Evidence seemingly corroborating the testimony of two victims of sexual assault against their alleged abuser has led advocacy groups to strongly condemn the leadership of the Dutch Jewish community and accuse it of sweeping the allegations under the carpet.
In a recorded phone conversation from 2011 obtained by The Jerusalem Post between alleged sex-abuser Rabbi Mendel Levine and one of his victims, Levine appears to admit to having experienced problematic ‘urges’ and to agreeing to pay for the therapy of his victims.
Levine, from the Chabad
community, was born and raised in the US, but began serving as the rabbi of the Nijmegen Jewish community in the Netherlands in 2009.
Allegations were first made against him in 2011 and the chief rabbi of Holland was made aware of the existence of a second complainant in 2013, but an investigation was only launched in January this year when a Dutch daily newspaper revealed that there was another victim.
The allegations against Levine were first made by Meyer Seewald, who went on to establish the Jewish Community Watch organization, while a second victim subsequently came forward with similar claims.
Seewald published an account of his experience on the JCW website, originally called Crown Heights Watch, in 2011, while the Dutch daily newspaper De Telegraaf
reported on a second complainant in January this year, naming Levine as the alleged perpetrator.
The recorded phone conversation between Seewald and Levine casts doubt on the findings of an investigative committee established by the NIK umbrella organization of the Jewish community in the Netherlands, whose complete report was never published, but which determined in May this year that no evidence of sexual misconduct had been found.
Both victims described incidents of alleged inappropriate sexual touching by Levine at a summer camp in the US in the early 2000s when they were 11 or 12 and Levine was in his late teens.
Seewald made his experience public in 2011, and the Post spoke with the second victim about their allegations.
The Organisation of Jewish Communities in the Netherlands (NIK) only initiated a formal investigation against Levine in January this year after the De Telegraaf
report about the second complainant.
The investigation was completed in May, but the full report was not published and the NIK issued a statement with just one sentence relating to its findings, where it said that the investigative committee “ has come to the conclusion that the report that the person concerned has committed sexual behavior is unfounded.”
The NIK did not explain its decision, and neither did it state which witnesses it interviewed and the evidence it reviewed, or whether or not the investigators had consulted with professionals who are experienced in dealing with sex abuse.
The Post has learned that the NIK investigators did speak with both Seewald and the second victim, and heard the recording obtained by the Post.
The conversation took place by phone in 2011 and the quality of the recording is poor, although some key comments by Levine can be plainly heard.
In the recording, the contents of which have not been previously published, Seewald is heard telling Levine that he should pay for the therapy of the victims of his abuse, to which Levine said “ok.”
Seewald then asserts that Levine should be “more than happy” to pay for the therapy, to which Levine replies “Yes.”
Levine goes on to say during the conversation “I do know things that might have happened” and that “I’m having this type of thoughts, maybe that have that to do with such… such, sickness it’s called,” and that he had “been dealing with this conflict that I felt when I was younger.”
He also talked of “urges that might have, might have been a problem,” but said that he had been “dealing with it privately” for the last five years.
When contacted by the Post, Levine declined to comment by phone on the recording or any other aspect of the allegations against him, and instead requested that questions be submitted in writing.
He did not respond to questions submitted by email however.
Officials in the NIK failed to respond to multiple requests for comment.
Manny Waks, founder and head of the Kol v’Oz organization which combats sexual abuse in the Jewish community, was strongly critical of the NIK over what he described as a lack of transparency in its investigation.
“There is overwhelming evidence that sexual abuse did in fact occur in this case, yet the investigation has concluded the exact opposite, while refusing to share basic information on how they reached their conclusion,” Waks told the Post.
“Based on all of the information at our disposal, it seems that the NIK is determined to cover up this case. I and others have offered to meet with them, yet they refuse to engage at any level. As we have seen so often, such a lack of transparency and accountability is a recipe for disaster.”
Waks was also critical of Chief Rabbi of the Netherlands Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, who is also from the Chabad community.
When the allegations first surfaced, Jacobs began to examine the issue and according to a JTA report told De Telegraaf
that he had “thoroughly looked into the matter” and had people in America look into as well, but concluded that nothing criminal had happened.
He also stated that he had been unaware that there was a second complainant until the De Telegraaf
article reported it.
Benny Forer, a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles and a member of Jewish Community Watch’s board of advisors, said that he had been contacted by a son of Jacobs in 2013 to obtain more information about the allegations.
According to Forer, Jacobs’ son failed to follow up on the conversation, but Forer emailed the rabbi directly in June 2013 telling him that he had interviewed more than one alleged victim of Mendel Levine.
Forer said that Jacobs’ son had made it very clear that he had been asked by his father to contact him regarding the issue.
Hans Knoop, a spokesman and adviser to Jacobs said in response that Rabbi Jacobs had nothing to do with the hiring of Levine, that it was the Nijmegen Jewish community which had hired him and which had the authority to fire him, and that Levine was not his responsibility.
Knoop said that the board of the Jewish community in Nijmegen had conducted some form of investigation itself beginning in 2012, but did not find any hard evidence that any sexual misconduct had taken place.
He denied that Jacobs had conducted an independent investigation, but said that it was possible it had been the board of the Nijmegen Jewish community which had asked Jacobs’ son to look into the matter.
Knoop said that of the two investigators who conducted the NIK investigation one was a professional judge and one a lawyer, and that neither had any relationship with the leadership of the NIK, and that they did not find “any hard evidence, nothing whatsoever” to corroborate the allegations. He described Seewald’s claims as “a hoax.”
He acknowledged however that he has not seen the actual report since it has not been published.
“Chief Rabbi Jacobs had nothing to do with the whole bloody affair whatsoever. He didn’t hire him [Levine], he was not involved, he did not know him,” said Knoop, adding however that if there were serious allegations “backed by hard evidence” then Jacobs would advise the board of the Jewish community in Nijmegen to fire him.
“The last thing he would do is cover up things that should not covered up, and there was no cover up because it turned out that nothing happened,” said Knoop.
The Jewish Community Watch said in response “Over the last year it has been discouraging to see that the culture of blatant cover-up, dishonesty and shunning of victims of sexual abuse in the Jewish community in the Netherlands continues to perpetuate. The investigation initiated by the NIK amounted to yet another scenario in which the facts were ignored and the community and the victims themselves, including our director Meyer Seewald, were offered no transparency. The children of the Netherlands’ Jewish community deserve far better than to have their safety and innocence sacrificed by a leadership far more concerned with its own power and reputation.”
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