Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


A sad day for the State of Israel
December 31, 2010 1:07 AM   Subscribe

In an action "unprecedented in the democratic world" Moshe Katsav, the eighth President of Israel, has been convicted of rape. The former President is expected to appeal the conviction, which carries a minimum penalty of four years in prison. There is little sympathy for Moshe Katsav on a day that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as "a sad day for the State of Israel and its residents." The Jerusalem Post is left with one question: Should the plaques come down?
posted by Joe in Australia (40 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I would say no. Disappearing people from history is stupid and wrong and arguably in itself a crime against the collective mind of Humanity. They were who they were, they did what they did. They deserve credit for their achievements and punishment for their crimes. His name went on a public building because he was president at the time it was opened. He may or may not have even actually had anything to do with raising funds or approving the construction.

Gary Glitter deserves to be known as the singer of his music, Roman Polanski deserves to be known as the director of his films, and Moshe Katsav deserves to be known as the 8th President of Israel.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:25 AM on December 31, 2010 [6 favorites]


May his name be erased.
posted by empatterson at 1:27 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


When plaques or other celebratory historical records are preserved, perhaps time inexorably erases the emotional impact of the crime, and largely erases the crime itself. Maybe plaques could be put up for his victim, wherever his are found.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:37 AM on December 31, 2010


Gary Glitter deserves to be known as the singer of his music, Roman Polanski deserves to be known as the director of his films, and Moshe Katsav deserves to be known as the 8th President of Israel.

They are and they will continue to be. This doesn't mean that plaques commemorating them need to be left up, or made. They will also be known for their crimes as well, that's part of being famous and being an asshole.
posted by IvoShandor at 1:48 AM on December 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


And, disappearing from history? FFS, hyperbole much?
posted by IvoShandor at 1:49 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


The plaque question is interesting. I've got friends who work at the synagogue mentioned in the article (in Budapest) and that plaque has always seemed a little, well, egotistical. It's large, ugly and doesn't fit in with the style of the temple. In retrospect, does this plaque say something about the ego of the man, who apparently felt that violating the rights of others was okay for him? Katsav disgraced the office, and these plaques feature his name, not merely the name of the office he held.

One of the two really big public squares in Cluj-Napoca (or Kolozsvár), Romania was renamed "Adolf Hitler Square" during the period in which the city was returned to Hungary (having been granted to Romanian after WWI.) Even some Jewish Hungarians (well aware, of course, of the Nazis' anti-Semitism) were grateful for this act. That said, even before Romania regained control of Transylvania shortly after the war, the Hungarians in charge of the city had enough sense to change the name from Adolf Hitler Square to something else.

Frankly, I can't believe that even aeschenkarnos would find it okay for people to still refer to this public square as "Adolf Hitler tér." Do Hitler's achievements (sadly, he had them) still deserve wide public credit, aeschenkarnos?

Katsav may not be a criminal on the same level as Hitler. Unless you were the women who was sexually violated against her will and possibly scarred for life. No one's going to forget that he was the eighth president of Israel, plaque or not. Take 'em down, as a warning to others that actions have consequences.

And kudos to Israel for doing what few countries have ever done.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:51 AM on December 31, 2010 [10 favorites]


In an action "unprecedented in the democratic world"

Well, having a president rape women is also pretty unprecedented. I'm not really sure why the fact that he was prosecuted is so unusual.
posted by delmoi at 1:54 AM on December 31, 2010


For consistency's sake, all references to Thomas Jefferson in American culture need to be erased as well.
posted by spitbull at 2:03 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


For consistency's sake, all references to Thomas Jefferson in American culture need to be erased as well.

For consistency's sake, we'll assume that social mores and women's rights have remained unchanged in the meantime.
posted by jaynewould at 2:09 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Frankly, I can't believe that even aeschenkarnos would find it okay for people to still refer to this public square as "Adolf Hitler tér." Do Hitler's achievements (sadly, he had them) still deserve wide public credit, aeschenkarnos?

The people of Kolozsvár renamed their public square, and of course I find that OK, but it was, as your story relates, named after Adolf Hitler for a period of time, for a reason. If there are buildings and squares and streets about that are named after Moshe Katsav, it is of course within the rights of the occupants and civic authorities that control these places to rename them. But renaming happens forward in time. Maybe the style and wording of plaques is different in Israel but what I think of as a plaque is not so much a name, as something along the lines of "Famous Name Building, opened by President Moshe Katsav 12 December 2006". That's a fact. It's historical record, a "primary source" even.

The public record should show all, or as close as possible to all, of what Katsav (and Hitler, and everyone else whose actions form part of the public record) have done. That's not at all the same as endorsement or condemnation. Informed endorsement or condemnation is impossible without knowing what a public figure has done.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:35 AM on December 31, 2010


Informed endorsement or condemnation is impossible without knowing what a public figure has done.

And you need a plaque to accomplish this? What? Disappearing someone from the historical record, and erasing the things they have done is different from removing a plaque dedicated to a convicted rapist. Is this plaque the only thing in the public record detailing who the building was named for or by? I sincerely doubt that. I am just not buying your "preserve the public record" argument here. Remove the plaques.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:43 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Israel should be embarrassed and sad that it happened.

Israel should be proud that they responded with a prosecution and fair conviction.
posted by jaduncan at 3:03 AM on December 31, 2010 [15 favorites]


I say leave the existing plaques up, and add new ones underneath detailing the fact that he's a rapist.
posted by Solomon at 3:20 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Things people do matter, or they don't. Pick one. Shall we go through the cemeteries and prise the names of rapists off the stones? How about murderers? Thieves? Jaywalkers, maybe?

This particular kind of action irritates me for a personal reason. My high school, being single-sex (boys) in the 1980's, and a relic of the Tom Brown's Schooldays model of education, had its share of sex abuses brought to light in the 1990's, and various teachers were prosecuted and sued for molesting various students, myself not among them. I feel fortunate for that, although I will point out that although sexual abuse is the most newspaper-interesting, it is not the only way in which school authorities abuse students. One of these molesters was, among other things, a cricket coach, whose name and photograph appeared with the winning team in a place of honor in the assembly hall. They were one of the greatest ever winning cricket teams in the school's history. The photo sat up there for several years. It came out some time later that he had been molesting students, and he was duly prosecuted and I believe spent some time in jail, and rightly so.

However, the school removed the photo, removed this man's name from their "cricket history" website, pulped school magazines that mentioned him, etc. They un-personed him. Erased him from the little tiny bit of history in which he appeared. Now, why they did that had nothing to do with the team members, and precious little even to do with the man's crimes or his victims. What it had to do with, what it was about, was the overwhelming concern the school had with the appearance, not the fact, of the thing. It was not seemly that such a school should have had a child-molester guide their cricketers to an outstanding victory; therefore they retroactively wished, and made it a "fact", that he had not done so.

The cynical and self-serving un-personing of the cricket coach disgusted me then, and this, while the man is far more famous, his achievements (presumably) more momentous, his crimes at least comparable, probably worse; this bothers me now. It's the physical embodiment of the No True Scotsman (or Israeli). The people of Israel did, unknowingly, elect a man who raped several women to their presidency. (Probably every nation in the world has elected people who have done as bad or worse, we just don't know about it.) While president, he did a number of things. Those things are not un-done by the revelation of his crimes.

I agree that removing plaques (or team photos) is a petty gesture and means nothing in the broader context, and a president is a very great deal harder to remove from history than a cricket coach. But I suggest that a lot of people (empatterson for example) would un-person Katsav if they could. It's an emotive human impulse with the merest veneer of civilized rationalization over it.

(For what it's worth, which isn't much, I am absolutely fine with adding extra plaques or even defacing the existing plaques in such a way that it is obvious who is referred to and why.)

YMMV.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:21 AM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's an emotive human impulse with the merest veneer of civilized rationalization over it.

So is mine, really. I'm not sure, right now, if there's ever anything else.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:36 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Plaques and other installations in the memorial genre should never be erected for living persons who still possess the power to disgrace themselves. In Houston we have a George Bush airport and Bush is still capable of committing a rape or a murder and so forth. Didn't they have a big stink in Cincinnati about changing the name of Pete Rose Boulevard or something like that? Call no man great or happy or heroic until after he is dead and cannot shame himself anymore. All people make mistakes all the time, and a lot of people make mistakes large and public which forgo qualifying them for a public monument.
posted by bukvich at 6:46 AM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]



Well, having a president rape women is also pretty unprecedented. I'm not really sure why the fact that he was prosecuted is so unusual.


Well, here in the GREATEST DEMOCRACY ON EARTH we have determined that you can't prosecute former Presidents because it is bad politics and we should look forward instead. As long as the CURRENT president isn't raping, everything is fine.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:25 AM on December 31, 2010


Israel, I salute you. Thank you for holding your head of state accountable for his crime. This is true democracy.
posted by orange swan at 7:27 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


In Illinois, the right half of these signs came down right away, which seems like a reasonable precedent.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 8:24 AM on December 31, 2010


(I guess the Illinois signs would imply that Blagojevich was still governor, rather than just that he was governor at the time the tolling system was created, but there was definitely a feeling in the state that they were an embarrassment.)
posted by Ralston McTodd at 8:26 AM on December 31, 2010


Leave the signs up. Just add an extra sign to all of them that states that he's been convicted of using the power of his office to aid him in committing multiple rapes.

Leaving the signs up, unaltered, would allow the forgiving lens of history to gloss over his crimes. Look at how many Southern places still have signs up to Nathan Bedford Forrest despite the fact that the man was a war criminal who presided over the slaughter of surrendered soldiers on several occasions. All they remember is that Forrest slept there, and thus the idea that somehow Forrest must have been a great guy seeps into the cultural landscape. Same with Katsav, the plaques just by themselves will eventually erase from the memory of most people that he was a bad man.

And, I think adding a secondary plaque pointing out his crimes would be valuable in and of itself. Removing the plaques allows places that once honored Katsav to pretend that they didn't, or at least that their honoring of him was a minor little thing that can be easily forgotten.

Keeping the giant, egotistical, plaques along with a plaque that points out the crimes he committed serves the valuable function of reminding the institutions that honored Katsav that they messed up. That the person they honored was a villain.

It is highly unlikely that Katsav's abuses of power were limited to the rapes he was convicted of, people like him are rarely content with quiet and covert abuse of power. Those who moved in the circles of power in Israel must have known, if not that he was a multiple rapist, at the very least that he was a person who abused his power.

Most humans have an unfortunate tendency to try to cover up for the crimes of the powerful, to try to justify and minimize those crimes, to honor the powerful even when they are very bad people indeed. Plaques that show that the various Temples and whatnot honored a very bad man might help prevent those Temples and whatnot from honoring other very bad men in the future.

Permitting the plaques to stand unchanged or unannotated would be bad because it would aid the forgiving lens of history in it's work. Permitting the plaques to be torn down would be bad because it would it would aid the institutions that honored a power abusing rapist to try and pretend that they hadn't. Adding a secondary plaque outlining his crimes would solve both problems.

Of course, that will never happen.
posted by sotonohito at 9:35 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wait, so was Jefferson a rapist? Or does he get a pass because rape was sort of legal in the 18th c as long as the victim was black?
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:46 AM on December 31, 2010


Asterisks work for Hall of Famers caught juicing. I don't think it would be too much work with a chisel to put a little star up next to his name on all the memorials. Those with a mind to can look it up after that.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 10:27 AM on December 31, 2010


Of course Jefferson was a rapist.

It's also probably far too late to get people to think much about it, like most historic figures of any importance he's already acquired that sheen of perfection that people like to imagine they had. I would, however, be completely in favor of adding commentary about his slave owning and slave raping to the various memorials and museums. I don't think it would happen because too many Americans want to pretend that the Founders were neigh-godlike beings of utter goodness.

You could argue that Jefferson did more good than Katsav, or was more significant, but even if those arguments are true, and really especially if they're true, it's all the more reason to remember Jefferson as he truly was and not as the platonic ideal that many think of him as.
posted by sotonohito at 10:32 AM on December 31, 2010


Wait, so was Jefferson a rapist?

Yes, of course. Though I don't think that's why the $2 bill never took off.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:40 AM on December 31, 2010


If we want guidance on how to handle someone like this, I'd point to the Renaissance composer Gesualdo, who famously murdered two people. What he was more famous for is writing great music. We shouldn't refuse to appreciate his accomplishments just because he also did something very, very bad. If he's commemorated with a plaque or a bust or whatever, that's fine with me. The idea of having a footnote of "But he committed a crime!" under any plaque strikes me as silly grandstanding.

However, any biography of Gesualdo, even if it's just a short paragraph summing up his life, is sure to mention those murders. (Example: the lead paragraph of his Wikipedia entry closes with: "He is famous for his intensely expressive madrigals, which use a chromatic language not heard again until the 19th century, and also for committing what are amongst the most notorious murders in musical history.") His life story is inevitably tarnished, whether or not anyone makes the gesture of taking down a plaque.

In the case of Katsav, however, I'd be less bothered by removing plaques since President of Israel is a ceremonial political post, whereas Gesualdo's achievements were unique and beautiful.

(By the way, Gesualdo wasn't punished or even prosecuted for the murders. What would you say should be done with the reputation of a president who's alleged to have committed rape but hasn't been convicted?)
posted by John Cohen at 11:32 AM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wait, so was Jefferson a rapist? Or does he get a pass because rape was sort of legal in the 18th c as long as the victim was black?
Is this based on some theory that because he had sex with a slave, he was a rapist? Because any sex that involves a power relationship is rape now?

That's fucking moronic. In fact, if you go by that definition then ALL married sex in that time period and ALL married men were rapists because women were legally the property of their husbands, who -- although they couldn't sell them -- could order them around, beat them, rape them, whatever.

It's idiotic to compare what Jefferson did, have consensual sex with a woman who he owned as property and what the Israeli president did, which was violent hold women down and have sex with them by force. Conflating the two is just insane.
posted by delmoi at 11:46 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's fucking moronic. In fact, if you go by that definition then ALL married sex in that time period and ALL married men were rapists because women were legally the property of their husbands, who -- although they couldn't sell them -- could order them around, beat them, rape them, whatever.

Well, actually, I'd argue that's true.

It was a different time, so that sort of thing was seen as normal, but I'd find it difficult not to argue that all marital sex back in the 18th century was rape.

Jefferson's case is worse than that of married men of the era, in that the woman in question was actually legally his property and if he had chosen he could have tortured her without any penalty whatsoever, and could have murdered her without any significant trouble. That degree of power imbalance makes meaningful consent impossible.

This is one, of many, reasons why people who have studied history almost universally agree that the present is better than the past, and that we've become more moral as time has passed.

I'd argue that the true difference between Jefferson and Katsav is the era and place. Today in most civilized nations we see rape as wrong, we see abuse of power as wrong, we see sexual harassment as wrong. As recently as the 1950's what we'd term date rape was considered standard and expected behavior. Today we say it's wrong.

If he'd committed his crimes in 1804 it's almost guaranteed that Katsav would never have been prosecuted, that his victims would have remained silent, that if they had spoken out they would have been seen as being in the wrong.

Leaving aside the forgiving lens of history, one reason we give Jefferson and every other man from his era a pass is because that behavior was virtually universal then. I argue that the fact that society has changed does not make Jefferson any less of a rapist, but it does mean that his rape of Sally Hemings was nothing unusual. It's all but certain that Washington also raped his slaves. And Franklin. Etc. That such rapes were near universal does not make them right, but it does mean that there is nothing particularly astonishing about the fact that Jefferson was a rapist, almost all men of his social class in that era were.

Today, unlike in prior eras, rape is regarded as a serious crime against the victim. It is not near universal, and we do not as a society condone rape. This makes Katsav's crime unusual, it stands out, while Jefferson's crimes do not.
posted by sotonohito at 12:07 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


but I'd find it difficult not to argue that all marital sex back in the 18th century was rape.
Well, good for you? For anyone who doesn't think that's insane, Jefferson was not a rapist.
posted by delmoi at 12:45 PM on December 31, 2010


In Illinois, the right half of these signs came down right away, which seems like a reasonable precedent.

They came down because Blagojevich ceased to be governor. Had Blagojevich lost an election, rather than been impeached (or resigned, had he done so) I feel pretty sure Pat Quinn's name would be up there. Just like, should Jesse White cease to be secretary of state, someone will go round and take his picture down from every DMV. And not so far in the future, "Richard M Daley, Mayor" will disappear.*

Completely tangentially, as a kid it took me far longer than you'd hope to realise that the mayor was elected. Part of me still expects Daley to be mayor until he dies.
posted by hoyland at 12:45 PM on December 31, 2010


I'd argue that the true difference between Jefferson and Katsav is the era and place.
Well, that and the fact that Katsay actually violently forced the women to have sex with them entirely against their will, which is what rape actually is. God damn. Using these absurdly broad definitions of "rape" doesn't just make ordinary people look bad, it also minimizes what actual violent rapists actually do.
posted by delmoi at 12:48 PM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's fucking moronic. In fact, if you go by that definition then ALL married sex in that time period and ALL married men were rapists because women were legally the property of their husbands, who -- although they couldn't sell them -- could order them around, beat them, rape them, whatever.

Well, actually, I'd argue that's true. It was a different time, so that sort of thing was seen as normal, but I'd find it difficult not to argue that all marital sex back in the 18th century was rape.


Your degree of hyperbole makes a meaningful understanding of history impossible. It also dehumanizes your own great-great-great-great grandmother, as well as every female ancestor you (or anyone else) have ever had.

As a woman, I find this pretty offensive. Women are not raped by power imbalance; we are raped by unwelcome sex acts. One can exist without the other, and frequently does -- holy hell, do you really think there's not a large power imbalance between men and women today?

You're saying that a husband who held his wife down and forcibly raped her every night is equivalent to a husband who had "impossible" consent from his wife... and frankly, I doubt the wives (or husbands) in question would have agreed with you.
posted by vorfeed at 1:01 PM on December 31, 2010 [6 favorites]


To avoid threadjacking I'm stopping here, if anyone wants to continue the discussion of consent, power, rape, etc I'll be glad to do so on metatalk.
posted by sotonohito at 2:36 PM on December 31, 2010


What if a slave LIKED picking cotton?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:42 PM on December 31, 2010


One perhaps obvious point. It's never a sad day in a democracy when a leader can be held legally accountable...
posted by rundhc at 3:05 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought it said "should the plagues come down?" and was referring to Exodus.
posted by wayland at 9:08 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


rundhc Yeah, I found that to be an odd comment. I'd consider it an excellent day for Country X when a former leader of that nation is held accountable to the same laws as every other citizen.

I suppose he meant it was sad that Israel had elected a rapist to be it's president, but the way that line was translated doesn't seem quite right.
posted by sotonohito at 4:15 AM on January 1, 2011


sotonohito: A bunch of commentators went for that glass-is-actually-slightly-full line, but I don't think they expected people to find it persuasive. It's like, your dog is dying of cancer - hurray for the excellent diagnostic skills of our veterinarians!
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:49 AM on January 1, 2011


What if a slave LIKED picking cotton?

Picking cotton wasn't the problem. Being beaten, held against their will, subject to sale and not getting wages was the problem. One assumes that humans being good at making the best of things, it would be unreasonable to assume there were no happy slaves who thought the world was supposed to work that way.

However that's neither here nor there. Chances are, one of my forefathers raped my foremother and got away with it, but this is now, and the now says that you can have all the violent sex with national leaders you want, but both parties need to consent.

But yes, rape is so bloody banal that it's not so much a sad day that a rapist got into power as a good day they got nailed. It's not "yaye for veterinary science, you dog has cancer!" it's "Yaye, the chemo worked and Fido's going to pull through.
posted by Phalene at 3:19 PM on January 1, 2011


empatterson: "May his name be erased."

Didn't work for Herostratus.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:49 AM on January 4, 2011


« Older 10 year old Remy eats bone marrow, heart, brains, ...  |  The last roll of Kodachrome fi... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments