The news of former President Moshe Katsav's sentence was greeted with shock yesterday by supporters in his hometown of Kiryat Malakhi.
Even those who believed Katsav was guilty of rape did not anticipate that the Tel Aviv District Court would hand down a seven-year jail term.
"We believe that Katsav was convicted by the media," said Kiryat Malakhi resident Tzion Asulin. "It's a disgrace that the State of Israel is sending its president to prison."
"I just don't understand the judges," Asulin added. "After all, Katsav has already received his punishment. They should have let him go home. Shame is the greatest punishment of all."
"They spilled Katsav's blood," said Golan Ganam, another resident who watched the announcement of the verdict at a coffee shop. "This whole trial should never have taken place. The media convicted him. Leave him alone. He has been libeled. It's all a lie."
After yesterday morning's sentencing hearing in Tel Aviv, Katsav and his family returned to his home in Kiryat Malakhi at around 11:00 A.M. Neighbors stopped by their house to offer support.
Katsav's wife, Gila, who did not attend the sentencing, and his children were by his side all yesterday afternoon.
"He feels like a man who has been cheated," said Yitzhak Saluki, one of Katsav's closest friends, who has been at the former president's side since the start of the scandal. "He said to everyone inside his home: 'Good God, I'm not guilty. If I were guilty, I would have taken the plea bargain.'"
In April 2008, Katsav rejected a plea bargain that would have required him to plead guilty to sexual harassment and indecent acts. In exchange, he would have received a suspended sentence and been ordered to pay compensation to two victims.
Saluki said that while Katsav's present condition is "not good," he is convinced that the former president "will not go to prison."
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