How Long Should Israel's Former President (and a Convicted Rapist) Spend Behind Bars?

Imagine for a moment that Monica Lewinsky had not been so enthusiastic about pursuing a sexual relationship with President Clinton, that he had pursued her against her will, and had imposed himself on her physically.

Now imagine that the Lewinsky affair had opened a Pandora’s Box of women from various stages of Clinton’s career coming forward and accusing him of levels of sexually abusive behavior — ranging from unwanted fondling to outright rape. Add to that imaginary scenario that the wheels of justice had turned, the women were found to be credible and the machinations of Clinton’s cronies to silence or intimidate them self-incriminating, and that, four years later, the former President was convicted in a court of law of rape.

Even if it was proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he behaved criminally, wouldn’t Americans feel a pang at the prospect of seeing the man who held such a lofty post and once represented their nation to the world, dressed in a prison jumpsuit and led into a cell?

That is the prospect the Israeli public faces as the sentencing of former President Moshe Katsav is imminent. His sentencing will take place on March 8, which, coincidentally, is International Women’s Day and attorneys are in court this week making their arguments on sentencing.

The public reaction to the entire Katsav affair has been a source of great national ambivalence with no shortage of mixed emotions. On one hand, shame and outrage from those who ask how Katsav got away the boorish behavior of which he was convicted. The fact that some members of Knesset who were apparently familiar with rumors of Katsav’s behavior elected such a man a position of prestige and power is a cause for outrage.

On one hand, there is justified pride in the courage of the women who came forward, particularly those who were previously silent and chose to break that silence in solidarity with previous accusers, whose character and credibility was publicly smeared by Katsav’s supporters. There is also pride in the legal system that he was judged fairly, and his conviction was held up as a sign that Israeli democracy is still alive and kicking. Back when Katsav was convicted, journalist/blogger Jeffrey Goldberg noted the aspects of the verdict that impressed him:

Indeed, Katsav was convicted, and now he is going to be sentenced. Conviction on a rape charge is certain to result in prison time. The question is how much time is appropriate — a short, single-digit number of years, or closer to the maximum sentencing for his crime, 16 years.

Should his status as a former president result in a stiffer sentence or a more lenient one? That debate is taking place on every Israeli media outlet.

Unsurprisingly, much of the point-counterpoint breaks down along gender lines. Ynet’s dueling opinion pieces on the topic reflected that disagreement. Male columnist Yigal Sarna argued that while there was no mitigating Katsav’s acts, as he saw it justice has been done, there was no need for a long sentence:

Female author and journalist Smadar Shir’s retort reflected the sentiments of many Israeli women. She, like many, believes the fact that Katsav has not expressed regret and has not even publicly acknowledged his crimes should weigh in favor of a harsh sentence.

Yet many Orthodox rabbis have wholly accepted the former president’s protestations of total innocence. A recent Ynet article reads:

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How Long Should Israel's Former President (and a Convicted Rapist) Spend Behind Bars?

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