Katsav requests presidential pardon on rape conviction

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav requested a presidential pardon to appeal his rape conviction.

Katsav’s wife, Gila, filed the request with the Justice Ministry on Oct. 15. It will be forwarded to President Shimon Peres.

Katsav, 65, is serving a seven-year jail sentence for his conviction on two counts of rape and other sexual offenses. He entered prison in December.

His petition reportedly asks for a pardon so that he can appeal the conviction and clear his name from outside of prison. It also says that Katsav did not get a fair trial and that having to resign as president was punishment enough.

He reportedly has not expressed remorse for his crime, which is necessary for receiving a pardon. 

Prisoners convicted of rape and other sexual violence must undergo a rehabilitation program; Katsav currently is not participating, according to Haaretz. His appeal as currently tendered likely will be rejected by Peres, according to reports.

Katsav is the first Israeli president sentenced to prison. Israel’s Supreme Court upheld his rape conviction and prison sentence last November.

He resigned in the wake of the allegations shortly before the end of his term in 2007 and was succeeded by Peres.

Katsav, who immigrated to Israel from Iran in 1951, was elected president by the Knesset in 2000 in an upset over Peres.

Supreme Court hears Katsav plea

Israel’s Supreme Court began hearing an appeal by former President Moshe Katsav on his conviction for sexual offenses.

Katsav attended the hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on Sunday. Arguments on both sides are expected to last for about two weeks. The court ruled last week that the appeal would be held in open court.

Katsav was sentenced to seven years in prison in March after being convicted last December of rape, sexual harassment and obstruction of justice. He is the first Israeli president ever sentenced to prison.

A Supreme Court judge in May ruled that Katsav, who was convicted following a closed-door trial that lasted a year, could remain out of jail until the end of the appeal.

Two years ago, Katsav had declined what was seen as a lenient plea bargain—one that dropped the rape charges for lesser charges and likely would have left him with a suspended sentence—saying that he wanted to clear his name in court.

Katsav, who immigrated to Israel from Iran in 1951, was elected president by the Knesset in 2000 in an upset over Shimon Peres. Katsav resigned in the wake of the allegations shortly before the end of his term in 2007, and Peres became president.

Katsav sentencing shows Israeli leaders not above law

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav’s sentence to prison on rape and sexual assault convictions shows that not even the country’s leaders are above the law, Israeli leaders stressed.

A panel of three Tel Aviv District Court judges on Tuesday sentenced Katsav to seven years in jail and ordered him to pay compensation to his victims. The sentence came nearly five years after he was first accused.

Katsav, 65, reportedly began sobbing after the verdict was read and then yelled out several times, interrupting the judges, saying “It’s all lies,”  “the sentence is a mistake” and “it’s not true.”

Katsav’s prison sentence is set to begin May 8. He was also ordered to pay more than $28,000 to the rape victim and about $7,000 to the sexual assault victim. Following his release from prison, Katsav will serve two years of probation.

“The defendant committed the crime and like every other person, he must bear the consequences. No man is above the law,” the judges wrote in their sentence, which was read out in the courtroom. “The contention that seeing a former president of the country go to jail is too painful to watch is an emotional argument, but it definitely cannot be accepted as an ethical argument.”

In a minority opinion, Judge Judith Shevach said that Katsav was judged prematurely in the media and she slammed Attorney General Menachem Mazuz for his public statements during the investigation.

“The attorney general isn’t supposed to operate in the media arena,” Shevach said. “If he already decided in 2006 that Katsav was a sexual offender – what else can the public decide?” Premature judgment of the accused by the media put him in a shaky opening position.”

Katsav has 45 days to appeal the sentence. 

“This is an extraordinary day in the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following the sentencing. “This is a day of sadness and shame, but it is also a day of deep appreciation and pride for the Israeli justice system. The court issued a sharp and unequivocal ruling on a simple principle, that of equality before the law; nobody is above the law, not even a former president, all are subject to the law. This distinguishes the State of Israel to a very large degree.”

Netanyahu said the court also ruled on equality between men and women.

“Every woman has the right to her body, the right to respect and freedom, and nobody has the right to take these from her,” the prime minister said. “This also distinguishes the State of Israel to a very large degree.”

The closed-door trial of Katsav lasted for one year, ending with a guilty verdict on Dec. 30. Two years ago, Katsav declined what was seen as a lenient plea bargain—one that dropped the rape charges for lesser charges and likely would have left him with a suspended sentence—saying that he wanted to clear his name in court.

Katsav, who immigrated to Israel from Iran in 1951, became president when the Knesset elected him in 2000, upsetting candidate Shimon Peres. Peres became president in 2007 after Katsav resigned in the wake of the allegations shortly before the end of his term.

The allegations came to light when Katsav went to the attorney general, telling him that he was being blackmailed by a female employee. The investigation turned against Katsav when the employee alleged rape and sexual harassment.

During a meeting with soldiers in northern Israel, Peres said he did not think a bust of Katsav should be removed from the President’s Residence, as some have advocated.

“You mustn’t change history, for good or for bad,” Peres said. “History is full of bad and good things.”

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, head of the Kadima Party, said the harsh sentence did not make it “a happy day.”

“A day when a president of the State of Israel goes to prison for rape is not a happy day. You can’t negate the presidency after the fact, but you can deny liberty,” she said, referring to the prison sentence.

The lawyer representing “A,” the former Tourism Ministry employee raped by Katsav, said following the sentencing that his client was “relieved and satisfied.”

“I never sought vengeance, and the severity of the sentence did not mean that much to me,” A told Ynet. “The most important thing for me was the verdict, the fact that the court, unanimously, believed me and did me justice, even if it was stalled. I shall be happy to return to my daily life, family and anonymity. “

Katsav is not the first president of Israel to be accused of a crime. President Ezer Weizman resigned his position in 2000, less than halfway through his second term, after being accused of accepting cash gifts from businessmen. He was not put on trial, however, since the statute of limitations had run out.

Petition raps rabbis who support Katsav

Hundreds of rabbis and Jewish leaders have signed on to an online petition by Rabbis for Human Rights denouncing rabbinical defenders of former Israeli President Moshe Katsav.

Late last month, dozens of religious Zionist rabbis sent a letter of support to Katsav, who was convicted in December by a three-judge panel of “rape, sexual harassment, committing an indecent act while using force, harassing a witness and obstruction of justice.”

The Rabbis for Human Rights petition, which had nearly 400 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon, reads in part: “We find this rabbinical defense of a violent criminal to be shocking. It is shameful that these religious leaders staked their position in the name of Zionism and Judaism. To speak in this manner, as rabbis, is a hillul haShem, leading to a public denigration of Torah and Jewish tradition. Underlying their letter is a total disregard for the Israeli system of justice, a dismissal of a serious investigation, a willful rejection of a fair and careful trial process.”

The letter to Katsav urges the ex-president to “be strong and continue to insist on the truth uncompromisingly,” and to “fear not because the truth will come out. And even if it takes it’s time, it will be revealed, and all those who pursue lies will be ashamed.” It also slammed the “poisonous media.”

Katsav rape conviction hailed as watershed moment

For years it was considered an open secret in Israeli political and media circles that Moshe Katsav had a habit of sexually harassing women who worked for him.

In a nation at arms with a decidedly machismo bent, sexual encounters between powerful male politicians and military officers and their female staff often were seen as a perk of the job and such behavior quietly was accepted as part of the culture, if unhappily by many women.

But then came last week’s “earthquake,” as Israeli newspapers described it: Katsav, Israel’s president from 2000 to 2007, was convicted of rape, sexual assault and harassment.

Walking out of the crowded Tel Aviv courtroom where Katsav had just been convicted on Dec. 30, Merav Michaeli, a leading Israeli feminist and well-known television personality, hailed what she said she hoped signaled a cultural shift.

“I wish I could tell you this will change the face of Israeli society, but even if it does not it is another step, a sign of change,” she said. “The judges believed the women and understood and recognized the impossible position women are often placed in when working for such powerful men.”

Katsav’s conviction, handed down in a scathing ruling by a panel of three judges who called the former president a liar and expressly stated that when a woman says “no” she means it, was hailed as a historic day for women’s rights and even for Israeli democracy.

Many Israelis say the conviction represents a watershed moment in Israel’s transition to a new set of societal rules about what is considered acceptable—and legal—behavior when it comes to relations between men and women, particularly in the workplace.

Moshe Negbi, a legal analyst for Israel Radio, said the verdict may come to symbolize “a mortal blow to the macho culture that turns women into an object of despicable sexual exploitation.”

The transition took hold years ago. In 1998, the Knesset passed a groundbreaking sexual harassment law. An important test case soon followed when Yitzhak Mordechai, a former general and defense minister who ran for prime minister, was forced to resign from government in 2001 after being convicted of sexual assault and harassment against several women who had worked for him.

Then came the case of Haim Ramon, at the time the justice minister, who was indicted in 2006 for indecent conduct and in 2007 was found guilty of kissing a female soldier against her will. Most recently Uri Bar-Lev, a major general in the police force and a top contender for the job of Israel’s next national police commissioner, dropped out of the running for the post last fall after being accused of sexual assault. 

“In the past there was this conception that we should not damage the respect given to officers or any man in a powerful position, and if [sexual harassment] happened to a woman it was probably her fault—it was a great way to hush everything up,” said Efrat Nachmany Bar, a colonel in the Israeli army reserves who until her retirement four years ago served as the army’s representative to the Knesset on issues of sexual harassment.

In her current position as deputy director of the Israeli Institute for Dignity, she lectures on the topic throughout the country.

About Katsav, Nachmany Bar said, “Everyone knew and everyone was quiet. But now it has become not just his personal business but a societal issue.

“The Israeli public is now saying, ‘Let’s not be quiet anymore, but let’s talk. And let’s also talk about why we did not talk before,’ ” she said.

Nachmany Bar credits the army for being ahead of the curve of Israeli civil society when it comes to confronting sexual harassment. She held workshops and lectures, and ran help lines for soldiers and officers for 16 years. She also sat on the committee that disciplined sexual harassment cases.

That era coincided with women increasingly taking on combat support roles in the army.

Israel’s existence as a military society often gets the blame for forging a male-dominated culture, Nachmany Bar said, but “the issue goes beyond the army. I think a militaristic culture is not one borne from security risks alone, although that strengthens it, but of patriarchy itself.”

As part of the context for understanding the Israeli culture, she and other experts cited Israel’s history as a country forged on the image of the new Jew—the strong, muscular contrast to notions of the Diaspora Jew as pale, stooped and decidedly unmanly.

“Part of the Zionist project was to prove that Israeli men are the real Jewish men,” Nachmany Bar said. “The image of the Israeli man as soldier is part of this.”

Using the Hebrew term “gever gever,” slang for a “real man,” she said, “Part of being this real man is to be in control all the time—the idea being that if we are to be a real man in regards to a woman, the man needs to lead and the woman needs to follow.”

A national survey done this year by the Ministry of Trade and Industry found that 40 percent of women reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment on the job.

Avigail Moor, who heads the women’s studies department at Tel Chai College, said her research found that the figure for actual harassment, reported or not, appears to be higher: some 60 percent of the Israeli female workforce. The figure is similar to other Western countries, she said.

Sexual assault and rape hotlines have been overloaded in the aftermath of the Katsav conviction with calls coming in from across the country.

Moor, a psychologist, said the question now is how much Israeli men will internalize the message handed down by the court.

“If this is the beginning of a new era, it could have a spectacular effect,” Moor said. “If women come forward in large numbers it could also trigger a backlash. Any social revolution, and this is what it is, has its ups and downs.”

Former Israeli president Katsav convicted of rape

Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav has been found guilty of rape and sexual assault, more than four years after he was first accused.

The unanimous verdict of the three-judge panel was announced in Tel Aviv District Court on Thursday.

Katsav, 65, was convicted of raping and sexually assaulting A., a former employee of the Tourism Ministry. He was also convicted of sexually harassing H. and of sexually abusing and harassing L., both employees of the President’s Residence, and of obstruction of justice. The incidents occurred when Katsav was serving as Israel’s president and tourism minister.

Katsav was accompanied to court by his lawyers, but not by his wife, Gila, who previously had stood by his side throughout the proceedings. Katsav’s attorneys said they would appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court.

The trial lasted for one year. Two years ago, Katsav declined what was seen as a lenient plea bargain — one that dropped the rape charges and likely would have left him with a suspended sentence — saying that he wanted to clear his name in court. Most of the trial was held behind closed doors to protect the accusers.

A sentencing date has not yet been set. A rape conviction carries a minimum prison sentence of four years and a maximum of 16 years.

Katsav, a 1951 immigrant to Israel from Iran, rose to the presidency when the Knesset elected him in 2000, upsetting candidate Shimon Peres. Peres became president in 2007 after Katsav resigned in the wake of the allegations, shortly before the end of his term.

“This is a sad day for the State of Israel and its residents,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement after the verdict.

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.”

Katsav to be Indicted, P.A. Prime Minister Resigns

Katsav to Be Indicted on Sex Charges

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav will be indicted on sexual offense charges, the attorney general announced.

Menachem Mazuz said Sunday that Katsav will be indicted on rape and indecent assault charges involving several women who worked closely with him when he served as tourism minister and president. He also will be charged with obstruction of justice.

State Prosecutor Moshe Lador concurred with the charges after determining that there was enough evidence to make a case.

Katsav was first accused in 2006 and stepped down as president shortly before his term ended in June 2007. He was replaced by Shimon Peres.

Katsav struck a plea deal in June 2007, under which the rape charges would be dropped, but last April he reneged on the deal.

P.A. Prime Minister Submits Resignation

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad submitted his resignation, which could speed the formation of a Fatah-Hamas unity government.

P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas asked Fayyad after his announcement Saturday to remain in his position until the talks were completed. Fayyad said he would step down with the formation of the new government or by the end of March.

Abbas fired Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and replaced him with Fayyad after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Millions of dollars pledged to the Palestinians earlier this month and last year were donated on the condition that they are funneled through the Fayyad government. It is unclear how his resignation will affect the pledges, according to reports.

Fayyad said of his resignation in a statement Saturday, “This step comes in the efforts to form a national conciliation government.”

Unity talks were scheduled to resume Tuesday in Cairo.

Haniyeh, Hamas Popularity Rise, Poll Shows

Hamas’ prime minister would defeat Mahmoud Abbas in a presidential election, a new poll showed.

The survey published Monday giving Ismail Haniyeh an edge over the Palestinian Authority president also showed that Hamas’ popularity has increased among Palestinians in the aftermath of Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip.

Haniyeh received a 47 percent popularity rating among the more than 1,270 Palestinians surveyed March 5-7 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to 45 percent for Abbas. A similar poll in December had Haniyeh at 38 percent and Hamas at 48 percent.

Meanwhile, the poll showed that jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti would easily defeat Haniyeh, 61 percent to 34 percent.

Hamas’ popularity increased to 33 percent, a 5 percent rise from December. Fatah, however, remained the more popular faction with 40 percent of support, compared to 42 percent three months ago.

“Despite the visible increase in the popularity of Hamas and Haniyeh,” the pollsters reported, the overwhelming majority, 71 percent, believes Palestinians are worse off than they were before Israel’s Gaza operation.

The poll, which was conducted by the West Bank-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, had a 3 percent margin of error.

The findings were released as Hamas and Fatah negotiators arrived in Cairo for talks aimed at ending their differences and forming a unity government. Hamas won a Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006 and seized control of the Gaza Strip the next year after fighting with Fatah.

Son of Dead Sea Scrolls Expert Charged With Theft of Professor’s Identity

The son of a Dead Sea Scrolls expert was accused of identity theft.

Raphael Golb, a real estate lawyer in New York City, was arrested March 5 and charged with identity theft, criminal impersonation and aggravated harassment, The New York Times reported.

Golb is accused of impersonating a New York University professor who differed with Golb’s father about the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a set of ancient religious texts discovered near the Dead Sea settlement of Qumran in the 1940s and ’50s.

Prosecutors say Golb used a fake e-mail address in the name of the professor, Lawrence Schiffman, to fabricate an admission that Schiffman had plagiarized his father’s work.

Golb faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

Medical Journal Focuses on Palestinians

A prominent medical journal devoted a special issue to “Health in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

The special issue of the Lancet, a leading general medical journal, includes articles by academics from the West Bank, Europe and the United States.

“Hope for improving health and quality of life of Palestinians will exist only once people recognize that the structural and political conditions that they endure in the occupied Palestinian territory are the key determinants of population health,” one article reports.

The series of articles includes pieces on “The Occupied Palestinian Territory: Peace, Justice and Health,” “Peace and Health in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” and “Keys to Health: Justice, Sovereignty and Self-determination,” as well as articles on Palestinian health issues.

The verdict concerning Israel is mixed. There is criticism about roadblocks, with a report that in the past decade, 69 women gave birth at roadblocks. The report also addressed child mortality: “Infant mortality dropped between 1967 and 1987 but stalled between 2000 and 2006 at 27 per 1,000 live births.” The rate in Israel, the report notes, is 3.9 per 1,000.

Touro Synagogue Cancels Tours

Touro Synagogue, the nation’s oldest Jewish house of worship, canceled public tours because of financial difficulties.

The last two paid staff members of the Newport, R.I., synagogue were let go last week, according to the Providence Journal.

Plans to open a museum of American Jewish history at the site this summer will go forward. Group tours already scheduled for the summer will take place, but no new ones will be booked, said a spokesman for the nonprofit foundation that runs the project.

Touro is a major tourist destination, especially for Jewish visitors. It was built in 1763 and declared a national historic site in the 1940s. In 2001, the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated it as the nation’s first religious historic site.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Israeli police want to charge Katsav for rape; U.S. funding Hamas opponents

Israeli police want to charge Katsav for rapeIsraeli police recommended indicting President Moshe Katsav on charges of rape and sexual harassment. Katsav rejected calls to resign, and his attorney said Monday morning that he will quit only if an indictment is submitted. Investigators presented their findings and recommendations to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and senior officials in the State Prosecutor’s Office. The most serious charge is for the alleged rape of two women, but police also accused Katsav of purchasing dozens of gifts with money taken from the President’s Residence budget, Ha’aretz reported. Katsav’s attorney noted that the police recommendations have no legal validity because only the state prosecutor can decide on an indictment.

U.S. funding Hamas opponents

The United States has launched a funding campaign aimed at bolstering groups in the Palestinian Authority opposed to the Hamas government. Reuters reported over the weekend that the Bush administration has earmarked up to $42 million for overhauling Hamas rival Fatah, providing schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that offer an alternative to Hamas’ Islamist teachings, and bankrolling Palestinian journalists and watchdog groups that would monitor the Hamas government. The report cited official documentation and was tacitly confirmed by a U.S. envoy in the region. The report suggested that Washington is pursuing a “hearts and minds” campaign in the Palestinian Authority aimed at undermining Hamas and boosting the Fatah leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, who seeks peace talks with Israel.

Bush signs Darfur Act

President Bush signed the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act. Jewish groups led lobbying for the act, signed by Bush last Friday. The act bans dealing with Sudan until it abides by a peace treaty with tribes in the Darfur region and allows an international peacekeeping force. Government-allied Arab militias have slaughtered tens of thousands of people in the Darfur region, atrocities the Bush administration and Jewish groups have labeled a genocide.

Israel welcomes North Korea sanctions

Israel welcomed the U.N. Security Council resolution punishing North Korea for its nuclear testing. Israeli officials said Sunday that the unanimous Security Council decision to impose sanctions on Pyongyang in response to its controlled nuclear blast last week could send a message to Iran about its own atomic ambitions.”Iran, like North Korea, is a poor country. Such sanctions have a deterrent power,” one official said.Under the sanctions resolution passed over the weekend, arms shipments going in and out of North Korea are subject to monitoring, a step that could help stem the flow of missile and nuclear technology if applied to Iran, Israeli officials said.

Missiles said to be reaching Gaza

Palestinians are smuggling advanced shoulder-fired missiles into the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli intelligence officer said. Brig. Gen. Yossi Beidetz told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Cabinet on Sunday that Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups have been bringing both anti-tank and light anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza in preparation for a major confrontation with Israel. The anti-aircraft missiles would complicate Israeli air force efforts to provide cover for ground troops operating in the coastal territory, Beidetz said. He added that Syria is still smuggling weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, in violation of a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended this summer’s Israel-Hezbollah war.

EU backs forum on Anti-Semitism

The European Union endorsed a high-level conference on anti-Semitism in Bucharest next year. The endorsement was made at an annual meeting last week in Warsaw of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s human rights unit.”These OSCE conferences have become not only opportunities for political leaders to speak to the ongoing problem of anti-Semitism, but they focus attention and government action on steps to address it,” said the American Jewish Committee’s Andrew Baker, who attended the Warsaw meeting and lobbied for the Bucharest conference.

A final decision on the conference is due in December. Jewish groups have worried that the conference will be canceled; several countries wanted the OSCE, which includes 55 member states, to focus on other priorities. The conference would follow similar OSCE events in recent years in Vienna; Cordoba, Spain; and Berlin.

Turkey defends book fair selections

Turkish officials defended themselves against charges of choosing anti-Semitic books for a recent book fair in Germany. The Simon Wiesenthal Center complained last week that three anti-Semitic books were displayed at a Turkish Culture Ministry stand at the October fair in Frankfurt, one of the world’s largest book shows. The ministry said the Publishers Association chose the books, but the association said it was not responsible for the books at the ministry’s stand. The association also denied that any of the books on display was anti-Semitic, but the Wiesenthal Center noted they included an account of alleged Jewish plots against Turkey titled, “The Greater Israel Strategy,” and “Password Israel,” which claims that codes in the Torah show how Jews are planning World War III and the destruction of Turkey. Last year, “Mein Kampf” reportedly became a best seller in Turkey, and several anti-Israel books enjoyed popularity as well.

Russian Jews protest Hitler restaurant

Jewish leaders in a Russian region are protesting against the use of Adolf Hitler’s name by a new pub. The pub, set to open soon in the city of Ekaterinburg, is named Hitler Kaput. In a letter to the local mayor, leaders of the Jewish community said that any use of Hitler’s name to attract public attention is unacceptable. Authorities haven’t yet responded to the Jewish community.

Survivor, Author Normal Salsitz dies

Author Normal Salsitz died of pneumonia Oct. 11 in Boston at age 86. Salsitz, a Polish-born Jew, wrote “Against All Odds,” which tells the story of how he and his wife survived the Holocaust by pretending to be Christian. Salsitz received a false baptism certificate from a Polish priest and fought with the Polish underground against the Nazis. At one point, he killed a group of Polish partisans intent on murdering Jews.

Ukrainian leader coming not coming to Israel

Ukraine’s president will not visit Israel next month, contrary to reports. A press officer for Viktor Yuschenko said last Friday that earlier reports of a state visit to Israel in early November were “a newspaper hoax.” Earlier this month, some media reported from Berlin that Yuschenko announced his upcoming visit to Israel when he and Israel’s vice premier, Shimon Peres, received a prestigious international award in the German capital. A member of Yuschenko’s administration said that the visit is likely to take place at a later date but could not specify when. This is at least the third time in two years that a potential visit by Yuschenko to Israel has been postponed.Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.