Without leaving a mark on the public discourse, attorneys for President Moshe Katsav made an announcement last week in which they declared that in their view, all evidence that has accumulated against their client should be disqualified because it was illegally collected. The defense attorneys, it was reported, were seeking to argue that the president had immunity against any criminal proceedings so long as he was in office, and that this line of defense applies not only during the trial period (as argued by the attorney general) but also during the period in which the police were investigating him. The level of contempt that Katsav holds for the public significance of his post - and of the moral implications of his behavior - hereby hit new heights.
Of course he has the right to defend himself against suspicions and accusations in every way that he or his attorneys choose. And so long as he has not been convicted in court, he is innocent until proven guilty. And, of course, he is entitled to change his version of events and his line of defense whenever he wants to. This is how suspects and criminals normally behave. The way the subjects of criminal investigations defend themselves determines the public's attitude toward them: there are different expectations of a person who is president and one who is a bottom feeder.
He strung a series of inconsistent versions regarding the sexual harassment allegations against him. At first he initiated a meeting with the attorney general and complained of an attempt by A., a former employee in his office, to blackmail him. Later, he denied that he had done this and claimed that his confering with Menachem Mazuz was a matter of routine. When the matter became public, Katsav denied the woman's version of events. When the investigation became more complicated and evidence had accumulated on other alleged instances of sexual harassment, the president claimed there was a political plot to remove him from office. He also said the reason for the persecution was based on his ethnic origin and that he was fighting hard against "a gang of criminals." As part of the defensive campaign, his associates released disparaging information about one of the complainants - surprising tactics when they originate from the president's residence.
In January, Katsav chose a new line of defense: he appeared before the public and for 40 minutes harangued against the police, the attorney general and the media. Katsav presented himself as the victim of malicious harassment campaign based on stories that were used to frame him. At the same time, he tried to fight against the demand that he step down, and agreed to it only after the attorney general made it clear that this was what he expected of the president. Mazuz supported his position, extolling the need to preserve the public's trust in the presidency.
Katsav's attorneys appear to be aiming to disqualify the legal process against their client, on the basis of legal technicalities. From his absolute denial of the accusations lodged against him to being presented as a victim of a monstrous political frame-up, Katsav the suspect is moving on to the pedantic legal stage in order to avoid the defendant's bench. This, of course, is perfectly sound, on the formal level, but is it appropriate on the public front? Not only is the state president mixed up in disgraceful circumstances, not only has he turned the presidency into a laughing stock (even if we assume that he is innocent), he is now trying to avoid the need to answer to the actual charges expected against him.
All the twists and turns of the affair were, from the point of view of Moshe Katsav, there to save his honor (not to mention rescuing him in practice) - not to ensure the honor of his office. He did not spare any means to present himself as the victim in an effort to counter the noose of evidence that appeared to be tightening around his neck. He planned things so that the completion of the period of his "incapacity" would more or less coincide with the end of his tenure as president. The earlier announcements of his attorneys, that he will resign if the attorney general adopts the police version of affairs (Mazuz has already prepared a draft indictment and he is waiting for the hearing before he decides to file charges), are now making way to a legal trick that is meant to save him from the legal process. It is legitimate for a common criminal; it is inexcusable for the president of the state.
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