REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Israel's Supreme Court has upheld rape convictions and a seven-year prison sentence for former President Moshe Katzav, capping a legal and public drama that has roiled the country for more than five years.
In December 2010, Katzav was found guilty of two charges of rape in cases involving former employees. He was also convicted of sexual harassment and obstruction of justice, and in March of this year, he was sentenced to a seven-year prison term. On Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected Kaztav's appeal of his conviction and sentence.
Katzav, who served as Israel's eighth president from 2000 until stepping down over the accusations in 2006, is the highest-ranking Israeli official ever to be sent to jail. The court agreed to a one-month delay in the start of the sentence; he will now go to prison on Dec. 7, a year after the initial conviction.
"A great sorrow descends upon Israel as it is determined that he who served as a government minister, deputy prime minister and president committed such acts," the three-judge panel wrote in its ruling. "It is a most difficult sight to see one who served as a state symbol go to jail."
Legal analyst Moshe Negbi told Israel Radio the the ruling "sends an extraordinary message" to women. He added that it "not only brought to justice to Israel's former No. 1 citizen but has protected tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of women employed by men of power." Commenting on the court's rejection of Katzav's argument that his sexual relations with the employees was consensual, Negbi noted the ruling's determination that there can be no genuine consent in a work situation, where hierarchy is inherently imbalanced. "This is a revolutionary ruling," he said.
The country's leading female politicians expressed satisfaction with the ruling. Shelly Yachimovich, who was recently elected Labor Party chair and was a prosecution witness in Katzav's trial, said the importance of the ruling was twofold, stating that all are equal before the law and that women alone own the rights to their bodies.
The women who filed complaints against Katzav are courageous and should give strength to any woman fearful of reporting harassment, said opposition leader Tzipi Livni.
-- Batsheva Sobelman
Photo: Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav enters the courtroom before the verdict in his case is read. Credit: Uriel Sinai / Reuters