What Happens to Sex Offenders Who Flee to Israel?

When Brooklyn police went to convicted sex offender Yona Weinberg’s apartment this past January to arrest him for an alleged assault on an 11-year-old boy in August 2014, the New York Daily News reported, he had disappeared. In 2009, Weinberg served 13 months for sexually molesting two other boys, and is listed as a Level 3 (a high risk of repeat offending and considered a threat to public safety) sex offender on the United State sex offender registry

It turned out, though, that Weinberg had moved to the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem where he still lives. Weinberg is not the only sex offender who has fled to Israel, away from the scrutiny of the Sex Offender Registration Act. In April 2013, (US-born) Australian David Kramer pleaded guilty to five charges of indecent assault and one charge of committing an indecent act with a minor. These charges stemmed back to the early 1990s, and to escape them, Kramer’s colleagues at Melbourne’s Yeshivah College, where the assaults took place, helped him flee to Israel. When Kramer returned to the United States, he offended again, this time in St. Louis, leading to his extradition back to Australia to be formally charged. Another example is Abraham Mondrowitz who left Brooklyn for Israel in 1985 after being charged with sodomizing four boys. He was arrested by Israeli police in 2007, but as of 2010, his extradition was still tied up in the Israel courts.

“It’s only because of activists that people even know about this,“ said M, a member of Israel’s Orthodox community who brought this issue to my attention and asked that his name not be used. There is a sex offender registry in Israel, but unlike in the United States, it’s not public. In the United States sex offenders must contact the sex offender registry when they move in and out of a new state, (so that the community they’re entering into can be notified) and not registering is a felony. The same is not true in Israel, where only the police have access to a list of offenders, according to Shana Aaronson, social services coordinator and Anglo community liaison at Magen for Children and Families, a child protection agency in Beit Shemesh. Magen connects those who have been abused, as well as those who know of or suspect abuse, with resources, as well as advocating for their safety.

“Those who leave the US and come to Israel (like Weinberg),” said M, “know all this. They know Israel isn’t quick to extradite Jews. They can exploit the system.” If you know that there’s a sex offender in your neighborhood, for example, you can’t just take their picture and email it to everyone. There are laws against harassment. If you haven’t been convicted of a sex crime in Israel, the police aren’t going to notify anyone about the existence of the accused.

In March 2014, Magen sponsored, with the Haruv Institute, the First International Congress for Child Protection Organizations in the Jewish Community at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The conference convened representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, South Africa, and Israel to discuss and strategize around the sexual abuse of minors, particularly in the Orthodox Jewish community. (The second congress took place in April 2015.)

“Migrating perpetrators aren’t a new problem,” said Aaronson. “It’s a global issue, but being part of a Jewish community makes it more possible — we don’t question, we don’t ask why you made aliyah.”

If you’re an offender in Israel on a tourist visa, it’s unlikely that you’ll be asked to leave, unless you offend again and it’s reported, or unless you overstay your visa. It might get more complicated if your goal is to make aliyah and live in Israel permanently. Nefesh b’Nefesh, an organization that facilitates aliyah from North America and the UK, has the right to check the criminal records of those applying for aliyah, but it’s a question of whether or not they always do. According to the Jewish Agency’s website, “some” applications for aliyah do require a criminal background check. The Jewish Agency told the Jerusalem Post in 2009 that if one wants to make aliyah, they are asked whether or not they have a criminal record, but they aren’t obligated to produce evidence verifying or dispelling their claim. The Interior Ministry can then decide if they want to investigate the potential oleh further.

“To say there’s a crack in the system,” said Aaronson, “is an understatement.” Magen has reached out to the Ministry of the Interior and Aaronson reports, “The Ministry takes this seriously, they do want to improve the situation. They have told us that if we send them the documentation of the crimes of these offenders from the United States, they’ll do what they can.” Extradition, while not common, is possible.

Magen doesn’t condone harassment or barring of an offender who has served their time. But “if someone’s been released from prison and assessed at being very likely to offend again, and they’re living next to a school, we’re not comfortable with that,” said Aaronson. Employers in Israel, particularly those who work with children, may require that potential employees provide a “Letter of Good Standing” called a “Teudat Yosher” from the authorities in Israel, certifying that the applicant has no criminal background. However, if you haven’t been convicted of a crime in Israel, there’s nothing preventing the Teudah from being issued.

In the United States, grassroots organizations such as Jewish Community Watch are organizing to change policy, and in the case of JCW making Israel’s sex offender registry public.

The New York-based Jewish crisis intervention organization, Amudim often deals with the aftermath of sexual abuse in the Orthodox community. Zvi Gluck, Amudim’s director of community resources, explains that how damaging it is for the abused when the abuser escapes punishment “When the perpetrator is feeling the heat, and they miraculously make their way to Israel, it takes away the opportunity for closure from the victim.”

Gluck calls for a change in Israeli law-specifically a change in registry status—but also for a change in the Jewish community’s attitude towards perpetrators, in particular those who excuse behavior or help abusers flee the country. “When someone’s accused of abuse,” he said, “everyone wants to make-up stories about why that guy is good. Abuse occurs, we can’t hide behind cloaks, minimize it, or rationalize it with religion. Helping perpetrators escape is re-victimizing the victim.”

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