Israeli president snubbed

The sex scandal has cast a shadow on the presidency, a public office Israelis cherish as being above their usual rough-and-tumble politics.

Mr Katsav — whose position is largely ceremonial but is seen as a unifying force in a country of deep political divides — has denied any wrongdoing and claims he is the victim of a “public lynching without trial”.

After weeks of investigation, police and the justice ministry said they had gathered evidence that Katsav, a veteran politician, “carried out sex crimes of rape, sexual molestation by force and without consent” against women who worked for him.

His lawyer, Tsion Amir, says his client is innocent it remains unclear whether he would be charged.

It will be up to Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz to decide whether to indict the 60 year-old, with a decision expected within the next two weeks.

Since Israel’s founding in 1948, rumours have swirled about prominent politicians’ alleged sexual affairs.

But no Israeli politician has ever been charged with a major sex crime, and Mr Katsav could face up to 16 years in prison if he was tried and found guilty of rape.

Commentators in Israel’s biggest newspapers said it was time for the President — who has held a series of cabinet posts as a member of the right-wing Likud party — to step down.

“Moshe Katsav served as president for the past six years and the presidency served him. There is no choice but to say goodbye,” commentator Nahum Barnea wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.

“Farewell, President Katsav,” wrote legal analyst Ze’ev Segal in the Haaretz newspaper, urging him to “save … the public’s faith in the institution of the presidency” by announcing his resignation immediately.

President’s snub
Facing a threatened protest by legislators if he attended the opening of parliament’s winter session, Mr Katsav decided not to show up to avoid “being part of these theatrics”, his brother said on Army Radio.

Members of parliament from across the political spectrum had said they would either boycott the ceremony, walk out or refuse to rise when a trumpet fanfare sounded to mark Katsav’s arrival in the hall.

The scandal is unlikely to have any direct effect on the fortunes of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his coalition government.

However the scandal has diverted public attention from other political issues in the aftermath of the recent Lebanon war.