Former Israeli President Convicted of Rape

30 December 2010

Photo: AP
Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav, center, leaves a court in Tel Aviv, 30 Dec 2010

A panel of Israeli judges has found former President Moshe Katsav guilty of rape and other sex crimes against several women. Mr. Katzav, who served from 2000 until 2007, faces a possible sentence of up to 16 years in prison.

Moshe Katzav had turned down a plea bargain and opted instead for a trial that he hoped would clear his name.

On Thursday, a panel of judges in Tel Aviv said the former leader's testimony was riddled with lies and declared him guilty on two counts of raping an employee while he was a cabinet minister in the late 1990s. The judges also convicted him of molesting or sexually harassing two other women during his time as president.

Following the verdict, his son, Ariel Katzav, told reporters he believes his father is innocent.

The younger Katzav called it a difficult hour for the family. He said the family will continue to be proud of their father. He called the trial immoral, and one that was based on emotions. He said the family will continue to proclaim to everyone that Moshe Katzav is "innocent".

Israeli women's rights advocates welcomed the verdict.

Mr. Katzav, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, left the court without making any comments.

The Prime Minister issued a statement calling it a sad day for the Jewish state.

Mr. Katzav's conviction Thursday was the latest in a series of highly publicized scandals involving top Israeli officials. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who led the country at the time Katzav was President, currently faces corruption charges.

The job of President in Israel is largely ceremonial but highly visible, and many Israelis see Mr. Katsav's conviction on sex offenses a national disgrace.

However, Abraham Diskin, a politics professor at Hebrew University, tells VOA the fact that a sitting president was indicted and later convicted says much about the health of the Jewish state's democracy and institutions.

"It's definitely I think a very clear sign of the power of the judicial branch in Israel. In order to have a real democracy, too many conditions are necessary and let me say that the first of all these is to be ready to stick to reality and to the truth," said Diskin.

The head of the judges' panel that convicted Mr. Katzav is a member of Israel's Arab minority.

The former president is due to be sentenced in January. Under Israeli law, rape carries a minimum penalty of four years in prison and a maximum of 16.