Former President Moshe Katzav was sentenced to seven years in prison this morning, after having been convicted on two charges of rape.
The three-judge panel of the Tel Aviv District Court, headed by Judge George Kara, handed down the sentence, though, unlike the conviction, it was not unanimous. Judges Kara and Miriam Sokolov's view overrode that of Judge Yehudit Shevah, who favored four years in prison.
This is the first time in Israel's history that a former president, prime minister or official of comparable standing has been sentenced to prison. Katzav must also compensate the women who filed the complaints against him to the total sum of 125,000 shekels.
Katzav, who has professed his innocence throughout the case, interrupted the reading of the sentence twice, calling out to the judges in a broken voice, "You know that this trial is a lie, and you are contributing to the culture of lying. It is all a farce."
He is likely to appeal to the Supreme Court. In any event, his prison term will not begin immediately, but rather in approximately a month from now.
Case Started with Blackmail Attempt
Notably, the case was first brought to the attention of the law enforcement agencies in Israel by Katzav himself. In the summer of 2006, he complained that one of the women who later filed the complaint against him was threatening and blackmailing him.
When the conviction was handed down three months ago, one of the judges wrote in his ruling a sentence that gave some hope to Katzav and his attorneys: "The misery that the defendant experienced, and the long period that has passed, are considerations that should be taken into account when determining his sentence."
His Word Against Hers
The conviction and even the charges themselves were a matter of great controversy from a legal standpoint, in that no evidence was presented against Katzav. It was rather a case of his word against hers - and the judges chose to believe her, convicting the man who was a former Knesset Member, Transportation Minister and President on two counts of rape.
In fact, it was this element of the case that led several leading rabbis to write their famous "Rabbis' Letter" in support of Katzav. Contrary to popular understanding, the rabbis' letter was not only never meant to be publicized, but did not show support for Katzav as a convicted rapist - but rather criticism for the manner in which he was convicted.
Amnon Shomron, Katzav's media advisor, said this morning that Katzav never enjoyed the presumption of innocence among the media. "There was a media campaign against him that crossed all red lines," he said.
Legal experts do not expect Katzav to win his appeal in the Supreme Court, but it is expected that he will turn to the country's highest court in any event, if only for the sake of his wife, three sons, daughter and brother.