Thursday, December 30, 2010

Katsav Verdict a Win for Israel

Splashed across the front pages of Middle Eastern media outlets today is the news that former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was found guilty of rape and sexual abuse after years of indictments and trials. The news is likely to spur a number of editorials in both the Israeli and Arab press.

On the one hand, to see such gross misconduct at the highest levels of the Israeli government is disappointing. During the trial itself, judges found that Katsav used edited tapes, partial transcripts, unrealistic datebooks, unfounded statements, and prepared testimonies which were "riddled with lies." That the culture of governance in Israel could allow for such abuse is concerning.

At the same time, the judges unanimously convicted Katsav, and his rape charge carries a minimum sentence of four years in prison. While Katsav was convicted of rape and sexual misconduct, it is hard to think of any other country in the Middle East where a victim of these abuses would have a serious shot at legal recourse against a president. While tones of racism may underlie some of the charges against Katsav (who is of a Mizrachi background), the conviction is not likely to stir civil unrest in Israel. Mizrahim did not organize to support Katsav only because he was Mizrahi, and those who opposed him did not do so because they were Ashkenazi. It is hard to imagine that a comparable indictment in many of Israel's neighboring countries would similarly be free from strong ethnic overtones.

The Katsav verdict illustrates that the Israeli legal system is still very much salient, and that not even the President of the State is above the law. While his sentence is still uncertain, the message sent by the Israeli judicial system today is one which strengthens Israel's position as a liberal democratic and Jewish state.

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