It can often be said that the fragments of Israeli society come together in times of great joy or great sorrow. These days, Israelis are coming together in disbelief, utter disbelief over the plea bargain agreement presented to the public by Attorney General Menahem Mazuz. I’m not going to rehash the gory details (which can be found here), but I will mention some of the more salient bits. All charges involving rape have been dropped (indeed, all charges involving the central complainant known only as A have been dropped). Katzav will serve no jail time and will perform no community service, but he will pay compensation to his victims. Katzav also agreed to resign as president, which seems rather trivial at this point, given that there are less than two weeks left until Shimon Peres will be inaugurated as the new president. He is also supposed to admit in court to all charges appearing in the indictment, and Mazuz and others have threatened that should he fail to do so, the plea bargain will be thrown out. Until now, all Katzav has said is that he has agreed to accept the plea bargain for his family’s sake, and that he admits to touching these women out of affection, which is rather pathetic and more than a little frightening.
When one looks at cases like that of Haim Ramon, Israel’s former justice minister who was found guilty of sexual harassment and given a sentence of community service (and recently offered the position of vice-premier in Olmert’s government), or Ofer Glazer, the husband of multimillionaire Shari Arison, who served time in jail for similar charges, it is an incomprehensible travesty of justice to watch as our former president is essentially being given a twitch of the pinky (as opposed to the harsher slap on the wrist) for far more serious crimes, with a blind eye having been turned to the most serious charges of all. Mazuz’s claims that the charges listed in the plea bargain agreement are very grave and should not be taken lightly, not to mention his concern over not wanting to inflict even greater damage on the office of the president in the eyes of Israelis, wanting to spare us the pain and global humiliation of a trial, and so on are nothing more than outrageous attempts to insult the collective intelligence of our society.
As a civilized society, we must ask ourselves what kind of message this episode sends out, when an individual can assault and harass multiple women over a period of years, using his position of power to coerce and frighten in order to satisfy his own needs, and then getting off virtually scot-free while his victims continue to pay the price for his actions. What Mazuz chooses not to acknowledge is that in order for society to be able to heal from this ordeal, it is imperative that justice be served. To watch Katzav walk away from this saga does far greater damage to the Israeli psyche than any trial possibly could. A regular citizen would be made to pay for committing such heinous crimes. Instead, it is society who is paying. It is the victims who are paying, paying for their misfortune of having been assaulted or worse by a public figure instead of a nobody. This plea bargain sends out a message to sex crime victims that complaints will not necessarily be taken seriously, and that if a public figure is involved, better not to complain at all, better to deal with it quietly on your own. Just ask A.
And lest you think that only Katzav’s victims are living a nightmare these days, think again. An acquaintance of mine was raped nearly a year ago. She’s a strong, outgoing young woman, and you’d never have guessed by looking at her or spending time with her that she’d undergone such a traumatic experience. Until this week. Until I found her in the throes of a breakdown, and she told me what had happened to her all those months ago. She’d been doing fine, living life, dating and having fun. Hearing about the plea bargain sent her spiraling into her own private hell, and that’s where I found her. Her therapist had even warned her that such a thing might happen, that the outcome might act as a trigger, bringing back a devastating event that she’d worked so hard to put behind her. And, if an expert in the field has enough experience to predict such a reaction, it is safe to say that my acquaintance is not the only victim to react in such a way.
It is simply unconscionable that our justice system enables a situation where the gravity of rape can be minimized, and that anyone in positions of power can essentially make a mockery of the most fundamental guidelines of what purports to be a civilized society, turning perpetrators into victims whose acts are easily excused and forgotten (as in the case of our new vice premier), while turning their victims into marginalized, troubled individuals who cannot be trusted to tell the truth.