Sexual offenses have always gone hand in hand with power (at least where men are concerned,) and it is interesting to note, though perhaps not especially surprising, that the latest development in the Katsav case coincided with another raunchy assault case – that of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Conflating the two cases has its rewards in the 'yuck' department. In one, a 62-year old French presidential hopeful, often compared in looks to Bernie Madoff, allegedly springs nude from his hotel bathroom to assault an unsuspecting maid. In the other, a 66-year old politician wields his considerable political prowess to sexually molest his female employees.
But the difference lies in the kind of justice that awaits each man. Strauss-Kahn, who is being held in New York, is charged with attempted rape, sexual abuse, a criminal sex act, unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching. According to the Associated Press, he could go to jail for 70 years.
But Katsav, who was convicted of two instances of rape, two indecent acts, and sexual harassment against two women – charges far direr than the ones faced by his counterpart – has received a jail sentence of seven years, a tenth of what may await the former IMF chief. The latter's attempted rape charge alone carries a sentence of up to 25 years.
7 years not enoughFrance is still recoiling from what a French magistrate has called the "brutality" of the American legal system. Many of the charges leveled against Strauss-Kahn do not even exist in the European country, and if the case was being heard there, he told the AP, he would be liable to spend five years in prison at most.
Paris is already notorious for harboring another sexual criminal of the influential elite, film director Roman Polanski, and the latter's name was mentioned by the prosecutor in the Strauss-Kahn case as leverage to keep the ex-IMF chief in prison and minimize flight risk. But even as a New York judge opted to keep him in jail, at least until Friday, a Supreme Court justice in Israel was opting to keep Katsav out.
Israel's rape laws are infamous for their leniency, with most rapists escaping with barely a scrape (see the case of Erez Efrati, who cut a deal for an attempted sodomy conviction and was sent to jail for just eight years, though evidence attested to the brutal rape of a young woman in a parking lot.) The Katsav case, which many feminists lauded as a victory for women everywhere, is no exception, and not just because of the recent reprieve he was granted.
Seven years in prison is simply not enough for destroying the lives of two women beyond all reconstruction, and it is insufficient in proving to Israeli women that they are being protected against similar recurrences. Intelligent young women will now do well to think twice before working for eminent political figures, regardless of Katsav's conviction. To the contrary, it was precisely the fact that he was convicted – found to be an arrogant, unrepentant serial rapist – yet awarded such lenient treatment that serves so efficiently to destroy the public's faith in Israel's court system.
Now, Israel's Supreme Court would do well to follow the lead of a justice system that is truly egalitarian, treating high-powered officials with the same "brutal" integrity as it does any ordinary civilian - that of the United States. For now, however, we seem to be following the example of a country that for years harbored a man as famous for statutory rape as he was for his films, Roman Polanski.
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