Moshe Katzav was the victim of a feminist-leftist media lynch and his trial may well have been a mistrial, according to popular columnist Ben-Dror Yemini of Maariv.
Katzav mobbed after verdict (smiling reporter at left) / Israel news photo: Flash 90
While most commentators naturally saw the unanimous guilty verdict as a vindication of the claims against Katzav, Yemini - along with some other commentators on Maariv and News1 - found grave faults in the process by which Katzav was tried.
In a Sunday article, Yemini noted that Katzav was never a popular political figure, and that the more powerful he became among Likud members, the less the media liked him. As a right-wing, Sephardic, religiously observant Jew, Katzav was an outsider in the Israeli elite. When he defeated Shimon Peres in the race for president, "the floodgates opened" and the media went for the jugular. Two ultra-leftist journalists compared Katzav's victory to the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin, and writer Amos Oz wrote "a particularly insulting article" in a popular newspaper.
After he became president, Katzav was mocked on a regular basis by the prime-time satirical TV show Eretz Nehederet, to such a degree that part of the public began mistaking the comedy version of Katzav for the real president.
"The judges on the panel can claim 1,001 times that the media did not influence them," Yemini opined, "or that [the media spin war] was an ugly game in which Katzav took part as well. But this is an untrue claim, which only proves the opposite."
"I was never a fan of Katzav," Ben-Yemini continued. "Yet we are not dealing with public or political opinions, but with matters of life and death and criminal justice. And now there is a concern, more than a concern, that the huge baggage [of anti-Katzav sentiment] seeped in. It was part of the conviction. Perhaps it was the deciding factor."
Katzav Launched the Complaint
The Katzav affair began with a complaint by Katzav himself, Yemini reminded his readers. Katzav claimed that his former bureau chief was blackmailing him. She wanted to go back to work for Katzav after coming back from a stay abroad, and at a later stage demanded money from Katzav. At a certain point the woman - who is referred to as "Aleph of the President's Bureau" - hired a PR man, and the PR man contacted Channel 10, which contacted MK Shelly Yechimovich (Labor), a well-known gender feminist. Yechimovich met Aleph and was then interviewed by Channel 10 and said Aleph had been raped. "Until that point, Aleph did not complain of being raped and did not claim that there was a rape. Yechimovich decided that she knew what happened. She is the one who started the 'rape dance,'" Yemini said.
The media toed the line marked by Yechimovich, Channel 10 and the PR man. "It was a strange verdict, handed down in absentia. A conviction without a trial. In the name of female solidarity. A conviction that was a pure lynching."
At the time, Yemini accused bitterly, a public opinion poll would have found more sympathy for the Purim villain, Haman the wicked, than for Katzav.
Yemini - formerly a criminal attorney himself - went on to note that the investigation against Katzav revealed so many problems with the complainants' testimony that the two lead prosecutors on the case wanted to drop the charges. Katzav was offered a plea bargain that would have involved admitting relatively mild offenses. The prosecution showed the High Court its reasons for offering the plea bargain. The columnist hinted that he saw the document listing these reasons, and that it showed serious doubts and contradictions in the case. These doubts should have found their way into the judges verdict, he reasoned - yet inexplicably, the verdict was unanimous and completely without doubts.
"Something doesn't add up," Yemini summed up. The judges, it appears, were not able to free themselves of Katzav's despised image and "the collective will to find Katzav guilty."