The conviction yesterday of ex-President Moshe Katsav for sex crimes in the Tel Aviv District Court is a milestone - for the legal system and the government in Israel. It wasn't only the private matter of citizen Katsav that was weighed in the scales of justice; so were equality before the law and the ability of the investigative, prosecutorial and court systems to handle the rarest of cases, that of the highest level of officials. The former president is not the issue; these weighty concerns are the issue and the lesson we can learn from Katsav's shame.
Judges George Karra, Miriam Sokolov and Judith Shevach ruled courageously and unequivocally. Katsav's gamble - at the last minute, he jettisoned the plea bargain his lawyers had obtained from then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz - proved a colossal misjudgement. His insistance on total denial of the events and their significance, instead of admitting to some charges, cost him a total loss.
Katsav served as a mayor, a member of Knesset, a minister and, finally, as president of the country. A man of the public from his youth, he was skilled at politics and maneuverability, and these skills in the presidential elections of 2000 brought him - from the opposition - a victory over the ruling party's candidate, Shimon Peres.
But Katsav could not control his instincts. Apparently, quite the opposite was true. He took advantage of his high status and his office in the President's Residence, to molest women under his authority. He thus brought shame not only on himself, but also on the office from which he was forced to resign, under pressure from Mazuz, just weeks before his term was to end.
In this court case there is shame, but there is also praise. The police investigators did their work devotedly, in collecting and summarizing evidence and in recommending that Katsav stand trial.
While the prosecution and Mazuz faced difficulty in navigating through the storm of reaching the plea bargain, their mistakes are dwarfed by the final outcome. The judges were not to be daunted by Katsav's public relations onslaught.
Katsav's disgraceful loss is a victory for the complainants and for law enforcement in striving for justice and for Israeli society, which atones for its flaws even when those accused are found at the highest levels.
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