No More Sacred Cows

It is shocking to recognize that even in the office of the president and the judicial system, telling the truth is not an absolute and self-evident value.

President Moshe Katsav finds himself in the shoes of the yeshiva student whose rabbi calls him over and says: "They say that when you wash your hands before eating bread, you don't say a blessing." "But it isn't true," the student protests. The rabbi slaps him, and in a berating tone says: "If it were true it would be terrible; it's bad enough that they claim it to be so."

Now, there is an unpleasant story being told about Katsav. Sometimes, such stories are smoke without fire; sometimes they are the beginning of a snowball that can bury the person about whom the story is told. Often, when gossip of sexual harassment involving a person of authority and a subservient becomes public, it has a troubling quality: it attracts other complaints, which brings to mind the case of Yitzhak Mordechai. Of course, Katsav enjoys, for the time being, the privilege of innocence, but something in his conduct has been enough to cause alarm: during the past three days, he has not been entirely forthcoming in the way he responded to embarrassing revelations regarding his relationship with an employee of his office.

Katsav denied having filed a complaint against a blackmail attempt, and sought to camouflage his meeting with Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ?("the president of the state meets on occasion with members of the political, defense and legal establishments and also with the attorney general"?). Mazuz's announcement about the nature of his meeting with Katsav cast a shadow of suspicion on the president as someone trying to divert the public's attention. Mazuz made it clear that the president invited him to an urgent discussion regarding a blackmail attempt by an employee, and that Katsav did not file an official complaint but had implied in their talk that he was complaining about conduct whose nature is, allegedly, criminal. The president even gave the attorney general a written version of his complaint.

When the president becomes embroiled in contradictions ? between his official statements and the way the attorney general presents the unfolding of events ? the shield of reverential respect he and his office enjoy vis-a-vis the public is undermined, and he exposes himself to doubts regarding the veracity of his claims that the relationship with an office employee was solely professional.

Katsav behaved like Finance Minister Abraham Hirschon: They appear to have turned to the attorney general in order to establish an alibi: the president, in order to be registered with Mazuz as the victim in a case that could be brought before the attorney general through other channels; and the finance minister, in order to use the attorney general's name to bolster the credibility of his claims that magnates are threatening him to deter him from taking necessary state-related decisions. Instead of taking the attorney general's name in vain, both should have turned to the police and filed official complaints against those they allege are targetting them.

However, the essence of the spectacle that has unfolded in the past four days is the position of truth in the conduct of official organs. Polls have repeatedly shown that the public does not trust the institutions of governance. The office of the president and the judicial system have so far been immune from this. Now comes President Katsav, who aligns himself with flawed norms: even this position is no longer immune from the spin epidemic. The person who embodies the symbols of the state lacks the necessary grandeur to tell things as they happened.

The same is true for the judicial system. During the past year, five judges found themselves in trouble due to their conduct or functioning, and opted denial in order to evade the need to answer for their failures. Such was the case with judge Osnat Alon-Laufer ?(who denied that she asked private investigators to access the telephone call log of her partner, whom she suspected of betrayal?) and judge Hila Cohen ?(who gave various excuses for forging protocols of legal deliberations?). The credibility of three judges ? Aharon Aminoff, Nehama Munitz and Gabriella Levy ? was also questioned because they offered contradictory versions regarding their responsibility in formulating a ruling that all three signed in a case where a father raped his daughter.

It is shocking to recognize that even in the office of the president and the judicial system, telling the truth is not an absolute and self-evident value.