Public backlash follows president’s plea bargain

? A plea bargain that would allow Israel’s former president to avoid rape charges and jail time has drawn a fierce public backlash, with protests in Tel Aviv and a Supreme Court appeal on Sunday that have put the deal in doubt.

The plea bargain between prosecutors and Moshe Katsav, who stepped down as Israel’s ceremonial leader on Sunday, would allow him to confess to lesser counts of sexual harassment and receive a suspended sentence.

In January, Attorney General Meni Mazuz said he was planning to file rape charges that could carry a 20-year prison term. Now, Katsav’s critics fear the deal will allow him to fade quietly away, insisting he signed the deal only to relieve the strain on his family, with the gravest charges buried.

Four women who worked for Katsav charged that he repeatedly groped them, kissed them, exposed himself to them and – in two cases – raped them while he served as president or earlier.