Two weeks ago, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz was quoted in Haaretz as lamenting the lack of a culture of societal retribution in Israel. He grabbed the bull by the horns: Society does not disgorge people whose behavior is not normative; the only test by which it judges them is the legal yardstick. That is why there is so much corruption here. The Knesset had the opportunity to correct a distortion and to apply a standard of proper behavior to the president, and not necessarily through formal legal action. Even without a criminal indictment, Katsav is unworthy of continuing to stay in the President's Residence. His behavior, his public explanations, are enough to move a proper society to force him to resign immediately. The 17th Knesset, it turns out, intends to knowingly ignore this opportunity.
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