- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

TEL AVIV — President Moshe Katsav failed to attend the opening of the parliament’s winter session yesterday as he reeled from the threat of a rape prosecution — just the latest in a wave of scandals to rock the Israeli government.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir was one of several Knesset legislators to call for Mr. Katsav to step down from his largely ceremonial post after a police recommendation Sunday that he be indicted on charges of rape, sexual abuse and corruption.

“I think he should resign,” he said. “I think that no president can act under the suspicions that have been cast over him,” Mr. Tamir said.

If indicted and convicted on all the recommended charges, Mr. Katsav, 60, married and the father of five, faces up to 16 years in prison.

As Mr. Katsav fights for his job, several other corruption inquiries are threatening Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other legislators from his Kadima party. The scandals have so dominated the Israeli agenda that they have pushed aside the investigations of the Lebanon war and fighting in the Gaza Strip.

That has fanned a public malaise touched off by the war against Hezbollah and the sense that the government was responsible for Israeli failures against the Shi’ite militia.

“We’ve never had such an accumulation of so many investigations against so many people,” said Avraham Diskin, a political science professor at Hebrew University.

“There is a very deep mistrust among the Israeli public of politics and political leaders. This accumulation pushes this issue to a strategic danger. I think Israel’s enemies are quite satisfied.”

It’s not the first time that investigations have rocked a sitting Israeli prime minister or president. Two years ago, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon skirted an indictment on charges that he took bribes from a Likud Party insider to promote a tourism development project.

“Sharon was largely immune because this was a country at war, and Sharon was a war hero,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, a fellow at the Shalem Center.

Mr. Sharon’s successors don’t enjoy the same immunity, and a combination of the ill-fated war and the corruption scandals threatens to set Israeli politics adrift.

“There’s a convergence of trends that have been building up here over the past year,’ Mr. Halevi said, “which has led to the current mood of despair in the moral and leadership capabilities of our politicians.”

In the three-month-old investigation against Mr. Katsav, 10 female former employees claimed to be the victims of sex crimes. Two of them said they were raped. Mr. Katsav also is reportedly accused of wiretapping his office to spy on employees.

Meanwhile, a sexual-harassment indictment forced Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon to take a leave of absence.

Israel’s state comptroller is investigating Mr. Olmert on suspicions of purchasing a Jerusalem residence at a price hundreds of thousands of dollars below the market value in return for helping developers gain special municipal permits. A top legislator from Mr. Olmert’s party, Tzachi Hanegbi, faces charges of illegal political appointments during his tenure as a government minister.

“The problem is not only an issue of sexual harassment, it’s a problem of democracy. [Mr. Katsav] has lost his honor,” said Moshe Katzir, a technology worker who protested outside the Israeli presidential residence.

Referring to the pending investigations and cases against Israeli politicians, Mr. Katzir complained.

“We’re sick of leaders who are ‘not guilty.’ We want leaders who are moral and clean,” he said.


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