Israel's President Faces Rape Charge

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To Israelis, her name is simply "A," a former staffer in the office of Israeli President Moshe Katsav, known to the nation through press photographs depicting her shapely figure and streaky blonde hair, yet keeping her face hidden. That's because the anonymous Ms. "A" looks set to be the victim in a rape trial, in which — if it goes ahead — the defendant will be the president himself.

Based on the testimony of "A" and at least three other women who worked for Katsav during his tenure as president and before that as a cabinet minister, and who allege that he harassed them sexually, the attorney general on Tuesday revealed that Katsav faces indictment on charges of rape, obstruction of justice and fraud. Iranian-born Katsav, 62, is married and has five children.

The president's looming indictment is the latest installment in a seemingly endless chain of corruption and sex scandals rocking the Israeli political establishment. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faces a criminal probe over his role in a bank privatization; the justice minister is up for sexual harassment; the finance minister for corruption, as is the country's top tax man.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz plans to conduct a hearing in the next few days before deciding on whether to proceed with the indictment. But legislators and women's groups on Tuesday called for the president to resign; otherwise, they say they will impeach him. Yossi Beilin, leader of the leftist Meretz Party, said: "The damage that has been done to this institution over the last few months is so great that only his immediate resignation can assist the institution's immediate recovery." Israel's presidency is a symbolic rather than an executive position, but it's precisely because the president is meant to symbolize patriotic unity and shared values above politics that the rape allegations have prompted calls for Katsav to quit. The president's lawyers dismiss the charges as false, alleging that they were trumped up by his political enemies. Earlier, Katsav had accused "A" of trying to blackmail him. Stay tuned for what promises to be a long-running political soap opera.