Aug 2007 Journal

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Letter from Israel

A society in which no individual is above the law

Whatever the eventual outcome of the plea bargain arrangement reached by the lawyers acting for former President Katzav and Israel’s Attorney-General, the Israeli public has proved that it cares.

It cares about justice. It cares about the principle that everyone is equal before the law. It cares about not letting persons suspected of criminal acts getting away with them, no matter how elevated their station.

The news of the plea bargain broke on Thursday morning. On Saturday night over 20,000 people - men and women of all ages and political persuasions - participated in a demonstration against the decision to let the ex-President off lightly. This spontaneous display of outrage was exceptional for Israel. It sent the message that the public would not tolerate the attempt to allow the actions of a person suspected of having committed serious crimes to be swept under the carpet. This was not a political demonstration with busloads of supporters of a particular party being brought from various parts of the country. Youth movements were not mobilised to augment the crowd. This was a genuinely grass-roots demonstration of support for the principle of equal justice for all.

One of the arguments made in favour of accepting the plea bargain was that sending a former president to jail (after all, one of the initial crimes of which Katzav was accused was rape) would bring Israel into disrepute. Quite the contrary. Letting him off lightly would have brought Israel into disrepute. This seems to have escaped the understanding of the Attorney-General and his advisors.

Other countries have punished senior officials, and even presidents, who have been found guilty of serious offences, whether these were financial or involved brutality against sections of the population. Sexual offences warrant arraignment, no matter who commits them. The Israeli public has made it clear that it is not prepared to accept a society in which certain individuals are above the law.
Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

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