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Israeli President May Face Rape Charge

Morning Edition: October 16, 2006

Israeli President May Face Rape Charge

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION. Iím Linda Wertheimer, in for Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And Iím Steve Inskeep.

The president of Israel is being accused of rape and sexual assault. The accusations come from Israeli police, who also say Moshe Katsav engaged in fraud and illegal wiretapping. These are the most serious allegations ever to face an Israeli leader. The accusations come after a two-month investigation.

Weíre going to go now to Hirsh Goodman. Heís a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and a regular guest here. Welcome to the program, sir.

Mr. HIRSH GOODMAN (Senior Fellow, Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv University): Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: First of all, who made these allegations against the president of Israel?

Mr. GOODMAN: Well, it started off with one woman who used to work as his secretary. And ironically, it all started off with the president himself going to the attorney general and complaining that heís being blackmailed. This very soon turned around into an array of women - up to 10 women - who all came out of the closet, so to say, and began to file complaints, in retrospect, against the president.

INSKEEP: Has this been all over the Israeli media the last couple months?

Mr. GOODMAN: Yes, itís very much been all over the Israeli media, and, you know, people didnít really know how to handle it. They just found it very difficult to handle. Itís absolutely scandalous. But it represents something, and itís not an isolated case. Thereís been a very marked change in this once- macho country, against womanizing. And where it was once an accepted norm - a previous president of ours was notorious, and even an earlier president of ours had one of the countryís premier poetesses as his lover - it was accepted then. Since the Ď90ís this country is very, very, very strict on issues of sexual abuse. And weíve had a defense minister thrown out of office and disgraced on those grounds, and now the president.

INSKEEP: And we should mention that the presidency in Israel is a largely symbolic office. But are there deep reverberations for something like this?

Mr. GOODMAN: Yes, itís an office thatís ceremonial, and thatís why the symbolism of corruption at what is an office that only exists because it is a symbol. That symbol has now been severely tarnished by the person in power. But I donít think itís going to have very deep socio-political consequences.

INSKEEP: And we should mention that the president has insisted that he is innocent, and as you mentioned, has even said that he was being blackmailed during this.

Mr. GOODMAN: Yeah. Just this morning he announced that he will not be going to open Parliament. The president isnít required to open Parliament, but itís traditional that he does. Given that many parliamentarians said they would stand up and walk, or they would not stand up, when he walked in, and with the seriousness of the charges that the police have recommended - but he has not been indicted yet. The law here is that if he is indicted, he has to go. You cannot put a standing president on trial.

INSKEEP: Just, the police have charged him, but that is short of a formal indictment, which has not come.

Mr. GOODMAN: The police have taken their recommendations to the attorney general, who together with the prosecutor general, will now have to decide whether there is indeed a case with hard enough evidence to indict.

INSKEEP: Now, Mr. Goodman, could this in any way endanger the government of the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, who is dealing with a very difficult situation already in the aftermath of the Lebanon war?

Mr. GOODMAN: Yeah. This would not impact, I donít think, on the government. Katsav himself is a Likud appointment, and I donít think this would impact on Olmertís government. Heís got his other problems. But this actually helps to deflect a bit from them.

INSKEEP: It changes the subject?

Mr. GOODMAN: Yes. It changes the headlines.

INSKEEP: Hirsh Goodman is a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. Thank you very much.

Mr. GOODMAN: Itís my pleasure.

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