JERUSALEM – An Israeli court found former President Moshe Katsav guilty Thursday of rape, indecent assault and sexual harassment of female subordinates, the most serious conviction of a former top official in Israel’s history.

The verdict in a case that had riveted the Israeli public was hailed as an affirmation of the rule of law and the rights of women, as well as a sign of changing norms in a society that for decades tended to condone sexual advances by powerful men in government and the military.

The president, whose role is largely ceremonial in Israel, is the country’s head of state and is supposed to serve as a unifying national symbol. Katsav, 66, served in the post from 2000 to 2007, and the crimes of which he was convicted included several committed during that period.

“Today the court delivered two clear-cut messages: that everyone is equal before the law, and that every woman has exclusive rights to her body,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement after the verdict.

The three-judge panel at the Tel Aviv District Court rejected Katsav’s alibis, saying his testimony, in which he denied the charges, was “riddled with lies.”

Katsav was convicted of twice raping a senior aide in 1998, when he was tourism minister, once in his Tel Aviv office and two months later in a hotel room in Jerusalem. He was also convicted of sexually molesting the aide on another occasion.

The judges said the events were part of a pattern of sexual harassment that ended with the firing of the aide after she resisted Katsav’s advances.

Katsav was also convicted of suggestively embracing two female workers in his office on several occasions during his term as president, making a sexual innuendo toward one and obstructing justice by asking her about her testimony to the police.

Rape carries a minimum prison term of four years and a maximum of 16 years in Israel. Katsav’s attorneys said they would appeal the verdict.

After his conviction, a stone-faced Katsav, who had consistently maintained that he was the victim of a media witch-hunt, hurried out of the courtroom and returned to his home in the working-class town of Kiryat Malachi without speaking to reporters.

Women’s rights advocates said the verdict would encourage those who had been the targets of sexual harassment or assault at home or at the workplace to complain to the police.

“The message sent today by the court to other victims of exploitation of authority is ‘Don’t be silent,’” said Ronit Amiel, one of the state prosecutors in the case.

Moshe Negbi, Israel Radio’s legal analyst, said the court had issued a “defining verdict” that could well have delivered “a mortal blow to the macho culture that turns women into an object of despicable sexual exploitation.”