District Court judges George Karra, Miriam Sokolov and Judith Shevach set a milestone for the State of Israel yesterday. They placed the severity of former President Moshe Katsav's sexual offenses and the prominence of his position on the scales of justice. They thought about it and shifted Katsav's position of authority to the side of the offenses. They deliberated further and decided that Katsav is a serial sexual offender, and they sentenced him, by majority vote, to seven years in prison.
Even if the sentence is reduced on appeal to the Supreme Court, coming closer to Shevach's suggested four-year prison term, that will be nothing but a quantitative change to the fundamental fact that the person who used to sign Israel's laws and swore in its judges will be severely punished for violating those laws and will go to jail for years.
The person most responsible for Katsav's fall from grace is the former president himself. While holding public office, posts that became increasingly high in stature, he abused his authority to force his desires on women who happened to fall within his purview. When he got into trouble, he lied and defamed his accusers in an attempt to portray himself as victim rather than assailant.
In 2008, Katsav rejected the controversial, generous and overly lenient plea bargain he was offered by then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. Instead of sobering up, expressing remorse and asking for forgiveness, Katsav continued to attack the victims, the witnesses, the prosecution, the media and the courts, demonstrating to the country that there would be no rehabilitation for him.
His sentence, in addition to punishing Katsav and compensating the victims, also sends two important messages. It encourages victims of sexual offenses to speak out about the crimes, no matter how high and mighty is the assailant, and it deters public figures from believing in the illusion that their position will buy them immunity. The courts have already convicted former ministers Yitzhak Mordechai and Haim Ramon of sexual offenses, but they were not sentenced to jail; now the Katsav trial demonstrates even more forcefully that the police, the state prosecution and, ultimately, the judges do not automatically attribute to prominent men a tendency to attract false complaints from women. From here on, all senior officials will know that their job titles do not, in the words of the judges in the Katsav case, constitute a hunting license.
It's no great comfort, but Katsav's mark of shame is a badge of honor for Israel's police investigators, prosecutors and judges.
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