Katzav: ‘I won’t resign’
Israeli president bats away attacks despite rape charges
ISRAEL’S PRESIDENT, MOSHE Katzav, has angrily brushed aside calls for his immediate resignation following his indictment earlier this week on charges of rape, sexual harassment and breach of trust.
Instead, he launched an emotional tirade against the media and Israel’s police at a specially convened press conference at the presidential residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday night.
Insisting on his innocence, President Katzav said: “When the truth comes out, citizens of Israel, you will be in shock.” Mr Katzav accused the media of McCarthyism and said the police had been working hand-in-hand with the press to ensure his downfall. He said he was the victim of a brainwashing campaign and a “media lynch”.
But immediately after the president’s speech, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called on Mr Katzav to resign. Giving the keynote address at the Herzliya Conference, Mr Olmert said Mr Katzav could no longer function as president.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has also called for President Katzav’s resignation while 30 Knesset members have signed a petition calling on the Knesset House Committee to begin proceedings to remove President Katzav from office.
At his press conference, Mr Katzav pledged to resign immediately if Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz formally indicted him. On Tuesday, Mr Mazuz announced that he was minded to indict the president on a number of charges, including rape. In the meantime, President Katzav’s lawyers have asked the Knesset to grant Mr Katzav a temporary leave of absence from the presidency. If this is granted, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik will replace him. She will continue in her Knesset role but also undertake the executive and ceremonial duties of the president, such as the swearing-in of new judges and receiving new ambassadors.
Elections for a new president are scheduled for May, when Mr Katzav’s seven-year term ends, but if he resigns or is impeached by the Knesset (which would demand a special majority of 90 Knesset members out of the 120-seat Knesset), new elections will take place 45 days after Mr Katzav leaves office. The president is elected by a secret vote of the Knesset, so as to allow politicians to vote according to conscience and not the party whip.
Two politicians have already declared their candidacy for the presidency, the Likud’s Reuven Rivlin, a former Knesset speaker, and Labour’s Colette Avital. Vice premier Shimon Peres, who surprisingly lost out to Mr Katzav in 2000, has yet to announce whether he intends to run again. If he decides not to, Ms Itzik is reportedly considering standing for president on the Kadima Party ticket.
Past opinion polls have shown that the 83-year-old Mr Peres would be a popular choice with the public, but the veteran leader is wary of again losing out in a secret Knesset vote.