Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav Convicted Of Rape

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was convicted Thursday of raping an aide and sexually harassing two other women, a verdict hailed as evidence of the nation's independent judiciary and a reminder that no one is above the law.

The case, one of the most serious ever brought against a high-ranking government official here, drove Katsav from office in 2007. Although the spectacle of a president being brought up on rape charges became a source of national embarrassment, many found solace in the judges' guilty verdict.

""It attests to the strength of Israel's democracy,"" prosecutor Ronit Amiel said after the court's ruling. ""This day teaches us that world leaders and also presidents will be brought to court when needed, and that is a symbol of honor for the state of Israel.""

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it ""a sad day for Israel"" but praised the court's message ""that all are equal before the law, and that every woman has exclusive rights to her body.""

After the Tel Aviv court announced its decision, cheers erupted from women's rights organizations picketing outside. Dana Pugach, attorney at the Noga Legal Center for Victims of Crime, said the decision reflected the court's confidence in the women, who Pugach said showed courage in making an accusation against a sitting president.

""It is their determination and perseverance that brought [us] to this day,"" Pugach said. ""Beyond democracy, today's greatest achievement is the personal victory of three women.""

The former president, 65, who has denied the charges, left without commenting.

Katsav's case was the most high-profile of a string of investigations in recent years targeting Israeli officials, most of them involving corruption allegations. The list includes every prime minister of the last 14 years, one other former president, two previous Jerusalem mayors and numerous Cabinet ministers. "