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The conviction on serious sexual charges of former president Moshe Katsav reveals the weakness and the strength of Israeli society. This is the shining moment of the rule of law, which makes no distinction between the highest in society and the lowest. It is a tragic moment for the perpetrator and a sad one for a country that once gave such a person its highest office and allowed him to benefited from state support to keep things quiet for years.

Above all, however, it is a welcome moment for the women hiding against their will behind the anonymous letters by which they have been referred in the media. The court heard their voices, gave expression to their suffering and gave them back a bit of their trampled respect.

The Katsav trial gives expression to a social change in relations between men and women which at its core reflects recognition of the right of a woman to say "no," even to her employer, to her supervisor, to her army commander or any other senior person in authority who tries to force sexual relations upon her.

The turning point came in the passage of the sexual harassment law of 1998, which rejected the distorted norms that were firmly established at many places of employment. In a militaristic and traditional society that had clearly viewed women and their bodies as male property, step by step the law changed norms that had also been established in the higher levels of government.

Case after case involving government officials and other public figures - Yitzhak Mordechai, Ofer Glazer, Haim Ramon, Hanan Goldblatt, Uri Bar-Lev and others - were etched into the public consciousness, making it clear that the rules had changed, that sexual exploitation wouldn't be tolerated among the good old boys and that a woman's body and spirit were no longer up for grabs.

The deeds uncovered in the investigation of Moshe Katsav and at his trial are particularly grave due to their serial nature and as a result of the former president's web of denials and the mudslinging campaign that he conducted with the help of his associates, against the women who mustered the courage to file complaints against him.

In deciding to accept the testimony of the complainants and their supporters as true and completely rejecting Katsav's lies, the judges made it clear that the law is the protector of women who have been harassed, degraded and persecuted. The verdict against the former president is not simply a verdict rendered in a criminal trial. It is also an important step on behalf of human rights.

The path to gender equality is still long. Women in Israel are discriminated against in laws regarding personal status and in their salary levels, and trafficking in women continues. There is no doubt, however, that Katsav's conviction gave new, clear and powerful force to these proper and desirable norms.