His reputation in shambles from a sex scandal that broke a year ago and swelled in subsequent months, Israel’s outgoing president put an end to the sordid chapter by agreeing to a plea bargain after months of insisting he was innocent.
Under the deal announced Thursday, President Moshe Katsav will plead guilty to sexually harassing and molesting female staff in exchange for prosecutors’ agreement not to pursue rape charges against him. He will resign early, receive a suspended prison sentence and pay compensation to the complainants.
This marks the first time an Israeli head of state has been convicted of sexual misconduct a legacy many hope soon will be forgotten after Shimon Peres takes over the presidency July 15.
For much of this year, Katsav was on a leave of absence and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik served as acting president.
“Israel’s ‘No. 1 citizen’ has become a convicted sexual offender,” Attorney General Menachem Mazuz told reporters. “The shame will accompany him forever.”
The deal was deplored by women’s rights groups and others who saw the plea bargain as an easy pass for a member of Israel’s political elite, the latest in a long string of lenient convictions and sentences for a corrupt Israeli leadership.
The attorney for the employee of the president’s residence who had accused Katsav of rape, known as Complainant A, petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice on Thursday in an effort to block the plea deal, but her request was denied.
“The attorney general gave in to pressure, and the prosecutor forfeited the doing of justice because we’re talking about the president,” attorney Kinneret Barashi told reporters. “This is a black day. At issue is a complainant who told her truth, in which she believes. Along with her I will fight by all means in order to change this decision and bring justice to light. I have a great deal to say, and the last word has yet to be said.”
Mazuz said the! State A ttorney’s Office entered the plea bargain because it saw difficulties in proving the toughest allegations, some of them dating back years.
“A confession by the president is no trivial matter,” Mazuz said, defending the agreement.
But the Association of Rape Crisis Centers said in a statement in response, “The plea bargain sends a clear message to sexual assault victims: Better to stay quiet, better not to tell. In the State of Israel, there is no one to safeguard the victims of sexual assault.”
When Mazuz’s office first said in January that it was considering a rape indictment, Katsav took a leave of absence but angrily denied wrongdoing. In a raucous speech in which the president clearly lost his temper, Katsav spoke of himself as the victim of a “witch hunt” targeting successful members of Israel’s Sephardi underclass.