The President's Infamy

The citizens of Israel deserve a president who does not have to convince us that he could not have committed rape at the office.

It is interesting to speculate what President Moshe Katsav thinks the opening session of the Knesset's winter term will look like with him in attendance. If his honor has yet to devote thought to this matter, now is the time to present him with the scenario: It is safe to presume there will be quite a few deliberate absences, including a boycott by female Knesset members. Every MK who does come will certainly be asked why he came. At last year's opening of the winter term, the president called on MKs "to be a pure and loyal mouthpiece for your constituents" and also called for violence to be handled forcefully. What will he say this time?

What is clear is that the president will not be held in respect at the Knesset but rather in contempt, and the hosts will be demeaned along with him. The new deputy president of the Supreme Court, Eliezer Rivlin, ought not to have been sworn in by the state president, who is a suspected serial harasser of his female employees. But from now own it seems that any event in which the president participates (or is even mentioned) will be tarnished and embarrassing. It is interesting to speculate, for example, about the open house the president holds every Sukkot, and who will visit his Sukkah.

The Association of Rape Crisis Centers ordinarily submits its annual report to the president's wife. It is doubtful this will recur in the coming months, and maybe that's a pity. Why a pity? Here is something Gila Katsav said five years ago on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women:

"Unfortunately ... not all the victims of sexual assault are reported, and even if cases of sexual assault are exposed, the tendency especially among relatives and those close to the matter is to maintain a conspiracy of silence and sometimes also to display disbelief ... As a by-product of this, the victims of sexual assault are doubly victimized: first because of the silence; and secondly because of the concealment, the self-blame, the heavy burden and ongoing suffering. Therefore it takes a great deal of courage to go public ... It is imperative to stop abuse, to know to speak out, to learn and to help the victims overcome." Indeed.

Another question is whether the president will shortly distribute, as usual, the Progressive Employer Citation for employers who show consideration for the special problems working women face.

It is also a pity the participation of Katsav in the swearing-in ceremonies of living people incites debate, whereas his participation in the memorial for the Babi Yar victims gave rise to no discussion. True, the Holocaust victims cannot protest the violation of their memory, but it would have been proper for someone to have done so in their place. And in general, the president must immediately cease representing Israel abroad and in the Jewish world. He causes us enough embarrassment within the confines of the State of Israel.

In the past few weeks, President's Residence officials have done a lot of swearing in the name of presumption of innocence. But does presumption of innocence really have anything to do with the question of Katsav's continued tenure? Presumption of innocence states he cannot be convicted without a trial; and that even if common sense says it is unlikely so many women have accused him without cause, it is possible he is legally innocent.

Presumption of innocence does not state that the president must cling to his job like to the corners of the altar. It is not enough that the president may be acquitted of raping and sexually harassing various female employees. The citizens of Israel are entitled to be represented and symbolized by a man who is not suspected of such crimes. We deserve a president who does not have to convince us that he could not have committed rape at the office, a president whose female workers would have no grounds for blackmailing him.

A short while before the president became entangled in the criminal affairs, he became entangled in a much smaller affair - his refusal to address the leader of the Reform Movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, by the title "rabbi." The president explained he cannot ascribe that honorific to a Reform rabbi. It is therefore reasonable to presume he will understand why it is now difficult for so many people to call him the honorable president, while they feel he brings to the post infamy and disgrace.

Temporary recusal is not enough. The citizens of Israel are entitled to receive the president's resignation for the damage he has already done to the job, and regardless of the embarrassing question of whether he will be tried and convicted. He must not campaign for his innocence from inside the President's Residence. That appears to be the sole contribution the honorable president can still make to the state he symbolizes.