JERUSALEM (JTA) — In April, Israeli police announced the arrest of a 22-year-old man in Beit Shemesh accused of multiple counts of child sexual assault.
Short of celebrating the arrest of an abuser, local victims’ rights advocates took the authorities to task.
Shana Aaronson, head of the Israeli branch of the New York-based Jewish Community Watch organization, took to social media, describing in a Facebook post how authorities and the Beit Shemesh community ignored a disturbing pattern of behavior by the predator in question, who had previously served time for abuse.
“Shortly after he was released” — three years ago, after his first detention — “I started getting The Phone Calls,” she wrote.
“Numerous community members calling to share that he’s hanging out with kids, a lot, and they are very concerned. I encouraged them strongly to warn the parents. But, you know, it’s awkward. No one ever wants to be the killjoy calling up a neighbor to share the lashon hara [prohibited gossip] that the kindly young man who’s taken their kid under his wing is a convicted child molester. Then the next wave of phone calls started. He’s volunteering at local organizations, and using his status there to pick up kids.”
According to Aaronson’s telling, the young man even called her to volunteer at Jewish Community Watch, asking to “mentor children who had been sexually abused.”
The police, she explained to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, knew he was dangerous but were restrained from acting because nobody with firsthand knowledge of the abuse had been willing to come forward. Israel, unlike the United States, does not keep a registry of sex offenders.
As a result, Aaronson wrote, for two years “it seems a community’s worth of people has been watching while a child molester strategically groom[ed] and prey[ed] on his victims.”
“But after all, nobody likes to be a killjoy.”
Israel has see an overall increase in reporting of incidents dating back to the beginning of the decade. But several recent incidents here have highlighted what advocates like Aaronson describe as a systemic failure of both the government and civil society to adequately deal with the issue of child sexual abuse.
In May, the state comptroller’s annual report revealed that 60 percent of Israelis jailed for sexual crimes ended up being released without undergoing any sort of therapeutic treatment to prevent recidivism.
The report also found that there was increased monitoring by police of offenders after their release. And while there were more investigations into incidents of pedophilia than in previous years, seven out of 10 cases ended up being shut down without an indictment.
Some advocates believe that part of the problem may be ingrained in Israel’s political culture. Tough slander laws here make it hard for victims to accuse their abusers publicly. Meanwhile, advocates have said that sentencing guidelines are inadequate. There has also been a strong taboo against reporting abuse among members of haredi Orthodox communities.
According to a recent investigation by Israel’s Channel 13, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman was alleged to have improperly intervened to aid at least 10 sex offenders from Israel’s haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, community. This comes after earlier reports that Litzman, who himself is haredi, had been questioned by police over suspicions that he had attempted to prevent the extradition of accused child molester Malka Leifer to Australia.
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Alleged victim blasts WA Deputy Premier for meeting Israeli politician linked to Melbourne child sex accused
Alleged victims of accused child sex abuser Malka Leifer have described a meeting between WA Deputy Premier Roger Cook and an Israeli politician under investigation for allegedly hindering her extradition to Australia as deeply hurtful and a “slap in the face”.
Mr Cook met Israeli Deputy Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman while leading a delegation from WA in discussions on digital medicine, medical cannabis and vaccination policy, according to an Israeli government media statement.
Rabbi Litzman has been accused of pressuring health officials and psychiatrists into declaring Ms Leifer unfit for extradition from Israel, allegations which are under investigation by the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office.
He told Israeli media in February his intervention in the case was “all for the good of the public, everything was legal”.
Ms Leifer is the former principal of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne charged with 74 counts of child sexual abuse allegedly committed against three sisters between 2001-2008.
An alleged victim of Ms Leifer, Dassi Erlich, said she was “more than infuriated” when she read Israeli news reports of Mr Cook’s meeting with Rabbi Litzman.
“I woke up to news of that meeting early this morning [Monday], and it kind of felt a bit like a slap in the face,” Ms Erlich said.
“We have Australia consistently telling us, ‘what can we do to help, we want justice in this case,’ and then we see all these reports coming from Israel saying that Litzman is alleged to have helped not just Malka Leifer, but a lot of other paedophiles escape justice.
“And here is an Australian delegation legitimising who he is and his position, given what they know about him.
“It absolutely hurt a lot.”
Ms Erlich, who first reported allegations against against Ms Leifer to police in 2011, said the allegations against Rabbi Litzman were all over the news in Israel and she couldn’t understand how an Australian politician could not have known about them.
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Developments in Malka Leifer case
28 May 2019
The ongoing significant delay in extraditing accused pedophile, Malka Leifer, from Israel to Australia to face 74 charges involving allegations that she sexually abused at least eight pupils during her time as principal of the Adass Israel school in Melbourne between 2003 and 2008, is causing growing dismay across the Australian Jewish community.
Malka Leifer left Melbourne to return to Israel in 2008 within hours of the allegations against her coming to light, and before a warrant could be issued for her arrest in Australia.
Since her arrest by the authorities in Israel in August 2014 following Australia making a formal request for her extradition, the extradition proceedings have come before the courts in Israel on more than 50 occasions. However, no order for her extradition to Australia has been made, as her lawyers continue to argue that she is unfit to stand trial due to her alleged mental state. Those seeking her extradition have produced evidence suggesting that she has been malingering.
The consternation about the delays in the case have been heightened by the fact that Israel’s Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman was interrogated by Israeli police in February 2019 over allegations that he met with Jerusalem’s district psychiatrist, Dr Jacob Charnes, to pressure him into issuing a false assessment for Leifer in support of her claim that she should not be extradited to Australia because she is mentally unfit to stand trial. Mr Litzman and Ms Leifer are both members of the Gur chasidic sect.
In recent weeks Israeli media have reported on further allegations that Litzman and his ministry intervened on behalf of at least 10 convicted sex offenders, including pressuring psychiatrists in at least one other case. Litzman has denied all wrong-doing.
These allegations of executive interference in the judicial process raise grave questions about the integrity of the handling of the Leifer case in Israel while Mr Litzman remains in any government position. We call upon acting Prime Minister Netanyahu to announce an official inquiry into the allegations, and to confirm that Mr Litzman will not be appointed to any executive office pending the outcome of the inquiry.
Litzman’s political party, United Torah Judaism, which won 8 seats in the recent general election in Israel, may be a coalition partner in Israel’s next government. We maintain that political considerations must have no bearing whatsoever on the Leifer case, and that Israel’s judiciary must operate with complete independence and impartiality. Justice must not only be done but also be seen to be done.
This is not a matter that concerns Israel exclusively. Ms Leifer’s accusers in Australia, the Australian government and citizens of Australia, especially the Jewish community, have a deep and direct interest in the case. We will not rest until Malka Leifer is extradited to Australia and put on trial.
We continue to stand with the survivors who have persevered these long years to bring Malka Leifer to justice. Their dignity in the face of delays in the extradition trial and allegations of impropriety by various officials are to their great credit.
THE leading rabbis of Australia have shown a lack of respect for the Australian legal system by ignoring a ruling of three courts and instead focusing on one dissenting opinion, writes Joshua Levi.
After the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the rabbis called time on the tarnished Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia and launched the Rabbinic Council of Australia and New Zealand (RCANZ) as a sign the rabbinate was turning over a new leaf.
“We will look to work together with rabbinic and lay leadership to create a robust rabbinate that the entire community can be proud of and we hope to only bring honour to the community,” Rabbi Paul Lewin, the first president of the organisation said when RCANZ was founded.
Rabbi Lewin said the new organisation would help educate members to face the challenges of the modern rabbinate, develop a code of conduct which all members must adhere to, and represent them more efficiently and effectively to the broader community.
There was so much hope that there would actually be reform, but this week RCANZ has failed the community.
Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, the president of RCANZ, was one of four rabbis of the Sydney Beth Din found guilty of contempt of court by the NSW Supreme Court in December 2017.
He should have immediately stepped aside as president, but several leading rabbis told me that it would inappropriate while he appealed the conviction.
In December 2018, two out of three judges ruled against Rabbi Gutnick and the other rabbis in the NSW Court of Appeal.
When the appeal was rejected, several rabbis on the RCANZ executive couldn’t take it any more and resigned.
Mount Scopus principal Rabbi James Kennard was one of those who quit, noting that RCANZ was meant to provide “much-needed rabbinic leadership with integrity, to demonstrate that rabbis could act with professionalism and accountability”, but it failed because Rabbi Gutnick didn’t resign as president.
“There was silence,” Rabbi Kennard said of RCANZ.
“No resignation, no accountability.
“When the appeal against that verdict was rejected, still silence.”
Rabbi Kennard said at the time that RCANZ joined other rabbinic bodies that fail to police themselves and thus fail the community that they purport to lead.
“It is painful to write these words.
“I do not doubt that I will be condemned by some whom I consider my friends and teachers for speaking publicly.
“But I cannot remain silent when the rabbinate of Australia is prevented from fulfilling its primary task – to provide religious leadership to our community – by the refusal of its representatives to act with the highest standards of integrity, which should be the natural hallmark of any who bear the title ‘rabbi’.”
At the time, rabbis quietly told me that because there was an appeal to the High Court of Australia afoot, that it would be inappropriate to comment and that Rabbi Gutnick should be granted his right to appeal.
Well – last week the High Court of Australia refused to hear that appeal and the case has now come to an end.
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Australia’s corporate watchdog has sought Federal Court approval to wind up Joseph Gutnick’s publicly-listed company, Merlin Diamonds, and flagged an inquiry into whether the colourful Melbourne businessman has breached his director’s duties.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s (ASIC) move against the man known as “Diamond Joe” due to his appetite for outback diamond and gold deposits confirms the worst fears of Merlin Diamonds’ shareholders, who have already endured a seven-month trading ban on the company’s stock.
Court filings released to The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday show ASIC is seeking an order to appoint Deloitte as liquidators of Merlin Diamonds, which had a market capitalisation of just $20 million when its stock was banned from trading last October.
ASIC has for months been probing how Merlin Diamonds has loaned $13 million of investor money to a private company, AXIS Consultants, which has long been associated with Mr Gutnick.
“The loans have been used to fund private companies associated with Joseph Gutnick and provide no discernible benefit to Merlin Diamonds,” ASIC said in a statement on Tuesday evening.
In one example cited by ASIC, it alleges Merlin Diamonds in October 2016 received $900,000 from a Mr Gutnick-linked company, Chabad Properties, for convertible notes and options issued to Chabad.
“The ultimate source of the $900,000 paid by Chabad, through a series of transactions involving related companies, was Merlin Diamonds. Mr Gutnick is a former director of Chabad,” ASIC’s media statement revealed.
Mr Gutnick, who resumed the chairmanship of Merlin Diamonds after emerging from a self-imposed bankruptcy last year, and his wife, Stera Gutnick, are also named in the ASIC’s court filing to wind up Merlin Diamonds. Mrs Gutnick is not a director of Merlin Diamonds and is not understood to be personally under investigation.
ASIC has asked the liquidators to examine and provide an opinion on whether Mr Gutnick and other past and present Merlin Diamonds directors and officers, have breached the Corporations Act.
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