The Tel Aviv District Court decided Sunday to allow news media representatives and members of the general public into the courtroom Thursday when the verdict in the trial of former president Moshe Katzav is read.
The court bowed to pressure by the news media and agreed to hold an open session. Newspapers Ha'aretz and Yediot Acharonot, the Ynet website and Voice of Israel government-run radio all filed requests to make the session an open one.
The decision could bode ill for the defendant, whose entire trial is largely a product of intense media pressure and was preceded by a "media trial" in which most news outlets declared Katzav guilty of rape. Feminist groups held protests and demanded that Katzav be tried and found guilty, and Katzav's accusers received open microphones on live television to make their accusations, while their own identities remain secret to this day.
After contradictions and faults were found in the testimonies of the complainants against Katzav, the Attorney-General offered him a plea bargain that involved lesser charges of sexual harassment. Katzav refused the bargain and decided to opt for a trial. He is accused, among other offenses, of rape.
The three-judge panel is headed by Judge George Kara and includes Judges Yehudit Shevach and Miriam Sokolov. Some commentators saw the female majority in the panel as an bad sign for Katzav.
Katzav's attorneys complained at the outset of the trial that Judge Kara was treating them unfairly. They rebelled against his decisions to hold four sessions per week - a pace they said was too rapid to make a fair trial possible - and also against the decision to hold the trial behind closed doors, after detailed and lurid accusations against Katzav had been carried by the media for months.
The public hysteria surrounding the trial and the unprecedentedly harsh accusations against an acting president caused Israel great embarrassment abroad, and a 'guilty' verdict will doubtless add to the embarrassment.
Israel's laws regarding rape and sexual harassment were changed in the 1990s and are considered among the toughest in the world. A man can be found guilty of rape even if he did not use physical force or threats against the complainant, as long as the court finds that the relations were not carried out with the woman's "free consent." A man can be found guilty of sexual harassing a subordinate even if the complainant did not inform him that she was not interested in his advances.