|English.news.cn 2010-12-31 02:07:59||FeedbackPrintRSS|
By Adam Gonn, Gur Salomon
JERUSALEM Dec. 30 (Xinhua) -- Israel's Tel Aviv District Court on Thursday handed down a verdict against former Israeli president Moshe Katzav, finding him guilty of two counts of rape and multiple counts of sexual abuse of women he had worked with during his tenures in the Tourism Ministry and the presidency.
The historic verdict highlighted a scandal that erupted over four years ago, when several women who were subordinate to Katzav first approached the police and filed complaints of falling victim to rape, molestation and indecent sexual acts.
Katsav assumed the presidency in 2000. Seven years later, he was forced to announce his resignation in disgrace. He was the first in that capacity in Israeli history to stand trial and be convicted of sexual crimes.
Owing to the sensitivity of the case and the media buzz, legal proceedings were held behind closed doors. The former president's defense lawyers request that the reading of the verdict would be held without the media present was ultimately denied.
Prof. Emanuel Gross, a lecturer at the University of Haifa's School of Law, told Xinhua that while he was saddened by the fact that the symbol of Israeli democracy had committed such "heinous" crimes, he felt proud of the way the country's legal system handled the affair. "I'm proud that we have such a good system, which was able to investigate and indict the symbol of our country, " said Gross.
While the court is yet to announce a date for sentencing, Gross said he's sure that unless "something irregular will happen, he ( Katzav) will be sentenced to many years in prison."
Israel's criminal code for the offense of rape carries a penalty of four to 16 years' incarceration.
The affair could have ended in 2007, had Katzav not willingly chosen to reject a plea bargain offer which promised that the most severe charges would be dropped and he would be given a suspended sentence. Instead, he opted to take the case to court to prove his innocence.
In a fiery two-hour televised press conference in January 2007, the former president lashed out at the Israeli media, accusing it of conducting an ethnically-motivated campaign against him from the moment he had assumed the presidency after defeating then- contender and Noble Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres.
Katzav, 65, was born in Iran and immigrated to Israel with his family at the age of six. He was raised in Kiryat Malachi, a destitute town in southern Israel that he still calls home. Following his discharge from the Israel Defense Forces, he enrolled at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and graduated with a degree in economics and history. At the age of 24 he was appointed to head Kiryat Malachi's local council. Prior to entering politics, he had worked, among other things, as a bank teller and a journalist.
His political career in the Likud party was often cited as a source of inspiration for children of underprivileged Jewish immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa.
In the course of the legal proceedings, which were launched in March 2009, Katzav harshly criticized then-Attorney General Menahem Mazuz, who accepted the findings of the police investigation and filed an indictment against him on charges of rape and sexual molestation.
In the 2007 televised appearance, he had also slammed the State Prosecutor's Office for not lifting a media gag order on the identities of the plaintiffs, saying it hampered him from effectively defending himself in light of their severe accusations.
His victims, known by the initials A., L. and H., enjoyed the massive support of Israeli women's right groups throughout the trial, all the more so when the verdict was read on Thursday.
Several women's rights groups viewed the affair as a test-case for what they perceive as the country's far from satisfactory laws on sexual harassment and the lax attitude with which it is tolerated.
"It's a landmark, symbolic day in the struggle that we've been leading over the years," one activist told reporters outside the courtroom.
She said the feeling among the country's women's rights groups was that the case had to be brought to court for a fair trial. "We feel satisfied today that the court actually did justice with all of these women who were severely abused by Katzav," she said.