(photo credit: JTA)
Rabbi Eliezer Berland, who has been accused of sexually assaulting several of his female followers, has reportedly fled the Netherlands to avoid extradition to Israel.
Berland, whose extradition was authorized last week by a Dutch court, failed to report to police on Tuesday, and Dutch prosecutors believe he may have fled to a country that does not have an extradition treaty with Israel.
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.
Berland lived in Morocco, Zimbabwe and Switzerland after fleeing Israel in 2012.
Several dozen of his followers from Israel settled in the Netherlands to be near their spiritual leader, whom Dutch media have taken to calling the “sex rabbi.”
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 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.
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.
Berland has denied the allegations against him. He fought his extradition on the grounds that the alleged assaults happened in the West Bank and Israel does not have jurisdiction there.Sam Sokol contributed to this report.