Profile: Moshe Katsav

Moshe Katsav - September 2009 Moshe Katsav became the first Israeli president born in a Muslim country

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Israel's former President Moshe Katsav was a little-known right-wing MP and former minister before he was elected to the largely ceremonial post in 2000.

He resigned in 2007 after agreeing to plead guilty to several sexual offences as part of a plea bargain which he later withdrew.

In December 2010, he was convicted of rape and sexual harassment, unprecedented for an Israeli head of state.

Before his resignation, he furiously denied the allegations against him, imploring the public not to believe them.

"When the truth comes out you will be shocked," he said at a news conference.

"Don't believe the libel, the defamation, the lies. There is only one truth... I am the target of one of the worst attacks in the history of the State of Israel."

Two years later, he again spoke at a televised news conference, amid accusations he was turning his case into a media circus.

"I am the victim of a lynching organised by the judicial counsellor of the government [Menahem] Mazouz, the police, politicians and the media," he said.

"My honour, and that of my family, has been attacked for the past three years. I have been humiliated, crushed, knocked down, and I suffer. But I am determined to fight to ensure that the truth emerges, all the truth, because I am innocent."

But a spokesman for Israel's justice ministry said his speech was "riddled with bogus facts and false accusations, not to mention relentless slander against the attorney general and the heads of the law enforcement system".

Low-profile

Moshe Katsav

  • 2010: Convicted of rape and sexual harassment
  • Born in Iran; first Israeli president to come from a Muslim country
  • Became Likud MP in 1977 at the age of 30
  • Married since 1969, with five children

During his seven years in office, Mr Katsav confined himself largely to speaking up for the interests of the Jewish state abroad on his many foreign tours - including to former fascist-ruled countries like Austria and Croatia.

In his campaign for election, Israeli media made fun of him for his colourless, mild-mannered demeanour, and few believed he stood a chance against former Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

But he beat his more famous left-of-centre rival, perhaps because he was low profile - unlike his flamboyant predecessor, Ezer Weizman, who was forced to resign after a financial scandal - and because of his perceived commitment to depoliticise the presidency, analysts at the time said.

He became Israel's first Iranian-born president and the first from the Likud party.

His time in office was marked by great turmoil and bloodshed in Israel's dealings with its Arab neighbours; the second Palestinian intifada erupted two months into his term.

Power-broker

Moshe Katsav came to Israel at the age of six with his parents in 1951, a few years after the state's foundation.

As a young man he entered local politics in his home-town, the modest former immigrant camp of Kiryat Malachi near Tel Aviv.

In 1969, aged 24, the town elected him as Israel's youngest mayor and eight years later he was elected to the Knesset (parliament) for the Likud party.

He established himself as a power-broker in the hawkish party rather than a star in his own right.

But he proved a competent administrator when he was made transport minister in the late 1980s, and he served as minister of tourism and deputy prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu's first government, elected in 1996.

A fluent Farsi speaker, Katsav took the opportunity, at the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005, to chat to his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Khatami in their common language.

By chance, the pair had been born in the same town, Yazd, in central Iran.

The conversation and a handshake which Katsav said they shared triggered criticism in the domestic press of both countries.

However, most stances he took - including supporting an unsuccessful ceasefire with the Palestinians in 2002 - avoided widespread controversy.

Katsav has been married to his wife, Gila, since 1969 and the couple have five children and two grandchildren.

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