Thursday, December 30, 2010

Katsav: Who knew what when?

At the end of the day, no one is to blame for the behaviour of former Israeli president Moshe Katsav - who was convicted this morning of rape and sexual harassment - but himself. As an adult he is responsible for his own behaviour, and the criminal conviction reflects on him - and no one else.

However, there is at least one part of Israeli society which should be soul-searching this morning, and that is its politicians. So far I've seen no sign.

The fact remains that the Knesset elevated this man to a position for which he was eminently unsuitable, and from which he had the power to do great harm - to the entire country. He was voted in, if you recall, in July 2000, in a shock result, not because anyone thought he was the best man for the job - but because Israel's parliamentarians could not bear to give the job to Shimon Peres. Essentially they did it to spite him, even though he was almost universally acknowledged to be the better candidate.

But, I hear you say, they could not have known Katsav was a rapist. Even if they are guilty of deliberately elevating a weak man to the top job, they could not have foreseen today's turn of events.

Well, that's not quite true. One of Katsav's convictions today is for actions he took during his time as tourism minister. His behaviour was already established by the time he came to the presidency; and I'm sorry, but it's hard to believe that a government minister can harrass women in his office without people starting to whisper about his behaviour in corridors; without him developing a reputation amongst those 'in the know'. Anyone sitting for five minutes in the Knesset cafeteria knows that the place positively thrives on gossip.

Indeed, Shimon Peres himself acknowledged, a couple of years back, that he actually knew about allegations against Katsav when he ran against him for the presidency, but "ordered his associates not to make any use of the charges and to allow the race to be held solely on the two men's qualifications for the job." Very noble, but entirely misguided, and rather old-fashioned to think that sexual misconduct allegations against a man have nothing to do with his qualifications for the job.

How many others - in the Knesset, in the media - knew about Katsav in 2000, but either voted for him anyway, or helped cover up? It is unreasonable to think that Peres was the only one. If the Knesset really wants to draw proper lessons from this whole miserable affair, it should be prepared to confront its own part in the scandal.

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