A President Convicted of Rape Sends Seismic Change Throughout this Small Country
Dear Engaged Bystander: On Thursday, December 30, 2010, a former president of Israel was convicted of two counts of rape. This is the first time that any head of government of any democratically led country was convicted of such charges.
The decision was seen as a “mixed blessing” by many in Israel. While the decision showed that all citizens are equal before the law (even a former president of the country), the country is also deeply disgraced by his actions. However, victim rights advocates described the decision as a “generational shift in society that has historically indulged the machismo of its leading men.” The impact of the trial has already been seen by many working with victims. For example, staff at the Tel Aviv Rape Crisis Center said that there has been a spike in the number of calls to the organization’s hotline. Government reports show that the number of complaints of sexual abuse increased by 40 percent from 2009 to 2010.
One of the most interesting political and legal shifts that may come out of this decision is that a number of victim advocates are petitioning “the attorney general to consider criminal charges for Katsav cronies who helped him keep a lid on his exploits.”
If these petitions are successfully file and prosecuted, it would send a clear message that not only is rape and sexually harassment illegal, but it would send a clear message that staying silent about what you see and hear in others is also a crime. As someone who has worked to show the impact that bystanders can have in any situation, this would be a seismic shift for any country and especially one that is based in a military culture that often ignored the transgressions of its leaders. According to Yofi Tirosh, a lecturer in law and feminism at Tel Aviv University, “No longer will journalists and high-ranking colleagues of these powerful men say, ‘Oh well, it’s part of the privilege of being a high-ranking official.’ It’s a crime like every crime,”
This case, like many rape cases, is very complicated. Many cannot reconcile these charges with the incredible work Katsav has done for his country. Other wonder if these charges were made because Katsav is a Sephardic Jew, sometimes viewed as second class citizens. And others have said that he brought it on himself when he drew attention to the case when he claimed to be blackmailed by an employee and when he then refused the original plea bargin, insisting that his case go to trial.
Hoping for change,