Dr. Suzie Navot, a legal expert from the College of Management's Academic Studies Division, told Ynet Sunday evening that "following the police recommendations, it would be appropriate for the president to resign from office."
According to the police, there is sufficient evidence that the president committed rape, indecent assault and sexual harassment against several women. The president is also suspected of obstruction of justice and harassing a witness.
Justice Ministry attorneys have already began examining the investigation file, after which the attorney general will decide whether to charge the president and with what offenses.
Dr. Navot explained that "it is enough that there appears to be suspicion of conduct which is not fitting to the presidential institute to demand that he suspend himself from office, even though a decision on his case has not been made yet. However, the police recommendations reveals that there is much more than a suspicion of inappropriate behavior, and today a move of suspension is not enough.
"The president is a representative figure, a prominent person, and must posses a supreme level of morality. One must remember: The president represents the State of Israel and his status is above all the other government authorities. Through his behavior he must convey honesty and decency, prestige and integrity and serve as a model and example to the entire public."
"The president is continuing to served in the name of the power of innocence,” Dr. Navot explained the problem. “The claim that the president is innocent until proven guilty is correct. However, a basic distinction needs to be made between Katsav as a citizen of the state, and Katsav as president, as someone who stands at the head of the country and symbolizes and represents it. The power of innocence is a right provided to individuals, mainly in criminal justice. Its meaning is that as long as one’s guilt hasn’t been reasonably proven in legal proceedings, one is considered innocent and cannot be punished.”
“There isn’t necessarily any relationship between the power of innocence in a criminal trial and a top public figure continuing to serve in his post. A person is not automatically imbued with the right to serve as the country’s president. The court ruled that the power of innocence which every defendant has does not prevent a governmental official from discontinuing his service,” she explained.
'He’ll save himself'
Navot clarified that in other cases, it is sufficient to open a criminal investigation into a suspect to justify his suspension. “This, for example, is what Basic Law establishes: The judgment that if a criminal inquiry is launched against a judge, the Supreme Court president may suspend him for as long as he decides. Does this mean the judge doesn’t have the ‘power of innocence’? Of course he does, but regardless of it he cannot continue serving as judge, to maintain the public’s faith in the judicial system. And if this is so for judges – what can we say about Israel’s number one citizen, who represents and symbolizes it?”
“From a judicial perspective,” Dr. Navot continued, “the president cannot be indicted as long as he is serving as such due to his immunity. The attorney general can prepare an indictment draft, and the Knesset can independently begin processes to dismiss the president. The Knesset can begin the dismissal process and doesn’t have to wait for the attorney general’s decision. Dismissing the president is conditional on the fact that he behaves in a way unbecoming to his position, and the law doesn’t necessarily stipulate an indictment for criminal behavior. If the president decides to quit, he’ll save himself, the Knesset and the presidential position the humiliating process of dismissal.”
Criminal law expert Attorney Benny Steinberg explained the expected process in the Justice Ministry. “In this case, in light of the large number of testimonies and the multiple sexual affairs, the case won’t likely be closed for a long time, but it is certainly possible that in the end he won’t be charged with rape. With that, the number of indecent acts and fraud in his position, along with the rest of the criminal offenses, will have very grave significance.”
The attorney general is expected to examine the material and decide whether to file an indictment and against which offenses. “In this case,” Steinberg clarified, “the Attorney’s Office will want to put together a single indictment because this is the president we’re talking about, although his lawyers will likely want to separate the charges.”
“The biggest question is if he will be charged with rape in the end, or if he’ll be charged with indecent assault, or with sexual harassment,” he said. “Sexual harassment is the least severe, but clearly when it’s done by the president it is extremely severe.”
Regarding the fact that there are multiple accusers of rape, Steinber said, “Rape convictions of multiple women means a long sentence. If there are multiple women making rape accusations, this is severe. In rape the credibility of the witnesses is essential, and it is significant if there are several accusers. Indecent acts can also lead to prison time.”
“The maximum sentence for rape is 16 years for each offense, for indecent assault it’s seven years. Even if it is proven that the sexual relations were consensual, his sentence could be two years for sexual harassment,” he said.