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He Raped, She Complained, Judges Spoke, and The President Goes to Jail

Alternative Title: Sex, Harassment, Jail and a President: You Gotta Love Israel

Score one for Women’s Rights!  Score another for Israel doing Justice and for Ethical Standards! 

It is bittersweet but ethics-affirming to read that Israel distinguishes itself again. Very soon, Israel’s eighth President Moshe Katsav will enter jail to serve a seven year sentence for the unanimous conviction of him in the Tel Aviv District Court a year ago of two counts of rape, two counts of sexual harassment, an indecent act using force, and obstruction of justice. 

In its judgement, the court said the testimony of the main complainant in the case, a woman known only as “Alef” from the Tourism Ministry, was credible.  Alef testified Katsav had raped her twice, first in his office and then two months later in the Sheraton Hotel in Jerusalem. 

There are those who will be embarrassed by the whole situation, that Israel’s then president was convicted and is being jailed. What will “they” think?

Celebrate a Victory for Women’s Rights and Justice
I, for one, observe this as a moment to celebrate. We don’t celebrate the downfall of a once important political leader; rather we celebrate the victory of women’s rights and justice over machismo and sexism.

Israel exists in a macho neighborhood, awash with a culture of patriarchy and paternalism. Just this week, Israeli journalists caught on tape another shameful example, in the form of sexist comments – about female soldiers defending Israel no less – between the Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

But Katsav’s conviction and the impending incarceration are watershed moments. The message is clear: no more must women be subjected to, and silently endure, the sexist comments, groping or worse by men in power. If the President of the country can be tried, convicted, jailed (and forced to resign) over these heinous actions, then it can happen to YOU too. So clean up your language, your attitude and your behavior!

A Much Needed Win in the Struggle over the Role of Women in the Public Sphere
Israel is in the midst of a battle with fundamentalists Jews (yep, OUR fundamentalists) over the role of women in the public sphere. Groups are protesting recent decisions forbidding women for singing at public gatherings in Jerusalem, forbidding women’s pictures from appearing in ads on buses and billboards, and forbidding women’s active participation at relative’s funerals. This fight is part of an all-religion, global struggle between fundamentalism and liberalism. And we Jews must struggle to retain and expand hard-won women’s right.

Israel is a country that has made so many strides for the equality of women (think Golda Meir and the early inclusion women in the military).  Given the issues with ultra-orthodox fundamentalists, Israel still has a long way to go. But let’s pause in the fight for a moment to praise this little county for doing what so many other places couldn’t, wouldn’t or didn’t. Israel held responsible a man in the highest echelons of power who sexually harassed his female employees.

Israel Religious Action Center at the Center of the Struggle
A side note: yasher koach (May your strength be firm!) to our Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and its Executive Director Anat Hoffman, who have been – and are -at the forefront of many a fight for women’s equality in Israel. Read more here.

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