Former president Moshe Katsav has been released from prison on Wednesday after serving five years of his seven-year sentence for rape and other crimes.
Katsav, who served as Israel’s eighth president from 2000 to 2007, was convicted in December 2010 of raping and sexually assaulting a former employee at the Tourism Ministry. He was also found guilty of sexually harassed two women at the President's Residence and assaulted one of them. In addition, Katsav was convicted of obstruction of justice. He was imprisoned in May 2011.
On Sunday, the parole board granted him early release but delayed implementation for a week to allow prosecutors, who opposed the decision, to submit an appeal.
He was freed after the State Prosecutor's Office dropped its objections and said it would not appeal.
"There's no doubt among the committee members that the prisoner has undergone a change," the parole board wrote in the decision. "This is in light of the remarks he expressed to the committee members in the current hearing, unlike the things he said in the past two hearings." The parole hearing was held last week.
"The prisoner was asked many questions by the committee members regarding the circumstances of the offense, the victims' positions, his attitude to the victims and his understanding of his acts and their consequences, and the committee members were impressed by the honesty of his intentions," added the board.
Katsav’s family was waiting outside Ramle’s Ma’asiyahu Prison to take him home to Kiryat Malakhi. A prison officer called Katsav’s victims to inform them of his release.
When he arrived home, dozens of people were waiting to welcome him. Most, but not all, were relatives.
“It was important to me to come here, to show that there are still people who don’t think about him the way half the country does,” said Avi, a longtime Kiryat Malakhi resident and acquaintance of Katsav’s who was waiting for him outside the house. “Today, we came to let him know there are people who think he’s paid enough.”
Another neighbor refused to get worked up over Katsav’s release. “This event is for you,” he said, referring to the media. “It’s your bread and butter, but it interests me less.”
The few non-relatives who came to his home seemed to think Katsav had been victimized, either because of his right-wing views, his political career in the Likud party or his ethnic origins – he is Mizrahi, meaning of Middle Eastern or North African descent. “They know he could have been prime minister, so the girls spread their legs for him,” said Gideon, a local resident.
Under the terms of his release, Katsav is forbidden to work in positions where he has authority over women and cannot give interviews. He will be under house arrest daily between 10 P.M. and 6 A.M. for the next two years.
Katsav's rehabilitation plan includes required daily attendance at a Jewish studies program in Kiryat Malachi. He will also take part in a weekly treatment support group and undergo treatment with a psychosocial therapist once a week.
In objecting to its decision, prosecutors told the parole board that Katsav had not undergone any real change since the previous hearing to justify granting the request. They also believed the treatment and rehabilitation he underwent was not significant enough, bringing them to the conclusion that he does not deserve parole and should remain behind bars.
In addition, prosecutors said that the harm suffered by Katsav’s victims as a result of his repeated public denials of the crimes must also be taken into consideration.
Odelia Carmon, one of Katsav's victims, condemned the parole board's decision.
"I feel that Israeli society has reached the edge of the abyss," she said. On the same day that lawmaker Nissan Slomiansky suspended himself after sexual harassment claims, admired general Ofek Buchris admitted to sexual offenses and a rabbi was indicted for rape, "the parole board decided to make this horrible decision," Carmon said.
Carmon was Katsav's media adviser and was known as O. from the Transportation Ministry during the proceedings against him. According to her, Katsav only expressed his remorse in a weak, feeble voice before the members of the parole board. The parole board's decision impacts all women in Israel, she added.
Meretz MKs Zehava Galon, Michal Rozin and Tamar Zandberg called the parole board's decision cowardly and tainted, saying the board surrendered to manipulations and agreed to a rehabilitation plan drawn up especially for the former president. "Katsav used his political power in order to rape and now he is exploiting this same political power in order to receive early release," they said in a statement.
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