Child rights activists claim that Israel secretly allow convicted pedophiles to freely enter the country, offering a safe haven for child molesters under the Law of Return.
The Law of Return is Israeli legislation, passed on 5 July 1950, that gives Jewish people the right to live in Israel and to gain Israeli citizenship, even if they have committed sexual assault against a minor.
The text message came in Hebrew and English. “A warning to the citizens of Israel: JCW [Jewish Community Watch, an organization that monitors child sex abuse] has received credible information that [redacted] has plans to return to Israel in early November, with intentions of moving to the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. The authorities in Israel have been notified, as well as local community leaders.”
The text message, sent to thousands of people on the JCW update list, raced through Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood. According to New York’s sex offender registry, the person in question is a Level 2 sex offender, at moderate risk of reoffending. The message continued with more background and allegations against the immigrant offender.
“In 2007, [redacted] had escaped to Israel through Canada in an effort to evade arrest from the police in New York. He was formally charged in absentia with 8 counts of deviate sexual intercourse with two 13-year-old minors on the same day his aliyah status was approved. Months later [redacted] was extradited back to NY where he was convicted in 2009 and served time until his release in February 2012. Currently [redacted] still holds Israeli citizenship under the alias [redacted].”
According to Shana Aronson, the Israel operations coordinator for Jewish Community Watch, the text message is a public service.
“People have a right, after they serve their time, to live their life,” said Aronson. “But the community has a right to know who they are. They shouldn’t be vilified any more than is necessary to protect the community. But nothing is more devastating than a repeat offender. It’s infuriating. It could have been prevented.”
One of the country’s founding pieces of legislation, the Law of Return allows any Diaspora Jew to receive citizenship in Israel. But child rights activists contend there is a dark loophole to the law which allows Jewish pedophiles to effectively flee court-mandated supervision in their home countries and move to Israel with a clean slate.
In a grassroots effort to deal with the problem, activists and concerned parents are starting to raise awareness on social media, issuing “warnings” via text message, Twitter, and Facebook to parents in neighborhoods where convicted or alleged pedophiles are moving. But their unregulated efforts are also drawing a backlash.
On November 24, the Jerusalem District Court held the first procedural hearing in a case from convicted pedophile Yona Weinberg, who is suing child rights activist Yakov Horowitz. Horowitz tweeted out a warning to parents in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood after Weinberg moved there.
In his suit, Weinberg, from Brooklyn, New York, accuses Horowitz of slander and libel for encouraging parents to treat him like “a terrorist with a machete.”
However, child abuse activists say that especially in the case of Israel, these social media warnings are warranted.
“There’s a danger that Israel is becoming a safe haven for pedophiles and alleged perpetrators,” said Manny Waks, a survivor of child abuse and the founder of Kol V’Oz, an advocacy group addressing child sex abuse in the global Jewish community. “Of course, any criminal can flee to another country, but it’s about getting the visa to remain there. Because Israel welcomes all Jews, they’re protected from that perspective,” he said.
How easy is it for sex offenders to make aliyah?
A registered sex offender under supervision in their home country will not have that supervision transferred to Israel when they receive citizenship. A convicted criminal can make aliyah if the Interior Ministry approves their application, especially if the person has already served their sentence or the crime was a misdemeanor.
Jewish Community Watch says that 32 pedophiles in their database have moved from countries around the world to Israel in the past decade. By contrast, during the same period it has tracked just 12 Jewish pedophiles that have moved abroad from their homelands to countries other than Israel.
When sex offenders move to other countries, there is no international procedure in place for how to monitor or supervise them in their new country. However, international visa requirements make it difficult for nonresidents to live long-term in a new country. Israel is a particularly attractive destination for sex offenders, because the Law of Return allows all Jews to receive citizenship in a very short period of time.
In another, related issue, alleged pedophiles — suspected but not formally charged with any crime — sometimes flee to Israel before authorities get involved. In close-knit Jewish communities, especially among the ultra-Orthodox, a distrust of authorities and tradition of keeping problems “within the community” means that allegations of abuse can arise well before victims notify law enforcement. This gives the purported pedophiles ample time to flee to Israel and apply for aliyah.
If there are no ongoing legal cases against them at the time of their application, they are approved for citizenship in Israel. Even if the authorities in their home countries do move to press charges after the aliyah process is completed, Israel is often reluctant to extradite citizens, meaning the perpetrator can continue to live in Israel and move about freely.
“Education of this issue in the Haredi world is lacking. There are serious shortfalls,” said Waks, who grew up in Melbourne’s Chabad community and was abused at the Melbourne Yeshiva. “They bring teachers in and out of yeshivas without doing checks. The Israeli government needs to look at this issue to address it, because it is an injustice to the victims and a danger to Israeli children.”
Waks has just published his first book, “Who Gave you Permission? The Story of a Child Sexual-Abuse Survivor Who Fought Back” about his own struggle as a survivor of child sex abuse.
The book, available from Scribe, also explores the aftermath of his allegations — how his family was treated and ostracized in the wake of his decision to go to the Australian police about the abuse, and his role as a victim’s advocate in the Jewish community. The title comes from an angry sermon given at the Melbourne Yeshiva synagogue, directed at Waks’s father, demanding to know “Who gave you permission to speak to anybody?”
“The broad statistics are that one in five kids is abused by the age of 18. This is true for the US, it’s true for Israel, and true for Australia,” said Waks. “Only 30% of victims ever disclose their abuse, and on average it takes 20 years for them to disclose it.”