(photo credit: JTA)
The Netherlands’s top court has ruled in favor of the extradition to Israel of Eliezer Berland, an elderly ultra-Orthodox rabbi who has spent the last several years fleeing from country to country after being accused of child molestation here.
Berland, 78, was arrested at the airport in Amsterdam last September following an odyssey that saw him hop across continents in an attempt to avoid capture. A member of an offshoot of the Breslov hassidic sect, he left Israel after several women, including a 15-year-old girl, complained that he had sexually abused them.
An international warrant had been issued for his arrest.
In January, Berland told a Dutch newspaper that he was a Holocaust survivor, although official biographies make no mention of this. While the country’s Justice Ministry supported his extradition, his attorney claimed he was too ill to stand trial and that Israel lacked jurisdiction.
Several dozen of Berland’s followers from Israel settled in the Netherlands to be near their spiritual leader, whom Dutch media have taken to calling the “sex rabbi.”
Prior to arriving in the Netherlands, Berland’s travels took him to Miami, Zurich, Morocco, Zimbabwe and South Africa, all the while accompanied by the same small coterie. His exit from Morocco was the result of a government-ordered deportation. According to reports, King Mohammed VI personally ordered him kicked out of the country after reading the accusations against him in a local newspaper.
Zimbabwe’s Chronicle newspaper reported that Berland, whom it described as a “mega-rich cleric,” had flown into the country on the private jet of a supporter and was living in one of the country’s more expensive hotels together with “dozens” of followers. He was questioned by local police before being forced out. When the group arrived in South Africa after Berland’s deportation from Zimbabwe, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein sent an email to his colleagues throughout the country, warning them not to provide any assistance to the group.
“Our community [must] not be involved with sheltering or supporting Berland and his followers,” Goldstein warned.
JTA contributed to this report.