President Moshe Katsav may not know this, but the Supreme Court justices are not the only ones bothered by the possibility that he may attend the swearing-in ceremony for Dorit Beinisch, the court's next president. There are other audiences and institution heads who, in keeping with protocol or due to previous arrangements, will be forced to be in the presence of the president in the near future. They are also troubled by this, and are trying to find a way out.
Because of his refusal to step down before the investigation against him is completed, Katsav is transforming the dignity of the presidency into an embarrassing stigma that those who care about their reputation would prefer to avoid.
From the outset, the office of the president has no real substance aside from dignity and symbolism; his role is to be the highest representative of the state, to personify the zenith of Israel's officialdom. The position of the president stems from this definition: In the official hierarchy, he is considered the most honorable person in the country. There were presidents who had the wherewithal to bring character, decorum and a worldview into this position, aspects that elevated them above the people on the merit of their own personalities. There were others for whom the office offered a wrapping that coverered the fact that they were mediocrities. In any case, the office grants the highest respect to its holder, and this is why there are many takers.
Instead of benefiting from the prestige of the office of the presidency, Katsav has found himself staining the position with his behavior. Even while Katsav remains innocent until proven guilty, the nature of the circumstances in which he finds himself are sufficient to demand that he take an immediate leave of absence until the investigation is completed. Katsav is not a model of truthfulness in the way he presented the affair to the public. For example, he pretended not to have complained of a blackmail attempt to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, saying the two only met for a routine talk; and he said he did not file a written complaint but gave Mazuz a written summary of his version of events. He is also not an example of model behavior because he found himself caught up in a situation in which he can be blackmailed (as he claims) with charges of sexual harassment.
In order to emphasize the severity of his conduct, it is sufficient to ask whether it is possible to conceive of former presidents Ephraim Katzir, Yitzhak Navon or Chaim Herzog having allowed themselves to enter such dark situations in which women, working under their authority, would have had cause to file complaints of sexual harassment against them. Katsav brought this trouble on himself, and as long as the investigation does not end with his complete exoneration, he must pay the public price demanded by his behavior and step down from office.
Honor is a word reflecting high esteem, excellence, importance. When we address the president of the state we refer to "His Excellency"; in other words, those close to the president are touched by his excellence and honor. These days, Moshe Katsav causes embarrassment, if not outright shame; he does not radiate respect. In order to eliminate this nuisance from the public arena, he must solve it by removing himself from it. Anyone with self-respect would have reached this conclusion without any external encouragement, and would not clutch onto legalisms (innocent until proven guilty) in order to hold on to his position.
The authority granted to the president of the state by law is so modest that there is no need for anyone with extraordinary talents or wisdom to fill this role. On the other hand, the president is expected to be a man who endears respect and, at the very least, does not bring disgrace to the office. This prerequisite must be at the forefront of the concerns of all the candidates vying for the presidency in the post-Katsav era, and of the Knesset that will choose them.
Whoever puts forth his candidacy must check himself to make sure he has no skeletons in his closet. The Knesset too should know if any of the candidates have dark pasts that could once again bring to the office of the president the kind of unpleasantness that Katsav is now raining down upon it.
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