About ten years ago I was invited to join the President of Israel at his official residence to receive a prize. I remember how exciting it was to walk into that beautiful home, Israel’s version of the White House. I joined other recipients — all Americans who had made some contribution to the country – Rabbi Hartman the head of the Hartman Institute, Danny Sanderson the musician. And what I will never forget is the moment we were joined by Israel’s first citizen, President Moshe Katzav. With his white hair and distinguished bearing, he carried his position with dignity, I thought then. We all lined up and a photograph was taken.
I have it somewhere, that photograph. But when Mr. Katzav was accused of the most heinous and disgraceful of sexual crimes against his co-workers, I took it off my shelf and put it somewhere. Looking for it the other day, I realize that it is simply gone, and that my memories of that day have taken on a darker hue.
To have the former President of Israel convicted of rape is as astonishing and degrading an experience as is imaginable for any proud citizen of our beloved country. One cringes, and one’s heart is filled with sadness to have lived to see such a thing happen in one’s lifetime.
Comparisons have been made between Katzav and Bill Clinton. I’m sorry. Bill Clinton isn’t a Jew who says morning prayers in the synagogue, or wears a kippah. There is no comparison. Katzav represented something sacred and proud, and he disgraced both his office and the kippah he sometimes wore. There is no question that every Israeli feels degraded by his actions.
On the other hand, the decision of Israeli courts to try Mr. Katzav, who was at the time President, and to bring his crimes to a public conclusion in which the victims were believed and the all-powerful predator condemned, gives us a sense of pride and hope. Israel is a country of law that protects its female citizens from sexual abuse, no matter how much protekzia (the Hebrew word for “pull”) the abuser has. No one is above the law. We are proud that Mr. Katzav’s modus operandi of praising and promoting female employees, then touching and forcing sexual acts on them, followed by demoting and criticizing those who resisted, and finally firing them, has been exposed and condemned. We are proud that he will, like any other criminal, find himself behind bars for his actions, and we are proud to live in a country that has sent this message far and wide throughout our land: No matter how important you think you are, no matter how religious you pretend to be, no matter how many powerful friends you have, you will pay for your crimes.
And that is a lesson worth promoting and worth preserving. It is a message that will keep others from committing the same heinous crimes. It is a message that will truly make our country a sacred place of which we can all be proud.