Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Diaspora pedophiles increasingly use Israel as ‘a haven,’ activists charge

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

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.[...]

Approval for a convicted criminal to make aliyah, i.e, immigrate to Israel, would depend on “the nature of the crime, when it was committed, and what has transpired in the interim,” said Jewish Agency spokesperson Avi Mayer.

In 1954, the Law of Return was adapted to exclude “a person with a criminal past, likely to endanger public welfare.” Mayer said that only the Interior Ministry determines what kind of criminals are considered to “endanger public welfare.”

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said any aliyah application coming from someone who was convicted of a crime goes to a special committee within the Interior Ministry, though the final say for rejecting an applicant rests with the interior minister. Hadad refused to comment on what kind of crimes render a person inadmissible for aliyah.

Even if the Interior Ministry is aware that a convicted sex criminal is under supervision in their home country, only an order from the Israeli courts can place a convicted criminal under supervision in Israel, explained Prison Services spokesman Assaf Librati. Israeli courts are unlikely to hear a case if the crime happened in another country, he added. The Prison Services monitors pedophiles convicted in Israel.

But Librati added that sex criminals are unlike other types of criminals, a position echoed by many activists. “If someone robbed a bank and served their time, they don’t need continued supervision,” he said. “But if someone abused children, they will need ongoing supervision, even if they already served their time.”

Librati called the Prison Services’s inability to monitor these pedophiles a “hole” in the law that allows convicted sex offenders to roam freely in Israel.

Just 19 countries around the world have a national sex offender registry, according to the US Department of Justice (PDF). Of those, the US is one of the few countries that makes their registry public, a situation which has its supporters and detractors. The US national registry is easily searchable on the National Sex Offender Public Website or the new mobile app. Israel has a private national sex offender registry, which only Israeli police and prison services can access.

In Israel, people who want to work in schools and with children are often asked to provide a teudat yosher from the police, which states that the person is a citizen of good standing who does not pose a risk to children’s welfare.

But because the list only relates convictions in Israel, someone who was convicted of sex crimes in another country could obtain this document in Israel, clearing them to work with children.

Jewish Community Watch is controversial in the child rights field because it publishes an online “Wall of Shame” with photos and information about accused child molesters, sometimes even before authorities convict or even arrest the alleged perpetrators. This raises concerns about vigilante justice and false accusations, though Aronson insists the organization’s internal vetting process before putting someone on the Wall of Shame is rigorous. Other organizations are more cautious, only naming perpetrators who have been indicted or convicted.

Aronson said that while the Israel branch of Jewish Community Watch does not take part in the Wall of Shame, the organization considers it an important tool when law enforcement does not adequately address abuse. It sends out updates via text message about once a month of Jewish pedophiles in its database who are getting out of prison or moving to a new community, either within the same country or abroad.[...]

Horowitz said he will be at the trial, which has already set him back more than $5,000. “Not only is there no sex offender registry, you can get sued and have to hire a lawyer and go to court just to warn parents,” he said. “No way that I’m allowing a sex offender to silence people who warn parents about sex offenders.”

“My client isn’t denying that he was convicted in New York years ago,” said Weinberg’s lawyer, Eytan Lehman.

Lehman noted that it is legal to publish information about the conviction. “[Horowitz] claims that Mr. Weinberg fled from the States, running from a federal investigation, and this is a complete lie, and when you write lies you will be sued for libel,” he said. Lehman said that there is no open police investigation into his client.[...]

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