The Price of Skepticism

The impression created by the media was that Katsav is a serial sex offender. This week too, and especially this week, that version should not be accepted as a proven fact. So how do we know what the story is? Often we don't know.

Am Oved Publishers recently published a book by Tzur Shizaf called "Sof Haderech: Mota Shel Medina" (The End of the Road: Death of a Country). Why? What happened? When did it die? How did it die? Why didn't we hear about its death? The book focuses on Israel's environmental policy. Shizaf writes mainly about projects in the areas of electricity, water and roads. "There are two entities here. A natural country and a rapist country," he writes, and, so that he won't be accused of being hysterical, he states: "Rape is rape," which of course leaves no room for reflection, not to mention objection. Truly, rape is rape.

The plea bargain with former president Moshe Katsav has also flooded the country with a tsunami of hysteria. The shame and the fury knew no bounds, the attorney general was portrayed as the ally of a monster. There is a connection between the abandonment of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in the hands of his captors in Gaza and the abandonment of Katsav's victims, cried out author Ronit Matalon over the radio. In the center of Jerusalem someone wrote graffiti: "The castration of Katsav = Justice" and complainant A. from the President's Residence said that she would not forget what she underwent, just as Holocaust survivors have not forgotten. Ah, the Holocaust. Of course, the Holocaust.

From the start this was an affair full of passions. It is doubtful whether it had any chance of being sorted out lucidly, a fact which may have caused Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to have difficulty with his reading comprehension. Mazuz himself could have seen what the president's attorneys found in the interrogation material, and then perhaps he would not have accused Katsav of rape. Mazuz does not deserve to be condemned for the fact that he changed his mind about the indictment he had published, if he discovered that there was no chance of proving it. He erred when he published the first indictment.

It is of course possible that Mazuz knew in the first place that there was no basis for convicting the former president, and that publication of the intent to prosecute him for rape was meant to pressure Katsav into admitting at least to something. Mazuz used Judgment Day weapons in order to achieve his goal: television. It is possible that Mazuz was so impressed by the headlines he had created that he believed them himself. Whatever the case, the media believed Mazuz. Now they feel cheated: There was rape, but what remains is an indecent act. This is a good opportunity to remind everyone once again of the value of skepticism. Wise people do not believe everything they read in the newspapers. That's good advice even for journalists.

Suspicions of acts of rape, like suspicions of torture during interrogations, are worthy of a very serious examination, while taking into account the fact that only the rapist and his victim, the interrogator and person under interrogation, know the truth. During the past 10 years Israeli society has learned how to improve its attitude toward women who complain of rape, and to a lesser degree toward victims of abuse during interrogations.

Despite that, it is often still very difficult to discover the truth. What the complainant's attorney says is one version; what the president's public relations people say is another. What the police interrogators tell the journalists is one version, and what the State Prosecutor's Office whispers into their ear is another. Unfortunately, it turns out that even what the attorney general says cannot be considered more than one version among many others. The media are permitted to judge; but when doing so they must at least adhere to several of the basic work rules of the courts.

At no point did the media have genuine information that indicated with reasonable certainty that the president had raped someone. There were complaints. As opposed to Monica Lewinsky, not one of the complainants found it proper to save evidence. This fact has not been sufficiently emphasized in the media. Everyone said repeatedly that the president is innocent until there is proof to the contrary, but they almost always said this with a wink, that same wink or lifting of an eyebrow that journalists use in order to say that they know more than they are allowed to publish.

The impression created by the media, relying on the words of the attorney general among other things, was that Katsav is a serial sex offender. Mazuz repeated that version this week. This week too, and especially this week, that version should not be accepted as a proven fact. So how do we know what the story is? Often we don't know. That is the price of skepticism.