When Moshe Katzav became the president of Israel, I was thrilled for a few reasons. For one, he was a Sephardi and it was high time that someone from that community held a position of leadership within the State. For another, he was a traditional Jew and it is quite fitting for the president of the State to reflect its Jewish nature in more than just simple ethnic background. Finally, he got the job by beating Shimon Peres, proving again that the safest way to win an election is to run against Israel's "elder statesman".
And then came the news of his misdemeanours while residing in Beit HaNasi. First they were rumours, then they became allegations and finally they evolved into charges of which he has been found guilty. To the shame of Israel, the former president has been convicting of rape and sexual harrassment. All that's left is the sentencing.
As a critic of Sholom Rubashkin, consistency demands that I say something to the effect of "Too bad, so sad" or the like. After all, when Rubashkin was vociferously insisting on his innocence despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I had no sympathy. Like others, I noted that the justice system had impartially done its work and that his conviction was the result of evidence of his crimes. His ongoing arrogant dismissal of the American justice system's right to even try him only deepened the antipathy we felt towards him. In theory, I should feel little different towards Katzav. After all, like Rubashkin the evidence has steadfastly worked against him. Like Rubashkin he continues to insist on his innocence even though such claims ring hollow.
Yet I can't completely get my head around that. For some reason, I feel compelled to take the other side in this case. Is it because I like Katzav whereas I didn't like Rubashkin? Is it because I saw in Katzav a symbol of what Israel needed whereas Rubashkin struck me as yet another overbearing Orthodox Jew who doesn't think the law applies to him?
Is it just hypocrisy on my part?
Perhaps, but there are still some aspects of the Katzav case that niggle at the back of my brain. The first is the timing of the surfacing of the allegations. For those who do not recall, Katzav was accused shortly after he gave a public speech in which he condemned the Oslo Disocrd, observed that the Road Map was a map to nowhere and that the intellectual establishment that had created both was causing more damage than help to Israel. Keep in mind this was several years ago when doubting the rightness of Oslo still carried a certain risk of being villified by the State itself.
Almost the next day the first allegations surfaced. And when they were found to be based on nothing, more women suddenly came forward. Yes, it could all be a coincidence. It could also be that Katzav's enemies knew about these women and held them in reserve until an opportune time but I'm not sure either of those is a correct option.
Then there is the nature of the case. With Rubashkin things were much simpler. In addition to testimony from mistreated workers, there was also a matter of financial records, objective evidence showing his misdealings. It wasn't simply a matter of "He said, she said" which the Katzav case has always been about. Rubashkin was cut and dried, Katzav not so.
Was Moshe Katzav turned into a criminal because he dared question the intellectual orthodoxy of the State at a time when those running it still believed in a fictional peace with an implacable enemy? Is he a criminal or a martyr?