ZIon Amir
Zion Amir. “The treatment Katsav got in the media was aggressive and left no escape route.” Photo by Emil Salman
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Zion Amir is former president Moshe Katsav's defense attorney, along with Avigdor Feldman and Avraham Lavie. On Monday the Tel Aviv District Court allowed publication of sections of the closing arguments by both sides in the closed trial. The judges are expected to deliver a verdict in the coming weeks on charges of aggravated sexual harassment and rape. But that probably won't be the end of the case, which is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court no matter what happens on the district level.

Zion Amir, do you think Moshe Katsav will be convicted?

I have no idea what the judges will decide. I have made no secret of the fact that I believe that the evidence presented in this case can lead to only one verdict - not guilty. I certainly hope the court will see it the same way.

Would you say today that the verdict has been decided in the court of public opinion?

That's a tough question. The answer will have to take into account that these things cannot be examined scientifically. To a large extent, Katsav's verdict has been decided.

Since when?

Since the beginning. The treatment Katsav got in the media was aggressive and left no escape route. It was like that from the first moment, and it's hard to see why. There was a feeling that the game was fixed.

And that filtered into the courtroom?

That's the million dollar question. I can say that when legal procedures are enlightened, and ours are, there's a line of defense that allows for withdrawing an indictment precisely for that reason, when the "conviction" by the public and the media might seep into the judges' minds. Has it really seeped in? Time will tell; the verdict is around the corner. I want to believe with all my might that the "trial" did not enter the courtroom. We have to make this assumption. We defense attorneys are placed in a situation in which it is completely impossible to conduct a trial otherwise.

Did you feel that something did trickle down?

It is hard to say whether the judges were completely aware of these arguments, of the uproar in the media when the events took place. The trial was conducted in a moderate and restrained manner and the judges did not allow themselves to lose their sense of caution, which trials of this sort need all the more. The courtroom was kept strictly in check.

Was it justifiable to hold a closed trial?

The legal situation in sex offense cases is that trials are closed out of consideration for the privacy of the plaintiffs. At the same time, I have a heavy feeling that it was difficult to conduct this trial underground. It was conducted with unacceptable secrecy. A trial should be held in public, and all such proceedings behind closed doors are problematic in my eyes. Justice is served when the trial is exposed to the public to the maximal amount possible.

It is important to me that the trial be open to the examining eyes of the public, with some reservations connected to protecting the anonymity of the plaintiffs. It is a shame that it was conducted this way. Until the charges were made it was held in the open, evidence was exposed and published, and the plaintiffs were interviewed by the media and revealed all there was to reveal. There was an orgy of publicity for a long time, and then the court lowered the curtain on the trial and there have been no reports from the courtroom. Until that moment, the media could publish everything in color, and then there was total darkness.

It gave an opening to conjectures and guesses on what was happening behind the closed doors. That did not contribute to the public's faith in the justice system. There will always be a feeling that something is being concealed, and this applies to everyone. And so I feel they will be sorry about the closed doors.

Who was served by them?

First of all, it hurt the defendant. When the plaintiff knows that she will undergo cross-examination under the protection of immunity, immunity regarding what she says, that is pretty artificial. Some part of the process of clarifying the truth is fear before the law. The witnesses were spared this. A witness has to know that he will be exposed to watchful eyes during the process. Behind closed doors, everything is flexible. Closed doors serve the system of enforcement in all its malignancy; it is comfortable for the government to hold trials behind closed doors.

Do you realize that in the public eyes, this trial essentially never took place?

I'm aware of that. Some people who approach me in the street think there has been no trial, some ask when it will start, and there are those who think it is over but they don't know the results. For some members of the public, it is as if a black hole has swallowed up the trial. I am concerned that this hole is also swallowing up the major players in the trial, firstly the defendant himself.

What is the most common question you run into on the street about this case?

I have almost never met anyone who thinks that Katsav raped anyone. I go from the center of the country down to Eilat, and travel outside legal circles too. Old and young, young men and women - no one believes he's a rapist. You might be able to say he had affairs and such. It's amazing how the public has such sharp perceptions, apparently. I am often asked why he was indicted after the prosecution told the High Court of Justice that these witnesses were not telling the truth.

Looking back, do you think it was a mistake to back down from the plea bargain?

I think that I can't speak in those terms. It was not a business deal. You have to take off your hat before a person who goes into such a struggle, even though he could easily have put a stop to it. It was a soul-wrenching struggle that cost a lot. Katsav could have put all this behind him two years ago.

Do you admire this?

I admire it very much, and the ability of a man to confront his fate head-on, and wage a battle for his life and his good name.

How much was Gila Katsav, Moshe Katsav's wife, involved in the process?

I don't know what goes on in the family about this, between him and her, and between her and the children. I can say she had a prominent presence in her own way: modestly, with a good heart, pleasantly. I saw her loving, concerned support and great faith in the decisions he made.

Judge Hayuta Kochan said former minister Haim Ramon's forcible kiss case was the trial of her life. Is Katsav's sex offenses case the trial of your life?

I think that in many ways when you represent a president, there isn't much left to do afterwards. If there is a high point in the public life of defense attorneys, it is to represent a figure such as the country's president. It is a fascinating public and legal challenge of a rare and amazing type. One person's challenge is someone else's disaster.

What moment do you remember best from the trial?

When Katsav made his way through the court from the defendant's bench to the witness stand. When I signaled to him with my hand and told him to approach the stand. At that stage he had to answer the accusations, and I see him with his back to me a short distance away - and I see not only him but the presidency on the stand.

One question about entertainer Dudu Topaz, who was your client for three months until he committed suicide. What memories do you have of him?

The moment before his arrest is a difficult picture. He came to consult with me, with a few days' growth of beard, looking completely confused, the antithesis of Dudu Topaz. It's hard to see people going down. And then there was the moment I got the phone call at 8 A.M. from the deputy commander of the Nitzan prison who told me, "He's dead." And then I was in total shock and the picture I had in my mind right then was the moment when I left him a day earlier. I had been in the prison a day earlier, and when I left he looked at me with a half-smile of despair, and with closed eyes he said, "Zion, I can't take this," and that's how we parted.