JERUSALEM — An Israeli court today sentenced former President Moshe Katsav to seven years for rape and sexual assault, making him the highest-level official in the state of Israel to be sent to prison.Katsav was also ordered to pay fines of about $25,000 and $7,000 to two of his victims.
The scene in court was dramatic. At first impassive, the 65-year-old Katsav, with his trademark silver hair, burst into tears and sobs when the judge announced his sentence. He also directed his anger at the court.
“You made a mistake,” he shouted at the judges. “It is a lie! The girls know it is a lie!”
Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav arrives Tuesday at a court in Tel Aviv, where he was sentenced for rape and sexual assault.
As the former president left the crowded courtroom, two of his sons scuffled with security guards, prompting another outburst from Katsav.
“I saw you,” he screamed at the guards. “You hurt my son!”
The court ordered Katsav to begin his sentence May 8, after the Passover holiday. That date could be postponed if Katsav appeals to the Supreme Court.
In December, the court found Katsav guilty of raping a former employee and sexually assaulting and harassing two other women who used to work for him. The yearlong trial, mostly behind closed doors, riveted Israelis.
The case began when Katsav himself went to police and complained that one of the women was blackmailing him. At one point, the attorney general offered Katsav a plea bargain that would have given Katsav only a suspended sentence and no jail time. At the last minute, Katsav rejected the deal, saying he wanted to prove his innocence in court.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the court’s decision.
“This is a day of sadness and shame, but it is also a day of deep appreciation and pride for the Israeli justice system,” Netanyahu said. “The court issued a sharp and unequivocal ruling on a simple principle, that of equality before the law; nobody is above the law, not even a former president. All are subject to the law.”
Katsav’s wife, Gila, did not attend the sentencing and has rarely been seen in public since the trial began. Katsav was forced to resign in 2007, just two weeks shy of completing his term. Today’s judgment also means he will lose economic benefits, including a salary, office and car and driver.
Katsav was born in Iran and came to Israel at age 5. He grew up in the working-class town of Kiryat Malachi, near Gaza, and became a symbol of the success of Jews from Arab countries, called Mizrahim or Sephardim.
Katsav is also a practicing Jew who often wears a skullcap and observes the Jewish Sabbath. He prays daily, often in the synagogue at Kiryat Malachi. Today, before the sentencing, he prayed at home.