Profile: Moshe Katzav

December 30, 2010

Moshe Katzav was the eighth president of Israel, holding office from 2000 until his resignation in July 2007.

Born in Yazd, in Iran, he was brought to Tehran by his family before their immigration to Israel in 1951, when he was five.

At first the family lived in an immigrant campsite, near the port city of Ashdod. Tragedy struck that winter when severe flooding in the camp claimed the life of Katzav's two-month-old brother, Zion.

Eventually the transit camp developed into a small town, Kiryat Malachi, and aged just 24, Moshe Katzav became its mayor. He had joined tne Likud Party while a student at the Hebrew University, and became a member of Knesset in 1977 on the Likud list.

Twice during this period Prime Minister Menachem Begin sent the Farsi-speaking Katzav to Iran to try to persuade Iranian Jews to emigrate to Israel.

His promotion was rapid in the Likud-led governments of Begin and his successor, Yitzchak Shamir. Katzav became deputy minister of construction and housing, minister of labour and welfare, transportation minister, and between 1996 and 1999 was deputy prime minister and minister of tourism in Benjamin Netanyahu's first government.

Katzav's reputation as a sexual predator was well-known in political circles at the time but there was little appetite for challenging him, a situation made worse by his decision to run against Shimon Peres for President in 2000. Peres was widely thought to be the shoo-in candidate so his surprise defeat by Katzav shook the country.

Extraordinarily the charges against Katzav surfaced at his own instigation: he complained to the Attorney-General, Menachem Mazuz, in July 2006, that he was being blackmailed by a female employee. Ultimately up to 10 women complained that he had sexually harassed them. The President insisted that he was the victim of a plot: in January 2007 he held a heated press conference, attacking the media and accusing journalists of hostility to his presidency ever since he had defeated Shimon Peres. He described himself as the victim of a witchhunt.

Once an indictment was made against him and a decision taken to proceed legally, Moshe Katzav had no choice but to resign.

Although a plea bargain deal was reached in June 2007 which would have allowed Katzav to plea guilty to lesser charges, he became convinced that the prosecution did not have sufficient evidence to convict him, and so withdrew from the deal. Instead, lawyers formally indicted him for two counts of rape and other sexual offences in March 2009.

The former president now faces between four and 16 years in jail. Discussion is ongoing about whether to remove the privileges given to all former presidents, which include an office, staff, a driver, and free medical insurance for the ex-president and their spouse for life.

Last updated: 1:47pm, January 6 2011