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Israel's President Pleads Guilty to Sexual Harassment Charges

Israel's disgraced president, Moshe Katsav, has pleaded guilty to sexual harassment charges and been forced to resign. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, there is public anger over the fact that he will not be put on trial or spend time in prison.

Israel's attorney general, Meni Mazuz, announced a surprise plea bargain, in which Moshe Katsav pleaded guilty to charges of sexual harassment, indecent acts and harassment of a witness. But the most serious charge against him, rape, was dropped. He received a suspended sentence and will avoid jail time.

Mazuz said that in the course of a year, Katsav sunk from being "Israel's number one citizen to a convicted sex offender."

Allegations against Katsav surfaced a year ago, and eventually four women who worked with him in the president's office and earlier when he was tourism minister accused him of sexual misconduct. One accused him of rape.

Until now, Katsav had denied the allegations, but the plea bargain amounts to an admission of guilt.

The scandal is a major embarrassment, because the president is supposed to be the moral voice of the nation. It is one of many corruption scandals that have dogged senior officials and eroded public confidence in the government.

Israeli Education Minister Yuli Tamir described the plea bargain as an obstruction of justice.

Tamir told Israel Radio that the deal seriously harms the struggle to get women to come forward and expose sexual harassment.

Nevertheless, Katsav was disgraced and forced to resign. And women's rights lawyer Tziona Yair believes that is a step in the right direction.

"I hope that a case like this will make women realize that they are not the ones to stand on trial, that they are the ones who, in fact, have been victimized, and they should feel free to speak their mind and come out with any allegations that they feel that they have been hurt with," she said.

The woman who accused Kastav of rape described the plea bargain as "outrageous."