Israeli President May Resign Amid Rape Allegations

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel's president has come under pressure to resign after police recommended that he be charged with rape, sexual harassment and fraud.

A joint police and Justice Ministry statement issued on Sunday said there is enough evidence to recommend that Moshe Katsav be charged with "rape, aggravated sexual assault, indecent acts without permission and offenses under the law to prevent sexual harassment."

Police also said they have evidence indicating that Katsav committed grand larceny, fraud and breach of faith. The attorney general must now decide whether or not to indict Katsav, whose job is mostly ceremonial. Katsav will not be tried unless the Knesset impeaches him.

The complaints against Katsav come from various women who worked for him over the years. The investigation began when Katsav accused one of those women of trying to blackmail him.

Although Katsav has not yet been formally charged, there has been growing public pressure on the president to resign. He has maintained his innocence throughout an investigation that has been going on for months.

On Monday, in a sign that the pressure is having its intended effect, Katsav's office announced that he had decided not to attend the opening of the Knesset's winter session. Some parliamentarians threatened to boycott the session if Katsav attended, and others planned to insult him by refusing to stand as he entered the chamber.

Uri Dromi of the Israel Democracy Institute said Katsav's reputation has been sullied and therefore he should resign.

"The whole position of president [in Israel] is about prestige and honor," said Dromi. "[The president] doesn't have any real powers. What stands out is the stature of the person who sits there," he said.

Some have suggested that Katsav is Israel's Bill Clinton, but Dromi said Katsav's case is much worse.

"Bill Clinton was not indicted for rape," said Dromi. Also, Clinton had his work in office to commend him and offset the charges, whereas in Israel the president has only his prestige, impeccable character, and the image of being a father figure to recommend him, he said.

Born in Iran, Katsav, 60, immigrated to Israel with his family as a child and became the country's youngest elected mayor in 1969.

He was elected to the Knesset in 1977 as a member of the Likud party and served there in various capacities until the Knesset elected him to serve a seven-year term as president in 2000.

The police recommendation to charge Katsav topped Israeli media headlines and talk shows on Monday.

Katsav's is just the latest in a string of ongoing legal investigations against Israeli public figures.

Former Justice Minister Haim Ramon was forced to resign recently over charges of sexual harassment; Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is being investigation for the sale of an apartment in Jerusalem; and the Israeli attorney general has indicted former government minister Tzachi HaNegbi, also from Olmert's Kadima party, on charges including fraud and bribery.

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