Wednesday, November 16, 2011

MIDDLE EAST WRAP: DISGRACED EX-ISRAELI PRESIDENT SET TO ENTER PRISON FOR RAPE

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav enters the courtroom at the Supreme court in Jerusalem on Thursday, Nov 10, 2011. He told Yediot Achronot that he is a "wreck", but will not commit suicide 


Weekly round-up of the Hebrew newspapers in Israel; covering the major events happening in Israel and the Middle East. Haaretz-Maariv-Yedioth Ahronoth-Israel Hayom-The Jerusalem Post-Ynet 

Israel’s major newspapers lead their Friday, November 11, 2011 editions with the news that former president Moshe Katsav is finally on his way to serve a seven-year prison term after his last-gasp appeal was rejected yesterday by a panel of three Supreme Court justices. This was an historic event, in which a former president will for the first time ever find himself behind bars after being convicted in a court of law. 

 “The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling: Katsav is a rapist,” read the headline in Haaretz. The front page of Yedioth Ahronoth featured a picture of an ashen Katsav, who appeared in court, with the bold-red lettered headline “To jail” right next to it. Israel Hayom led with “A president in jail.”

Katsav, the veteran politician and former government minister who was regarded as a rags-to-riches success story thanks to his socio-economic background and Iranian origins, will begin serving his jail term on December 7th. He was convicted last year of raping a subordinate during his term as tourism minister in 1998. He was also charged and convicted of sexually abusing and harassing two other women while serving as president.

In their comprehensive, 249-page decision, the judges assailed Katsav for lying under oath regarding the extent and nature of his relationships with the women in question. "The crime of rape damages and destroys a person's soul ... Due to the severity of the crime, the punishment must be clear and precise," the judges ruled. "The defendant committed the crime and like every other person, he must bear the consequences. No man is above the law. The contention that seeing a former president of the country go to jail is too painful to watch is an emotional argument, but it definitely cannot be accepted as an ethical argument," wrote the judges in convicting Katsav.

The failed appeal ends a five-year saga which began after then-president Katsav consulted with then-attorney general Menachem Mazuz over an alleged extortion attempt by a woman who worked for Katsav. The woman went on to allege that Katsav had forced her to have sexual relations, and had threatened her with retribution if she went public with her claims. The sensation prompted other women who had worked for Katsav during his political career to come forward. Their complaints served as the basis for the prosecution’s case, which ultimately resulted in a conviction.

The Katsav story occupies pages upon pages of news, pushing the Iranian nuclear program temporarily off the top of the media agenda. Yedioth reports on page 15 that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would convene a cabinet meeting next week to discuss the International Atomic Energy Agency report, which strongly suggests that Iran is working to develop nuclear weapons.

Usually, the government does not publicly air ministers’ opinions on such sensitive security matters, but Netanyahu saw fit to allow his deputies to discuss the issue and its importance from Israel’s standpoint. According to Yedioth, Netanyahu may also be eager to dispel the perception that he and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have secretly hatched a plan to attack Iran against the advice of the country’s top defense and military officials.

Meanwhile, observers in Israel were taken by surprise after Dennis Ross, the veteran U.S. peace envoy, announced his resignation. Ross, who has served under numerous administrations, said that he was returning to private life after three years as one of U.S. President Barack Obama’s senor advisers. According to Haaretz, Ross’s departure is an indication that the administration does not intend to invest considerable energy in the peace process during the upcoming election season.

The Ross story is featured on the front page of The Jerusalem Post, which aside from the Katsav story also keeps the Iranian issue front and center. The Post gives above-the-fold treatment to UN Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon’s call for diplomatic action to solve the nuclear standoff with Iran. Ban is apparently alarmed at the prospect of a military strike against the Islamic Republic, a scenario that has not been ruled out by Israeli and American officials.

The Post also quotes a Palestinian Authority official who warns of “violence and anarchy” in the wake of what appears to be Ramallah’s failed bid to win membership for an independent state at the United Nations. The UN Security Council is due to announce today that the Palestinians do not have the requisite nine votes needed to gain acceptance as a full-fledged member in the world body. Some members will abstain, while the U.S. will oppose. Britain and France will abstain, a move which drew a furious response from the Palestinians. “The Americans, British, and French leaders are hypocrites and liars,” a PA official told the Post. “They are not any better than Netanyahu.”

Meanwhile, UNESCO is feeling the pinch of the suspension of US contributions in response to the decision to accept the Palestinian Authority as a member state. According to Yedioth, the UN agency announced that it was temporarily suspending its activities so that it could find alternate sources of funding. The U.S., which provides almost a quarter of the agency’s operating budget, halted cash transfers to the organization after it approved the Palestinians’ request for full-fledged membership.

Israel’s envoy to UNESCO, Nimrod Barkan, was summoned for censure by the agency’s head of its Middle East branch after a cartoon appeared in Haaretz. In the cartoon, Netanyahu and Barak are seen briefing a group of pilots as they are set to embark on a mission to strike Iran. As part of the briefing, Netanyahu is seen telling the pilots, “On your way back, you will bomb the UNESCO branch in Ramallah.” According to Haaretz, Barkan was told by UNESCO officials that the cartoon is a blatant case of incitement. The shocked envoy replied that Israel maintained cooperation with UNESCO despite its acceptance of Palestine and that freedom of the press in Israel made it impossible for the government to censor or ban cartoons of this nature.

Finally, the Internet sites reported the shooting of a 55-year-old Israeli who was driving to Hebron with his family in the early morning hours. In a case of mistaken identity, IDF soldiers manning a checkpoint near the West Bank city opened fire on a vehicle that was earlier reported to have been driving in a suspicious manner. The army received a report from soldiers on the ground that a vehicle was driving suspiciously in the southern Hebron hills. In response, the IDF set up a makeshift checkpoint, which was in all likelihood not noticed by the driver as he approached. The soldiers, apparently fearful that the car was driven by a Palestinian intent on running them over, opened fire after the driver failed to heed their signals to stop. Only after the incident did it become apparent that the car was being driven by an Israeli, Dan Mertzbach, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Otniel. Another passenger in the car was moderately injured, and a third passenger was lightly hurt. An IDF soldier was also hurt after a Palestinian vehicle struck him during the incident.

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