The sentencing of former President Moshe Katsav for rape marked a sad day for Israel, his successor Shimon Peres said Tuesday, but proved that the judicial system did not make allowances for rank and political status.
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Katsav was found guilty in December of rape and other sexual offenses against three women, and was handed a seven-year jail sentence earlier Tuesday by judges at Tel Aviv District Court.
"This is a sad day, but we are all equal before the law," said Peres, who was defeated by Katsav in a 2000 presidential vote, but went on to succeed him after Katsav ended his presidency early over the rape allegations.
He stressed that Katsav's sentencing does not undermine the presidential institution. "There is no presidential institution; there is a president who is chosen by the Knesset. There is a man who carries out his duties as president in the right way or the wrong way."
When asked if Katsav's statue will be removed from its place at the President's Residence, he said that the process to do so has yet to be completed, but noted that on a personal note, "I do not think it's right to rewrite history."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said Tuesday that the sentencing marked a sad day for Israel, but the state should be proud of its system of justice.
"This is an extraordinary day in the State of Israel," Netanyahu said. "This is a day of sadness and shame, but it is also a day of deep appreciation and pride for the Israeli justice system."
"The court issued a sharp and unequivocal ruling on a simple principle, that of equality before the law," Netanyahu stressed. "nobody is above the law, not even a former president, all are subject to the law."
"The second aspect that the court ruled on today is equality between men and women. Every woman has the right to her body, the right to respect and freedom, and nobody has the right to take these from her."
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said Tuesday that a day in which a president of the State of Israel goes to jail for rape "is not a day of joy." Adding, "I have great hope today that Israel is undergoing change – there is now practical content to the sentence equality before the law."