Balancing the Israeli political clink-quilibrium
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Balancing the Israeli political clink-quilibrium

As rapist former president Katsav leaves prison, ‘his head held high’ and innocent according to one commentator, MK Basel Ghattas finds himself a step closer to checking into the can

Former president Moshe Katsav walks with his wife Gila, after his release from Ma'asiyahu Prison, where he served five years of a seven-year rape sentence, on December 21, 2016. (Photo by Aloni Mor/Flash90)
Former president Moshe Katsav walks with his wife Gila, after his release from Ma'asiyahu Prison, where he served five years of a seven-year rape sentence, on December 21, 2016. (Photo by Aloni Mor/Flash90)

Israel on Thursday morning looks something like a closed system in which a certain number of politicians must always find themselves in or heading to the slammer, thanks to a media landscape dominated by the freeing of former president Moshe Katsav and the impending arrest of MK Basel Ghattas after a Knesset panel voted to strip his parliamentary immunity.

Though the possible jailing of Ghattas is a more important story, Katsav was the bigger surprise of the two, after the state announced it would not appeal his release, paving the way for him to be sprung in a matter of hours, five years into his seven-year sentence, and papers are full of pictures of the smiling convicted rapist making his way out of the jail.

“’You’re free,’ the head of the religious wing of Maasiyahu prison told inmate #1418989,” reads Yedioth’s coverage of the event, without bothering to detail how it got such an insider’s view of his last minutes behind bars. “Katsav, in response, allowed himself to smile and hurried to say goodbye to his friends in the prison and hand out his prison belongings. Less than an hour later, after the terms of his release had been read to him and he got back the identity card that he had to hand in five years and 15 days ago, he was already walking briskly toward the exit.”

Israel Hayom’s headline makes much of the parole conditions, and also notes that he looked healthy and hale, despite reports he was in a bad state, likely leaked by Katsav’s camp to garner public sympathy.

While the jury is still out on whether Katsav has much love among the public, that doesn’t stop friend David Motai from penning a commentary in the tabloid claiming that most of the public is behind Katsav. Motai writes breathlessly of how Katsav is innocent, took the punishment that was handed to him “with his head held high” and never admitted any wrongdoing – words which are belied by the fact that he is getting out two years early for at least ostensibly admitting that he hurt the women he was convicted of sexually assaulting. If Motai’s words bear any resemblance to Katsav’s thinking, one wonders if he was rehabilitated at all.

Giving a taste of what the rest of the 99% who aren’t friends with Katsav might be thinking, Yael Lerner in an accompanying commentary writes of her disbelief that the state would move to free Katsav given an atmosphere in which it seems public officials are being caught in sexual harassment and assault scandals left and right.

“The release of Katsav is a severe blow to women and a severe blow to public trust. Scars left on a victim after an attack are difficult to heal, if they can at all. It’s clear there are some criminals who can be offered parole, but for crimes of a sexual nature, and as severe as in the case of Katsav, they need to be kept to the letter of the law,” she writes.

One place where the letter of the law is ramping up to be applied judiciously is in the case of MK Ghattas, after allegations surfaced that he smuggled phones and intelligence to Palestinian terrorists serving time in Israeli prison.

MK Basel Ghattas arrives at the Lahav 433 police investigation unit in Lod, December 20, 2016. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
MK Basel Ghattas arrives at the Lahav 433 police investigation unit in Lod, December 20, 2016. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Ghattas found himself one step closer to being able to visit those inmates from the other side of the prison bars after the Knesset House Committee voted to strip his immunity, a move that came as a surprise to nobody, including the lawmaker himself.

What’s less clear is what will happen once his immunity is stripped. While Israel Hayom reports matter-of-factly that he is expected to be arrested Thursday once final approval is given to lift immunity, Haaretz quotes the deputy attorney general saying it’s not at all clear that Ghattas will be cuffed. If he is, though, he’ll still be an MK, which could make for some interesting times.

“One Knesset veteran was reminded of former MK and inmate Shmuel Richtman (Likud), who for three months traveled from his cell at Maasiyahu Prison to votes in the Knesset plenum, until he decided to quit his post, 37 years ago,” the paper reports.

Move it or lose it

 

The issue of what will happen to the outpost of Amona also remains in the news, with a state-requested delay on the evacuation coming down to the wire three days before the court-ordered deadline.

The request to delay, the latest in a long string of similar requests stretching back years, is taken up by Haaretz cartoonist Amos Biderman, who envisions a wizened and hunched Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, propped up by a Filipino caretaker, asking for yet another delay in 2050.

The real derision, though, has come thanks to a Yedioth report a day before that Netanyahu told Amona residents of the hardships he faced in 1999 after being forced to leave the Prime Minister’s Residence for a luxury hotel on short notice after having lost an election.

Taking the ridiculous story forward, the paper shoots some holes in Netanyahu’s tale of woe, with the help of former prime minister Ehud Barak, who denies he forced Netanyahu out of the residence in a matter of hours. “He’s totally lost it. ‘Kicked out of his house?’ By the voters. I was there. It took him six weeks to pack everything up and get out. Hard? It’s time for a second round,” Barak, no friend of Netanyahu, is quoted saying.

The paper also runs a picture of Netanyahu’s wife Sara showing Barak’s wife Navah around the house dug up from the archives on June 20, 1999, a full month after the May 17 election.

“As in other cases, Netanyahu doesn’t let facts get in his way,” the paper’s Sima Kadmon writes. “He wasn’t kicked out with only his shoes, nor without warning, but within six weeks, as the prime minister who replaced him said. Enough time to pack up the many gifts Netanyahu received while prime minister and take them out of state hands illegally, an affair known as the Amadi affair, which was closed by attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein for lack of evidence despite state prosecutor Edna Arbel’s recommendation for him to be prosecuted. Thus it’s not only tough for Netanyahu to leave his home, but also his stuff.”

If Netanyahu’s past real estate woes weren’t enough, Haaretz’s lead story adds what may be another chapter, reporting that US businessman Spencer Partridge, known to be close to Netanyahu, bought half of Netanyahu’s Jerusalem childhood home from Netanyahu’s younger brother Ido, essentially becoming Netanyahu’s business partner in a deal brokered by Netanyahu’s lawyer David Shimron (he of the submarine affair).

The paper doesn’t actually allege any wrongdoing, certainly nothing that could seemingly justify its top of the front page treatment, but seems to intimate that the deal just doesn’t smell right, since why would Partridge want half of a Jerusalem home inherited by the Netanyahus after father Benzion Netanyahu’s death in 2014. (Netanyahu’s personal spokesman is quoting telling the paper that the prime minister had nothing to do with the deal and Partridge may want to build an apartment building, museum or archive there.)

“At the beginning of the week, a visit to the house showed that its blinds were shut. It appears empty. There is a sign of a security company at the entrance to the yard, but the gate is broken and the neglected garden seems to house mainly kittens,” the paper reports. “A neighbor across the street says the building has been abandoned since Benzion Netanyahu’s death, though people show up to do some gardening from time to time.”

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