Dozens of cheering friends and family members gathered in Kiryat Malachi to welcome home former president and convicted rapist Moshe Katsav after he was paroled from prison on Wednesday.
“This is a day of great joy,” one family member waiting outside the disgraced former leader to arrive told the Ynet news website.
Well wishers excitedly rushed to embrace and give flowers to the smiling Katsav as he emerged from his car flanked by his wife Gila.
“It’s so nice to finally see a smile on his face. I haven’t seen him smile in so many years,” another relative said.
Katsav was released from Ma’asiyahu Prison on Wednesday after State prosecutors declined to appeal Sunday’s parole board decision to free him five years into a seven-year jail sentence.
But not all Israelis met the decision to parole Katsav from prison early with enthusiasm.
Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich said the images of Katsav leaving Ma’asiyahu were difficult for sexual assault victims.
“The images today of the convicted rapist Moshe Katsav being released two years early are difficult for his victims,” she said in a statement. “These pictures are unbearable for sexual assault victims everywhere. Israeli society is undergoing an impressive journey regarding sex offenses, and I can only hope these images will not break the spirit of the victims.
Gila Ashrat, chairwoman of WIZO Israel, said Katsav’s early release could deter other rape victims from coming forward.
“Today a convicted rapist returns to Israeli society. His early release without expressing remorse is a breach of the public’s trust in the law,” Ashrat said. “This is a black day to the hundreds of thousands of sexual assault victims, many of whom don’t dare complain.”
Under the terms of his parole, Katsav is not allowed to make any statements to the media until December 2018, when his full seven-year sentence would have ended. The former president is also banned from leaving the country or leaving his home in Kiryat Malachi between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Furthermore, Katsav has to attend rehab and visit a psychologist once a week, and attend daily Torah study sessions.
Sunday’s ruling came after Katsav, convicted of rape and other sexual offenses in 2010, was rejected twice for early release — for failing to acknowledge his acts or express any regret. The parole board said he has now taken several steps that indicate remorse for his actions.
Appearing before the parole board last week, Katsav admitted that he acted “inappropriately” toward the women who made claims against him, according Israel Radio. He reportedly broke down in tears, saying that he needed to change his behavior.
The Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report