The Public Will Find Katsav Guilty

The moral stain will not be erased from his forehead, even if the court exonerates him.

Moshe Katsav holds what he considers an invaluable document: a legal opinion by the attorney general explaining why he decided to sign a plea bargain with the former president. The expert opinion details the testimony of A. (the President's Residence employee) and A. (the Tourism Ministry employee) and points out the weaknesses in each.

It also reconstructs the decision-making process that went into the sexual harassment investigation against the president, and thus exposes the prosecution's soft underbelly. The document is one of the main weapons in the former president's arsenal, and could be the most potent among them, when the time comes to undertake the legal battle,following Katsav's decision yesterday to renege on the plea bargain he signed.

Menachem Mazuz wrote his legal opinion at a time when he felt he had to work very hard to convince the High Court that he had justified reasons for relinquishing his original intention to charge Katsav with serious offenses, including rape. As such, this document presents the evidence available to the prosecution in a skewed tone: The main evidence, on which Mazuz originally sought to base his case, became suspect, and the statute of limitations made it difficult to prove Katsav was a serial offender. Thus, in an orderly fashion, the chief prosecutor essentially wrote the defendant's defense and allowed Katsav to blow the deal.

There is no way of knowing if the version presented yesterday by Katsav's lawyers is reliable, whether their client always had reservations about the plea bargain and made his decision yesterday, as they claim, or whether his statement before the court was a cold calculation by attorneys who thought the gamble was worth the risk. If the second possibility is true, we can conclude that Mazuz's legal opinion had a significant role to play in this decision. Essentially, the attorney general found himself in the shoes of the fabled crow who agreed to give the fox the cheese for safekeeping.

Mazuz, the senior public law-enforcement advocate, has found himself maneuvered into a corner, where his readiness to give in on the original indictment may result in a decision not to use the current, weak indictment - or it may be used but it will be difficult to prove. This is the case because he is mostly relying on the testimony of A. from the Tourism Ministry, which Mazuz himself described as weak in his legal opinion.

In retrospect, it seems that the conduct of Katsav's defense attorneys was part of a series of expert maneuvers that dismantled the indictment into bits, convinced the state prosecution to give up on most of them, shrunk them down to two weak charges, and in the end gave it the coup de grace. In this battle of the minds, Mazuz and his aides have emerged as mediocre lawyers, naive, lacking confidence and determination, and simply no equals to the defense team. This is bad news for anyone for whom the rule of law is important.

Nonetheless, there is some encouragement in the fact that the Katsav case has another dimension, a public one, where Katsav is getting what he deserves. The man was forced to expedite the end of his tenure as president, and as he entered the courthouse yesterday, he had a taste of the scorn the general public feels toward him.

There should be no mistake: Katsav the man, Katsav the politician, behaved in a despicable manner for many years, while he held senior public posts. He forced himself on many young female subordinates. His revolting behavior was not translated into real charges for various reasons, and now it emerges that even when the state prosecution was offered a point on which to formally bring the serial harasser to court, there are no guarantees that the legal language can translate his actions into a substantive charge sheet, or a conviction.

This limitation does not exempt Katsav from the judgment of the public, the vast majority of which was moved by the long list of harassment complaints and believes them (just like Mazuz and his colleagues believe them, even though they cannot rely on them before court; the High Court also ruled that the former president "seriously failed morally").

Those close to Katsav say that only the court counts, but that is not relevant in this case: His behavior is also judged on ethical grounds. The moral stain will not be erased from his forehead, even if the court exonerates him.