The Katsav Legacy

More than two years ago it was whispered to me that Moshe Katsav, then president, sexually harassed a young woman who worked for the Tourism Ministry.

More than two years ago it was whispered to me that Moshe Katsav, then president, sexually harassed a young woman who worked for the Tourism Ministry when he had served as minister there. I was told that she would be willing to meet with me and tell me her story. The telephone conversation with her was very brief. The woman was polite, but refused to answer my questions. Several hours passed and Katsav himself called me at home. He expressed his hope that I had "not been duped" by "the slanderers" who were "besmirching" him. I wondered if the woman (who was married) had been deterred from revealing the story, and in her moment of crisis had turned to Katsav, or whether there was a despicable attempt being made to sully the good name of the president.

Time has shown that she was not the only one. Whether as confirmed reports or rumors, Katsav's abhorrent behavior toward women serving under his authority was brought to the attention of a number of my colleagues. As far as is known, none of them managed to anchor the information in firm testimony from at least one of the victims - information that would have allowed the publication of the president's deeds without concern for libel. Police investigators and prosecutors also have run into an endless array of obstacles on the rocky road of transforming facts to complaints and evidence to indictments. Following a great deal of emotional self-flagellation, the courageous women agreed to bring their stories into the open. They overcame their fear of sharp-tongued, experienced attorneys who would probe old wounds that had began to mend but would never heal.

These women had been promised that they would serve as a torch leading a large group of women fighting for their dignity. They were told that the Katsav affair would lead to a revolution in the way those in power relate to women suffering from sexual harassment. Now they are being told that they have been duped. They are being told that Menachem Mazuz betrayed them and allowed a serial sex offender - according to the attorney general's own description of Katsav - who had violated their bodies to go home unpunished. Their comrade, known as A., and her hard-working attorney, Kinneret Barashi, were not satisfied with protesting against the plea bargain. In their exasperation, they called on the future victims of sexual assault, including those who were raped, to bite their tongues and allow the criminals to walk free - because they said there is no real point in complaining. There may be someone who interprets this as encouraging rapists to carry out their attacks with impunity.

Indeed, according to the original indictment, Katsav should have received a much more severe punishment than a suspended sentence for his shameful behavior toward women, for his lies, for the debasement of the symbol of the state, both in the eyes of the country and foreign countries. Who knows? Perhaps the court will correct the distortion and send him to prison. But the legal process is not meant only to exact from a criminal the cost of his crimes; certainly this is not its main function. Katsav's humiliation, the justified crushing of the remnants of his honor in public and, unfortunately, also the pain that his family had to suffer - this will deter men who consider women to be sex objects meant to satisfy their desires. The punishment may not be so heavy, but the message stemming from it is loud and clear.

Obviously, there are those that will not be deterred by any punishment. Sexual harassment has never ceased, even after the Yitzhak Mordechai affair. But even after the plea bargain, the sign of shame on Katsav's forehead contributes to the public's awareness regarding sexual assault a great deal more than the small stories in the newspapers about the sentencing of an anonymous rapist to 20 years in prison. Katsav succeeded in a few hours to bring out tens of thousands of women and men, and to convey the message that even the president pays a high price for an unsolicited kiss. When was the last time such a matter attracted so much attention in our macho society?

It is unfortunate that so few male MKs bothered to attend the demonstration in Tel Aviv, and that the voice of the No. 1 female political figure, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, was not heard.

A protest against the attorney general, however justified it may be, and - even worse - any weakening of the resolve of victims of sexual assault to make accusations against their assailants - this undermines the important gain in the Katsav case: the deterrent effect.

Is there a man out there who has not heard what happened to the president? Is there anyone envious of his plea, made in shame?