Israel is often unfairly criticized by the world’s media. Often those doing the criticism have very little understanding of the sensitive political situation that drive their complaints. The decision handed down today by a three-Judge panel in Israel should silence even the most outspoken of critics, at least for a short period of time.
Moshe Katsav, the former President of Israel (the role of President is largely ceremonial similar to the Governor General in Canada), was convicted in late 2010 of rape and sexual harrassment. The rape occurred prior to his assuming the role of President and the sexual harrassment incidents were said to have occurred while he was in office. Earlier today, in a 2-1 decision, Katsav was sentenced to seven years in prison (the dissenting Judge would have sentenced Katsav to a four-year term). While my role as a defence lawyer causes me to ask questions about the harshness of this sentence, as a lawyer I still have an utmost respect for the rule of law. That is what prevailed today in Israel. (While the evidence does seem overwhelming, I fully support Katsav’s right to an appeal of both his conviction and sentence, both of which I am confident he will receive).
Katsav received no special treatment for his past public service. This wasn’t celebrtity justice. As stated by Justice George Karra: “The defendant committed the crime and must bear the punishment as any other man.”
The world was watching this case. The trial, conviction, and sentencing of a past leader of a nation seems to me to be unprecedented. The Israeli government could have gotten directly involved in this case and tried to “spin” the facts to ensure the least possible negative attention. They didn’t do that, and there is no suggestion this was ever even an intention. Like other democracies, there must be a separation between the judicial and law-making (in Israel’s case, the Knesset) branches of government. The fact that Israel allowed its judicial system to work without state interference, and without concern for what the world may be thinking, is testiment to the democratic values that take precedence in Israel. The “macho” image that is often portrayed in Israel had no effect on this decision. Instead, Israel showed that it is an egalitarian society where all citizens have equal footing before the courts.
This wasn’t about international politics. This was about Israeli democracy, freedom, and the rule of law. All of those prevailed today.