Moshe Katsav Committed a Crime Against the Public

Many contend that someone in a 'lofty position' doesn't deserve to be punished to the full extent of the law; justice requires that their public service be considered in their defense. This is warped logic.

Former President Moshe Katsav isn't the only one anxiously awaiting sentencing tomorrow for his rape conviction. Some are anxious about the possibility that his lawyers' arguments in favor of leniency, as well as similar arguments made in columns and interviews, will be accepted as the truth, leading to a sentence that detracts from the significance and credibility of his conviction.

When public figures are convicted, or even accused, of a crime, the arguments in their defense always hinge on the defendants' status - whether as minister, president or general - and their fall from this lofty position, in addition to their "public punishment," their "service to the state" and what they've done "for the common good." And then there is "the endless stream of harsh media publicity," which the judges in Katsav's case have already cited as a possible basis for lenience in his punishment.

Katzav - Alon Ron
Alon Ron

All this is the product of the same logic: Someone in a "lofty position" doesn't deserve to be punished to the full extent of the law; justice requires that their public service be considered in their defense.

This warped logic, however, must be banished once and for all. Not only does the lofty position invoked in Katsav's defense fail to constitute a basis for leniency; it enhances the severity of the acts because it is precisely this status that Katsav exploited and that enabled him to commit the sexual offenses of which he has been convicted. The superiority, the authority, the trust, the free access, the ability to hire and fire the victims, and their respect not only for him but also for the office he held all made it possible for him to commit rape. And all of that was his by virtue of his position.

The lofty status of elected officials and other officeholders is not something they were born with. It derives from the power conferred upon them by the public. That's the unspoken agreement between the public and its elected officials: We choose you, give you power and money and the hallmarks of status and respect, and in return, you look after our interests and represent us - and you don't steal or rape. The complainants whom Katsav assaulted are his primary victims, of course, but by exploiting his status and using it against the women who worked for him, Katsav also committed a crime against the public, which gave him that power.

Lofty status goes hand in hand with media coverage. It's part of having a "lofty position," and an aspect of which Katsav was quite fond. As someone who has consistently made an extensive effort to get the media to cover him, who has spent much of his adult life striving for the public spotlight, Katsav has no basis for complaining about the (accurate ) negative reports that ultimately circulated about him.

Above all, the time has come to say it out loud: All positions of public authority enable the officeholders to amass at least as much power, status and money as they would in the private sector, in which people are said to be looking after their own interests. Even if those in the Knesset, the cabinet, the civil service and the army genuinely believe in the importance of their work, and even if some do good for the country, all of them have resources and perks that the private sector doesn't provide, including a host of settings in which to be seen and heard and access to a wide range of ways to enhance their lives and their status. In the process, the distinction between what is private and what belongs to all of us frequently gets blurred. It is enough to recall how Katsav fought for his benefits as a former president to understand how much profit there is to be had in "serving the country."

Moshe Katsav, who continues to enjoy these benefits, has not even personally asked the court to mitigate his sentence, because that would entail admitting to his deeds, for which he has never expressed remorse. Now the society that raised him up must punish him suitably for exploiting it.