A President in the Colosseum

Even joy must have its bounds. It's not fair to ask the president to give up his life without a battle. Even the gladiators had a chance of remaining alive. Katsav must also have this chance.

"Hail, Caesar. We who are about to die salute you," the gladiators used to shout just as the fight was about to begin. And the emperor, together with the important citizens of Rome, would look at them, somewhat amused, waiting for their blood to spill in the arena.

These days, the Colosseum has been turned upside down. The crowd is sitting and waiting, opposite the TV, for some leader or other to be thrown into the arena and be devoured, perhaps a prime minister, or a cabinet minister, or a president. And they enjoy seeing these lofty personages writhing, becoming entangled, lying as they try in vain to defend themselves.

Now, it is true that Moshe Katsav is not exactly a gladiator who has been sent against his will into the arena. But if we are honest with ourselves, many of us are enjoying watching him writhe, suffer and falling into a deep abyss. Those who see what is happening to the president, say to themselves silently: My situation is much better than his. It is true that I don't earn as much, and I don't have a government car or trips abroad in first class. And it is also true that I barely scrape through every month, but I am not being disgraced in front of the nation, in front of my children and my wife - and I also will not sit in jail. He should envy me.

Therefore the TV channels and the papers, which understand human nature so well, are full of Katsav stories. They supply the arena in the Colosseum and they know there is no greater joy here than in savoring another's failure, and the greater the joy, the higher the rating.

But even joy must have its bounds. It's not fair to ask the president to give up his life without a battle. Even the gladiators had a chance of remaining alive, if, at a certain stage, with the slight movement of a finger, the emperor decided to stop the fight before they were devoured. Katsav must also have this chance.

Therefore, it is not right to demand of the president that he resign now, nor is it fair to initiate his immediate dismissal by the Knesset. The attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, has not said he plans to submit an indictment, as has been claimed by Shelly Yachimovich, with characteristic populism. Mazuz said he is considering submitting an indictment, conditional upon a hearing. And the president is entitled to think he has a chance that Mazuz will change his mind after the hearing.

True, in actuality such a chance does not exist, and Mazuz will not retreat. But the president has the right to think otherwise. We cannot suck the blood of someone before an indictment has even been submitted.

The president was also right in some of the bitter remarks that he made during his press conference, specifically when he accused Mazuz of talking too much. The attorney general also spoke too much in the case of the chief rabbi, Yona Metzger. He called on him to resign even though he closed the file against him, and for this he was severely criticized by the Supreme Court. His remarks about the Haim Ramon affair, when he said that from a public point of view, it would not be fitting for Ramon to return to the position of justice minister if he is acquitted for lack of evidence, can be viewed as an attempt to influence the judges.

Mazuz should not have said a word about the meeting he held with the president and should have refrained from stating that it was difficult to believe that 10 complainants would coordinate similar claims against the president. On such delicate matters, Mazuz should keep quiet and not try to influence public opinion, the police and the judges by his remarks.

The Katsav affair also has an economic angle. In February 2006, six months before the affair came to light, the Knesset's Finance Committee discussed Katsav's retirement plan. Most of the members showed excessive generosity (okay, it's not dad's money) and gave him far-reaching conditions for the rest of his life: a luxurious office, a personal assistant, a fancy car, a chauffeur and money for the upkeep of his home in Kiryat Malakhi, while the proposal made by the public committee headed by former finance minister Avraham Shohat was to limit the benefits to seven years.

Shohat was angry, and said that the MKs should have accepted his proposal. He even called on Katsav to announce that he voluntarily accepted the new norm - benefits for seven years only. Katsav just laughed. Five months went by, and the Katsav affair exploded. Now those same MKs who approved the far-reaching benefits are trying to dismiss him. They've overdone it, in both directions. They understand, a little late, that when Mazuz rejects Katsav's position, and the president resigns and stands trial, and perhaps is found guilty and goes to jail - during all that period, the state will have to go on funding the office, assistant, car, driver and the expenses of his private home in Kiryat Malakhi.

The defense in his trial, which will be long and complicated, will cost Katsav a fortune. He will not be able to approach the special committee that is permitted to allow large sums for defense in a trial at the expense of the state. This kind of funding is approved only on condition that the act for which the public figure is being tried was committed in the framework of his public position and on behalf of it. Clearly sexual assault and rape are not really a part of the work of a cabinet minister or president.

Presumably, the gladiator in the Colosseum had a better chance of getting out of it all in one piece.