President Moshe Katsav
Photo: Gil Yochanan
The accusations against the President of the State of Israel are extremely serious and if they are proven true by a court of law, he deserves to be thrown into jail for an extended period of time.
However this has not yet happened and anyone who follows such cases knows that it is impossible to draw conclusions from media reports before a trial. In fact lives of innocent people have been ruined by false accusations that proved to be baseless after a fair trial was conducted. A person must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
There is much wisdom inherent in this rule. Unfortunately, vindictive people who make false accusations to ruin the lives of others pose an occupational hazard to all who live and work in the public eye.
A highly successful person will inevitably make enemies along the way and the fact that there may be someone who is bent on hurting that person should not come as a surprise.
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Thus, according to the Torah unequivocal evidence brought in a court of law is required before a person may be convicted - and their life ruined. Anything less than that is gossip - or Lashon Hara in Hebrew - and according to the Torah may neither be spoken nor believed. In fact according to some authorities one who speaks gossip is transgressing 31 Biblical commandments.
It's the job of a fair court of law
This is not to say that those accusing the President are lying: There is a chance that they may indeed be telling the truth and the legitimate authorities must give proper considerations to their accusations. However, establishing the veracity of their claims is exclusively the job of a fair court of law and not that of the media or politicians.
The number of prominent politicians who have stepped forward to insinuate that the President is guilty before he has been given a fair trial is therefore particularly disturbing.
For example Israel’s foreign minister Tzipi Livni has shamelessly bought into the gossip and condemned the President in an indirect way by saying, "Unfortunately, and with very little connection to the criminal charges, I think it would be wrong for the President to continue serving. Since he has already announced he will step down if an indictment is filed, we can wait a few more days, but the situation is not healthy."
Livni appears not to understand her responsibility as one of the most senior ministers in the Israeli government. Does she not realize that the principle mentioned above, namely that a person is innocent until they are unequivocally proven to be guilty, applies indiscriminately to all, including those in the public eye? Similar accusatory statements have been made by MK Zahava Gal-On and others.
That Israel’s enemies are having a field day with this story is disturbing. But, the fact that most of the Israeli public, all of the media and many politicians have believed this terrible gossip against their President is even more lamentable.
Nonetheless, this story has deeper implications than people transgressing Biblical prohibitions against speaking and believing Lashon Hara (gossip). If accusations alone are able to bring down the President then all men in positions of real authority are in danger.
The treatment of the President of Israel by Israeli society from the bottom up is therefore not only reprehensible - it is highly irresponsible as well.