As a basic rule, the institution of parole lies at the foundation of both democracy and Judaism, reflecting Israeli society’s highest regard for forgiveness and compassion. In any egalitarian society, there must be an extra-judicial body that embodies the value of mercy and honors the will to begin anew in those with past sins weighing heavily on their consciences. Whether imprisoned or not, every man and woman should retain the right to speak his or her convictions, to acknowledge his or her misdeeds, to be rehabilitated and to merit a second chance.
Yet one precondition for those in favor of early prisoner release is unequivocal evidence of wholehearted regret. Indeed, there can be no honest appeal to the principle of mercy without fulfilling the essential condition that the public obtain the absolute sincerity of the petitioner. We cannot forget that behind every prisoner seeking rehabilitation wait many lives that could be easily hurt and destroyed by a tenderhearted approach to this question.
On the scales of justice rest these two dimensions of parole that we must carefully consider: on one side, the benefit of the doubt owed the prisoner’s plea for forgiveness and on the other, the plight of the victims calling for nothing short of true justice and certainty.
On the basis of these principles, we must apply this theoretical dilemma to the case of former President of Israel Moshe Katsav, an episode shoved back into the public spotlight in the last few weeks. In 2011, Katsav was convicted of rape, assault and sexual harassment of female employees during his tenure, resulting in a seven-year prison sentence. After meeting several criteria for early release in recent weeks, reports surfaced that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and current President Ruby Rivlin have hinted their support for a pardon.
I firmly believe that any decision to pardon Katsav would be illegitimate from the outset. The luxury of early release for a man who has trampled upon the institution of the presidency is not only a blatant injustice, but a resounding endorsement of a message that I cannot tolerate: You can hurt the women of Israel, you can destroy families, you can lie the whole way, and then you can have our pity and forgiveness.
This all notwithstanding the fact that Katsav has not expressed one shred of remorse for his actions. In practice, he has refused to accept any responsibility, instead waging a public relations campaign to shame and defame his rightful accusers. On what grounds may he demand forgiveness? Will we be able to look these same women in the eyes? Will victimized women see any point in speaking out and complaining?
Shame upon public officials able to pardon a man like this, as they erase, with one stroke of the hand, all that we have achieved as a society in our long, ongoing struggle against rape and sexual harassment.
Shame upon a decision that wholly ignores the cause of justice, indulging a man who refuses to take no for an answer with a yes.
Shame upon those willing to deprive abused women of the mercy and human dignity that is rightfully theirs.