Former Israeli President Katsav Convicted Of Rape

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Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was found guilty of rape and other sexual offenses Thursday. The case is the most serious ever brought against a high-ranking Israeli official. Katsav has denied the charges.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In a case that has riveted the nation, a former president of Israel has been convicted of rape. Moshe Katsav resigned back in 2007 after being accused of sexual offenses. The Israeli presidency is a largely ceremonial position, but the president is the face of the nation. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has followed the case and she joins us from Jerusalem to tell us more.

Good morning.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So rape is one of the charges. He was also convicted of other charges.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's right. Two counts of rape, sexual harassment, indecent acts, and obstruction of justice. Pretty much the gamut. The portrait that came out of Moshe Katsav during his trial was one of a sexual predator who tried to quash queries into his behavior and vilify the women who complained about him. The rapes and assault happened both apparently during his tenure as tourism minister and while he was president.

Katsav has always protested his innocence, saying there's been a witch hunt against him that was politically motivated. But the three judge panel didn't agree and laid out in pretty harsh terms his conviction, saying when a woman says no she means no.

MONTAGNE: And these women, tell us how they even came to know him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, they worked for him in various capacities. And you know, over the course of his tenure, it really seems to be that he was described as someone who regularly harassed women.

This is the first time such a high level official has been charged with such a serious crime here. And it really has shocked Israel, Renee. It's deeply embarrassing.

As you mentioned, the presidency is a largely ceremonial post, but those who hold it are supposed to be a beacon of morality somehow. And instead you have a figure that has now been convicted of some very vile acts.

MONTAGNE: What would be his basis for calling it a witch hunt? I mean, why would he say that people were after him?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He basically purported that because of his background - he's an Iranian-born Jew...

MONTAGNE: As opposed to European - as opposed to coming from Europe?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As opposed to a European Jew. There's a great deal of tension often within Jewish society between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. So he said this was a witch hunt against him for that reason. Also it was politically motivated he purported, because of his enemies coming against him in this way.

He also alleged that these women tried to blackmail him and that that was their motivation in coming against him. He at one point was offered a plea bargain. He said that he would rather face justice in a court of law to completely exonerate himself. And of course that didn't happen.

MONTAGNE: And the reaction in Israel. So far you say it's shocking. What are people saying?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, women's groups have certainly celebrated the verdict. They say sexual harassment in the workplace has never been taken seriously here. So this is a victory, they say, for women's rights.

Clearly Katsav himself is not happy. While he gave no statement as he left the court today he was heard to say no, no, as the verdict was read out.

MONTAGNE: And just finally, briefly, is this the end of it? Is he going to prison?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, it's not clear. He could appeal to the supreme court. It's not clear if he will do so. Legal analysts here say that he has about zero chance of getting this conviction overturned. Sentencing is expected to happen, if he does not appeal, sometime in January.

MONTAGNE: Lourdes, thank you very much.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro speaking from Jerusalem on the conviction this morning of a former president of Israel on charges of rape.

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