Katzav verdict alone won’t solve Israel’s problems

After the Katzav verdict, Israel's work is just beginning.

Like all decent people, I am moved and humbled that justice has been done and a verdict has convicted former President Moshe Katzav on all counts of rape, sexual harassment and assault. No less important, the judges chastised Katzav severely for his attempt to cover up his crimes and deny them to the public, the court, and himself.

The women have found justice. A powerful message has been sent to all those who would abuse people by manipulating their power, betting on the patriarchy of silence to protect them. Officials and commentators are saying repeatedly that this proves Israel’s democracy and justice system still work. Ari Shavit of Haaretz writes:

Once again, it has been proven that, despite its many faults and flaws, the legal system is what keeps the State of Israel from descending into an abyss of immorality.

The New York Times quoted Ronit Amiel, the State Prosecutor on the case:

“But expressing the mixed feelings of many Israelis, she said the verdict represented a “badge of honor for Israeli democracy.” ‘

I must state here, however, that the hard work for Israel is just beginning. Let this be an opening shot for the dismemberment of the machoistic patriarchy that disrespects women and silences the sufferers. Let this be the first crack in the wall of anguish surrounding decades of humiliation for women (and men) who have been so abused. Let every man, woman and child – especially children – in Israel remember that the courts will not do the work for us of remembering the value of human life, and that it is the responsibility of all citizens to wake up and make a change. We must start by by viewing the other with humanity, dignity, as a whole and worthy human being. That “other” can be anyone.

Here are a few reasons why I am concerned that the verdict might not actually have the desired effect in the future.

1. This is a Court judgment that is easy enough to implement, with massive public approval on its side. What about all the other court decisions – including Supreme Court decisions that are not being implemented? What about government directives, such as reports calling to boost funding to the fire department, that are not implemented? Let’s not allow this verdict to turn into the exception that proves the rule, that increasingly in Israel the law is just a suggestion.

2. Yesterday evening, after feeling a surge of energy following the emotional day, I went out to meet friends. It was a busy night and I had some trouble flagging a taxi. A motorcyclist waiting at a light had apparently been watching me and as I walked by, hissed sickeningly: “Hey baby, want me to turn on MY meter?” Whatever in the world this might have meant, the nastiness, the brutal disrespect he spewed at me was unmistakable. I wanted to scream back: As of today, people like you go to jail, jerk! But I realized that change must, very simply, come from within.

3. Katzav himself worries me. People I speak to say he must be “sick,” or “couldn’t control himself.” No way. He was fit to be President and he is fit to acknowledge that he raped and terrorized women. He gets no forgiveness from me until the man looks the public – or at least himself – in the eye and says “I am sorry.”

4. We cannot possibly learn to respect the opposite gender, while continuing to disrespect  different ethnic or national groups, or while occupying another nation, for to do so we must be totally convinced that they are less worthy than us. We can, however, lose the ability to view all people as full and equal human beings if we are out of practice.

Israel has a long way to go. The Katzav verdict must be the start, not the culmination of the process.