|Katsav's Conviction a Win for Women's Rights and the Rule of Law|
On Thursday, after a long and arduous judicial process, former Israeli president Moshe Katsav was convicted for rape and sexual harassment.
The verdict validated Israel’s democratic institutions and demonstrated that no one – not even Israel’s leaders – is above the law. The conviction was also a victory for the women’s rights organizations of the NIF family. Despite the sadness and shame of the conviction, many Israelis see it as a vindication of the right of women to live in equality, dignity and safety.
The New Israel Fund family has been closely involved in the Katsav case since 2007, when a plea bargain was struck with the former president in which he would have pled guilty to lesser charges, threatening to unravel gains by women’s groups against the widespread problem of sexual harassment.
When the plea bargain was struck, NIF and its family of grantees began to quickly organize against the agreement. Kolech/Religious Women’s Forum , the Association of Rape Crisis Centers and other groups appealed to the Supreme Court to cancel the plea bargain, citing the light punishment Katsav would receive under its terms. With less than two days notice, the women’s groups organized a major protest, turning out a crowd of over 20,000, to protest the deal. The huge response to the protest inspired leading Israeli columnist Nachum Barnea to write that "feminist and civil human rights values that several years ago were accepted by only the few, are today at the heart of a consensus."
NIF grantees also used the case to illuminate the wider social problem of sexual harassment in Israel, and encourage women to come forward when they are victimized.
As Michal Rozin, Executive Director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, which got its first funding from NIF, stated before the trial's conclusion, "A successful outcome to the trial for these women will influence others to go to the courts."
In Israel’s Arab sector, NIF grantee Women Against Violence saw a 23 percent increase in reports about sexual abuse when the initial publicity about the case gave women the courage to come forward. Women Against Violence continues to operate the first battered women's shelter and hotline run by and for Arab women, as well as public education and advocacy campaigns opposing sexual violence and so-called "honor killings".
Despite the successful protests, the Supreme Court narrowly upheld the plea bargain. Amazingly, Katsav himself then turned it down, choosing to go to court in the belief that he would be acquitted of all charges. Last week’s conviction, written in scathing language by the three-judge panel, made clear that the testimony of the victims was credible, and that the former president had further harmed his case by attempting to threaten witnesses and compromise the legal process.
“This conviction is a victory for the rule of law,” said Rachel Liel, NIF’s Executive Director in Israel. “We could not be prouder of the many women’s groups in the NIF family, who represent sectors ranging from the Arab to the ultra-Orthodox, who used this case to illuminate the still-troubling problem of sexual harassment in Israel, and who consistently called for justice to be served.”