Sat, Jan 01, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Ex-Israeli president found guilty of rape, harassment

The Guardian, JERUSALEM

Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav leaves the court in Tel Aviv on Thursday after hearing the verdict in his rape trial.

PHOTO: AFP

Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav has been found guilty of rape and sexual harassment following a year-long trial, largely held behind closed doors to respect the privacy of the three complainants, all former subordinates.

Political leaders and analysts praised the ruling, saying it showed that the law applied to everyone, including the president, but many expressed shame and embarrassment that a former head of state had been found guilty of such serious offences.

Iranian-born Katsav, 65, abandoned a plea bargain two years ago that could have kept him out of jail, saying he wanted to prove his innocence. The panel of judges at the Tel Aviv district court said, however, that he had lied in his account of the events.

The sexual offenses took place during Katsav’s terms as president and as minister of tourism. Complainant A accused him of raping her on two occasions, while complainants H and L accused him of sexual harassment. The verdict confirmed all the three accusations. Katsav was acquitted only of charges that he had harassed a witness.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was “a sad day for the state of Israel and its residents.” He added: “Today the court conveyed two clear-cut messages, that all are equal before the law and that every woman has exclusive rights to her body.”

The right-wing former president has portrayed himself as a victim of ethnic discrimination. Israeli political life has long been dominated by Jews of European origin, while Katsav and many of his supporters are of Middle Eastern origin.

Katsav became the eighth president of Israel in 2000 and was forced to resign in disgrace in July 2007, after the accusations emerged in 2006.

The judge, George Karra, who read the core part of the verdict at the Tel Aviv court, said Katsav started harassing A, a former worker in the ministry of tourism, when she rejected his sexual propositions. “No basis was found to the claim that the relations took place with her agreement,” he said.

The court added that Katsav’s version was “riddled with lies.”

Katsav attended the reading of the verdict accompanied by his lawyer, his son and his brother, but not his wife, Israeli press reported.

Outside court, women’s rights groups cheered. However, in Kiryat Malachi, Katsav’s hometown, some neighbors voiced anger at the verdict.

Rami Atia told a reporter for the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth: “Katsav was slaughtered in public. How can it be that the woman remembered to file a complaint after seven years?”

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