Katsav's Legacy

In four or five years, the Bank of Israel will replace the paper notes now in circulation. The likenesses of Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, S.Y. Agnon, Zalman Shazar and Moshe Sharett will be replaced by other portraits.

In four or five years, the Bank of Israel will replace the paper notes now in circulation. The likenesses of Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, S.Y. Agnon, Zalman Shazar and Moshe Sharett will be replaced by other portraits. A public committee decides what the bills will look like, and in the past it determined that paper currency would feature presidents and prime ministers. A new approach to the design of the bills may release the Bank of Israel from this decision, and thus the state will not have to endure the punishment of commemorating former president Moshe Katsav on its paper money.

Avigdor Feldman, Katsav's learned legal counsel, stated yesterday after the High Court's decision that the former president deserves an apology. A less cynical approach, one more anchored in proper rules of morality, would demand that Katsav apologize to the State of Israel for the shame he brought on it while president.

This despicable man, whose conduct a majority of the High Court bench said yesterday reflected "a deep moral impediment" (as stated by Justice Ayala Procaccia on page 168 of the ruling), did not shrink from fulfilling the role of national symbol, while at the same time treating women subordinates in a way that "seriously damaged the dignity of the institution and the post ... and the faith the people have toward the individual elected to serve in the high office," as the ruling stated.

All of Israel's presidents have left their mark on it. From the beginning, the office of president and its powers were not left a great deal of room to make such an impression. And yet, some presidents were able to make their terms unique. Ben-Zvi did so (with the identification he created with Mizrachi immigrants) and so did Yitzhak Navon (with his simple popularity). Even Ezer Weizman, who was forced to resign following a criminal investigation against him for dubious financial dealings, is remembered for moral leadership in his visits to those injured in terror attacks.

And what is Katsav's legacy? He will be remembered as the president who was embroiled in shameful sex offenses; as taking advantage of his public office to force himself on a series of women who were his subordinates; as admitting in a plea bargain, to offenses of which one is classified as a crime; as determined by the High Court to have lied (in denying an intimate relationship with A. from the President's Residence staff); as claiming total innocence but choosing not to test his version in court; as one whose very desire to seek a plea bargain is in the realm of an admission of guilt; as one whose conduct throughout the investigation can be compared to that of a state's witness (as Justice Edmond Levy wrote on page 41 of the ruling), who denied from the outset his involvement in a crime and in the end extricated himself by the skin of his teeth thanks to his willingness to cooperate with the prosecution.

The individual reflected in yesterday's High Court decision is a fraud, caught in the act after taking advantage for years of his public position to satisfy his sexual appetites, managing to escape serious punishment because of the difficulty of translating his actions into legal language, and because of the problematic conduct of the attorney general in this case. This is not a man who deserves an apology; this is a man who must apologize to the entire country for polluting the office of president.

Katsav will receive a light sentence not because it is the appropriate price to pay for his contemptible behavior. Rather, technical legal circumstances (the statue of limitations, the dependence of one witness on another to prove a serial pattern of sexual offenses, a difficulty in reconstructing the exact nature of the sexual relationship he had with A. from the Tourism Ministry) are the factors that motivated Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to retract the original letter of indictment he had formulated. It should be stressed that Mazuz made this retraction not because he did not believe the versions of the complainants against Katsav, but because doubt overcame him as to his ability to prove them in court.

Katsav brought shame on the office of president and for this he will be remembered in disgrace. His shrewd lawyers are beginning to pressure Mazuz to withdraw his demand that the Magistrate's Court rule that Katsav's offenses involve moral . But even if they succeed, moral turpitude is clearly the stamp that Katsav leaves behind, to the glory of the State of Israel.