Washington: The New Israel Fund (NIF) praised today’s conviction of former Israeli president Moshe Katsav for rape and sexual harassment as both a victory for women’s rights and a validation of Israel’s democratic institutions.
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.
After the plea was initially agreed to, NIF and its family of grantees began to quickly organize against the agreement. Kolech/Religious Women’s Forum and the Association of Rape Crisis Centers appealed to the Supreme Court to cancel the plea bargain, which was narrowly upheld by the Court. The women’s rights groups founded and funded by NIF also mobilized major public support against the agreement, which included a rally attended by more than 20,000 Israelis on two days’ notice.
According to front-line women’s groups, the ramifications of the original plea agreement had a chilling effect on Israeli women’s belief in how seriously the justice systems concerned itself with crimes of sexual violence, and lowered the rate of reporting such crimes. With the conviction now likely to be upheld, the New Israel Fund hopes that the downward trend of victims reporting their crimes to police will be reversed, with more women feeling encouraged that justice can be served.
“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.”