"A weight has been lifted off my shoulders," former President Moshe Katsav told his associates on hearing of Supreme Court Judge Yoram Danziger's decision to put off the beginning of Katsav's prison sentence until the Supreme Court hears his appeal.
The weight lifted off the shoulders of the man who was convicted in District Court of rape and assault, shattered the hopes of many, especially women, that the Supreme Court would prove once and for all that everyone is equal before the law.
"There are judges in Jerusalem," Katsav said.
Exactly that expression was used - with the opposite interpretation - by those who hoped those judges in Jerusalem (or in Tel Aviv or Be'er Sheva ) would treat a fading entertainer, anonymous felon convicted of rape or a former president equally. But apparently this was not the case, not even close.
Let's not talk about the United States, where International Monetary Fund (IMF ) head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a much more important figure than Katsav, was taken to New York's infamous Rikers Island to be jailed even before the rape trial he is expected to face.
People charged with rape are often put in custody or under house arrest until trial (Hanan Goldblatt, who was convicted of far less grave offenses, remained under house arrest for almost three years ). This is especially true for those who have been convicted in the District Court. Katsav, however, was sent home to make arrangements, to celebrate Passover and Independence Day at his leisure, with his supportive family.
Justice Danziger's ruling adds another fundamental tier to the principle of inequality before the law. Not only was the carrying out of the sentence put off by a month, but Katsav is also being allowed to remain at home until after his appeal is heard. Who knows what will happen until then - it could be a long time like in the old, old Jewish joke where the Jew laughed that before something terrible and expected happened, he could die, or the dog could die and maybe the Polish land owner could die.
One thing cannot be said of Justice Yoram Danziger - that he is a populist. Katsav's "cronies" and attorneys argued that the court may be influenced by the alleged media lynch against Katsav. But Danziger's ruling has proved that it is not the public mood endangering the defendant's equality before the law. If anything, it is the sophistication of expensive attorneys and their prestige that threatens equality.
The judge explained his decision by saying that two of the three necessary criteria to reject Katsav's request to delay his imprisonment until after his appeal have not been met in this case. There is no fear he would repeat his offenses and no risk he would try to flee the country.
But these arguments can be made about other famous convicted felons, whose very celebrity makes it difficult for them to repeat the offenses for which they have been convicted, or for them to flee the country. Until now we haven't had a sex offender who reached the position of state president.
Danziger also said there is a certain chance the Supreme Court will accept Katsav's appeal, and it is possible it would interpret the evidence in Katsav's case differently from the way the District Court did. Therefore, we should not hasten to send Katsav to jail.
Danziger might have been commended for being lenient, especially since he states his decision has nothing to do with Katsav's being a former president. But this kind of long, amazingly argued debate about a convicted man's rights to stay out of prison until the Supreme Court hears his appeal, never happens in the cases of sex offenders who are not former presidents.
Two possible conclusions may be drawn from Danziger's ruling. Either all sex offenders wherever they are should be treated leniently, to maintain the equality principle he advocates; or senior public service positions are the refuge of scoundrels.
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