Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni
Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni Israel news photo: Flash 90

Lawmakers said Thursday's sexual assault convictions of former President Moshe Katzav has sent a strong message to women that their rights will be supported in the State of Israel.

“A day in which an elected public official is convicted of rape is not an easy day for the State of Israel,” said Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima). “The court's decision conveys a clear message with regard to public officials, but more importantly it conveys a message to the victims.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed, saying “Today the court conveyed two clear-cut messages: that all are equal before the law, and that every woman has exclusive rights to her body.”

Livni added that Israeli society should support the plaintiffs who found the courage to speak out about the abuse they suffered at the hands of Israel's top political representative. “In these difficult times for Israeli society, the message should strengthen the weak in society: women and anyone who is victimized,” she said.

The Kadima party chairwoman was supported in her statement by Labor MK Shelly Yechimovich, who testified as a witness for the prosecution during the trial. Yechimovich told reporters that she believes the verdict has “proven there is equality before the law, and that the justice system does not discriminate between an ordinary defendant and one who has power, wealth and connections.”

In delivering the verdict, the head of the three-justice panel, Judge George Karra, noted, “Over time, we received evidence that backed Aleph's testimony. She was telling the truth, which was hard for her to do, and we accept her explanations... it happened, and a rape occurred there. The process of shaming Aleph dervied from her refusal to bend to Katzav's will.”

The 65-year-old former president, who denied the charges, was convicted on two counts of rape and sexual assault of three female employees who worked for him at various times.

Katzav was found guilty of raping and sexually assaulting 'Aleph' (her first initial, in Hebrew), who had worked for him during his tenure as Tourism Minister. He was also convicted of sexually harassing another woman, referred to by the initial 'Heh', and sexually harassing and abusing a third woman, 'Lamed'; both were employees at the President's Residence. In addition, Katzav was found guilty of obstruction of justice.

The crime of rape carries a penalty of 4 to 16 years in prison. Yael Bella, director of a women's crisis shelter in Jerusalem, pointed out that the trial had been a “test of reliability for the justice system. The judges understood the victims and believed them,” she said.

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