It seemed as if all Israelis were glued to their televisions or radios this morning to hear the prison sentence handed down to former President Moshe Katsav, who was convicted of charges of rape, sexual harassment, indecent behavior and obstructing justice in December.
At home, in stores, offices, or in my case, at the gym — where everyone was huffing and puffing on the treadmills and exercise bikes as they watched the televised images of Katsav enter the Tel Aviv District court building and listen to commentators speculate on whether the sentence would be harsh or light.
The courtroom was closed to cameras, and so reports of the sentence dribbled out over the course of half an hour as the decision by the panel of judges was read, and reached TV screens second-hand. In the lobby of my gym, members were clustered around the television and reacted as a Greek chorus to the words that were flashed across the screen: “SEVEN YEARS IMPRISONMENT.”
The men of the club were grim-faced, but nodded in approval. “Good job,” one of them said. The reaction of the women was immediate: “Poor Gila!” they clucked, referring to his long- suffering wife.
Seven years — with an additional two for probation — seemed to be the magic number. With jail time a necessity after a conviction on as serious a charge as rape, Katsav’s sympathizers were hoping for a four year sentence. Advocates in the fight against sexual violence towards women were hoping for a double-digit sentence. His sentence included a payment of more than $20,000 in restitution to “A,” the former employee he was convicted of raping.
As with the sentencing, the court backed up its actions with some powerful and moving words. The statement read at the beginning of the sentencing by Justice George Karra said that a sentence needed to send a “clear message” and that “we must not forget the defendant is not the victim, but the one who caused harm.” He added that: “The defendant is a symbol. The fact that Katsav committed the acts while serving in a high-ranking post is reason to judge him severely.”
The lack of public sympathy for Katsav — especially among women — stems, to a great extent, from the fact that he has admitted no wrongdoing and expressed no remorse. Anyone who was expecting a change in that attitude at the sentence was disappointed. After the sentence was read, he cried out in tears:
They are mistaken, and it will all be proved! You are mistaken, ma’am, you are mistaken! You have committed an injustice! The judgment is wrong! You allowed lies to emerge victorious!” The women know that they lied! They know that they lied, they are laughing at the judgment! Your honor knows that she lied!
In some public schools, lessons were interrupted to discuss the sentencing and its implications. My sixth-grade daughter said that her class talked about the still-anonymous heroines of the affair, the women who Katsav attacked who had the courage to come forward and accuse such a powerful man.
There is nothing that Israelis would like more than to leave this tawdry and embarrassing soap opera and media circus behind. But Katsav has 45 days in which to file an appeal, and he surely will, and he has also been granted a month and a half in order to ‘prepare’ to serve his prison sentence. So the end of the Katsav affair is still nowhere in sight.