Former chief of staff for Israel's Prison Service Shlomo Twizer told Arutz Sheva on Tuesday that the entry of former President Moshe Katsav into prison on 7 December will be "a black day for Israel."
Twizer lamented, "Imagine the guards, who until a few years ago stood at attention in front of President Katsav when they received their certificates as police officers or prison personnel, who have now put him prison clothes, tell him when to sleep and when to eat, and watch over him."
"Katsav may meet prisoners who applied to him for pardons that he rejected outright. It's a black day both for him and the citizens of Israel – and the guards. He is a convicted prisoner, but the heart aches to see the president of a country go to jail," he added.
Twizer also observed that as long as Katsav maintains his innocence he cannot be released for holidays as prisoners who recant their crimes often are in Israel.
"To be given leave for a holiday a person needs to repent, but this is a man who proclaims his innocence," Twizer said.
Twizer added that the decision to incarcerate Katsav at Matisiyahu prison was a wise move by officials.
"A prisoner who committed such acts is usually incarcerated at Ramle Prison," Twizer explained. "If Katsav had been sent there he would not have lasted. I was the warden who opened Matisyahu prison, which has a Beit Midrash, and conditions there are better, more comfortable."
"Time goes faster at Matisyahu – prisoners learn Torah, attend events, and are given useful work duties. Many there are religious and will treat him well, including Rabbi Benizri," Twizer said.
The former Prison Service chief of staff said Katsav's first forty days would set the tone for his entire seven year term of incarceration, adding administrators and guards would be wise to treat Katsav with "kid gloves."
"It’s best if they treat him with kid gloves and make him comfortable. If anything were to happen to him in the coming days... if he were to commit suicide, G-d forbid... what will all those celebrating his downfall do?” Twizer asked.
“ It’s important to allow him his dignity, and at Matisyahu that can be the case. Let him study the Torah, instruct him gently, and keep a round the clock [suicide] watch on him at first,” Twizer said. “Those first forty days are critical and will determine whether he accepts his punishment quietly, or heaven forefend, takes his own life."
Katsav was sentenced to seven years in prison for rape and obstruction of justice.
President Shimon Perez hinted in November he was unlikely to pardon Katsav saying “I take a hard line on people who hurt women – especially sexually.”
Katsav’s conviction – hailed as a victory by feminists – has been decried as a defeat for the rule of law by critics who say he was tried in the court of public opinion and note the judges who convicted him admitted the testimony that determined Katsav's verdict changed over time.
Israel’s Supreme Court is set to hear an appeal by Katsav’s lawyers on January 8.