Jewish children’s advocacy group: ‘Aliya being used by child sex offenders’

Watchdog groups claim pedophiles who immigrate can live in communities with children nearby and even get jobs at schools.

Police at the scene of a crime in Rameh in northern Israel (photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
Police at the scene of a crime in Rameh in northern Israel
(photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
A global Jewish children’s advocacy group has accused Israel of providing a safe haven for dozens of child sex offenders.
Shana Aaronson, director of the Jewish Community Watch (JCW) office in Israel has told The Jerusalem Post that the group found there are 42 suspected or convicted child sex offenders who moved to Israel from the Diaspora.
“Because Israel has the concept of the Law of Return, and Israel being a national homeland for the Jewish people, and the numerous legal rights that Jews have: to be here, to come here, to seek safe haven here, this is a particular issue with Israel, where you are going to come here and by and large you’re going to be granted automatic citizenship, and as the case may be, safe haven,” Aaronson said.
The Jewish Agency denied the allegations and said any candidates for aliya with either the Agency or the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization had to face extensive background checks before they could immigrate.
The JCW is a global group that seeks to expose offenders and warn communities about potentially dangerous people in their neighborhoods. In addition to 42 child sex offenders it says who have taken residence in Israel, the group has also identified several offenders who regularly travel in and out of Israel with ease.
Founded in 2006 by a child sex abuse survivor, the JCW is active in the US, Canada and Israel, and is dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse.
Aaronson and other activists say the aliya process allows sex offenders to provide inaccurate information about their criminal backgrounds so that they may obtain Israeli citizenship.
Avi Mayer, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency responded in an email: “We have no information to suggest that many people are able to enter Israel fraudulently and are confident in our multi-pronged vetting process.”
Sabine Hadad, a spokeswoman at the Interior Ministry, which ultimately decides matters of citizenship, said: “The procedures of the Population and Immigration Authority require an immigrant applicant to present a certificate of integrity in his name from his country of origin. If necessary, a federal certificate of integrity or a certificate will be required from the district to which the applicant belongs.”
Aaronson said, however, that it’s possible for a tourist to change their status and become an immigrant once they are already in Israel. Many are able to obtain a notarized letter instead of this certificate of integrity from local lawyers stating they do not have criminal backgrounds. These lawyers do not always investigate their client’s backgrounds.
“While the State of Israel in theory does have the right to restrict somebody from coming here if they think they will be dangerous to the citizens, they don’t necessarily know about it,” Aaronson said.
Nefesh B’Nefesh spokesman Tani Kramer said Israel is currently reevaluating its policy regarding certificates of integrity.
“In the past, federal background checks alone were not sufficient in order to make aliya, and therefore the Ministry of Interior imposed the responsibility on the oleh to declare his lack of a criminal background. This is currently being reevaluated by the Ministry of Interior. We are awaiting new instructions on this matter,” Kramer said.
The country has prevented some potential immigrants with criminal records from immigrating. A 1954 amendment to the Law of Return excludes Jews “with a criminal past, likely to endanger public welfare” from obtaining citizenship.
“Each year, Jewish Agency staff uncover a number of cases in which applicants are found to have lied on their aliya applications and those cases are handled accordingly,” Mayer said.
But according to Aaronson, many pedophiles still manage to enter the country undetected. “One can only uncover and reject what one knows about. It is those that they don’t uncover and reject, and therefore are by definition not aware of, that we are concerned about,” said Aaronson. “It is not what I would call an extensive background check by any stretch.”
Once in Israel, Jewish sex offenders can change their names and start new lives. Alarmingly, they are often free to insert themselves back into positions that will bring them into close contact with children.
Israeli authorities have a mandate to extradite suspected criminals to their countries of origin. But Aaronson alleges that because of its historic role as a protector of Jews, Israel is often reluctant to do so.
“Israel is always hesitant to extradite people,” said Aaronson. “It is just part of the system.”
Justice Ministry spokesman Noam Sharvit said there are many conditions which have to be met in order for an extradition request to be accepted, making the process complicated and time consuming. Some extradition requests are rejected.
“If a country wants us to extradite, it’s not automatic,” Sharvit said.
American prosecutors wishing to extradite a suspect from Israel face a six-step process. First police must compile the case and hand it to the prosecutor’s office where it is sent on to the governor for approval, then back to the prosecutor’s office. If it passes through these steps, the request goes on to the State Department, which may decide to send it on to Interpol for verification. Once verified by Interpol, the request heads back to the State Department which can submit an extradition request to Israel.
“When information is received from overseas government organizations such as Interpol, joint investigations are opened and continue until the suspect is found and brought to justice,” Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The process is long and daunting, and many US prosecutors are hesitant to engage. If there is no request for extradition, Israel is unlikely to seek out a charged felon, Aaronson said. She said the state tends to reject those requests that don’t list a proper address for the suspect.
However, the Justice Ministry denied that accusation. “Of course if you give an address... it helps. But this is not a condition. If there is no address, we tell the police to locate it,” Sharvit said.
Not all alleged sex offenders are extraditable. According to the Justice Ministry, Israel only entertains extradition requests for suspects for whom authorities have enough evidence to put on trial. If they are only wanted for questioning, the ministry will not accept the request, Sharvit said.
According to the JCW, pedophiles who immigrate can live in communities with children nearby and even get jobs at schools.
Manny Waks, founder and CEO of Kol V’Oz – an organization that also addresses issues of child sexual abuse in Jewish communities around the world – hopes for change through two avenues: advocacy in the Knesset and raising public awareness of the issue.
He is working with the Knesset Special Committee for the Rights of the Child and its chairwoman, MK Yifat Shasha-Biton (Kulanu), to make it more difficult for sex offenders to make aliya.
Waks believes the government should set up a commission that addresses the issue of child sex abuse both locally and in the Diaspora.
“There is certainly that strong connection between Israel and the Diaspora Jewish community, and therefore there is an opportunity to approach this issue on a global scale,” he said.
Raising public awareness and changing the culture around child sex abuse within the Jewish community is also paramount, Waks says. He encourages parents to talk to their children about it in a sensitive, open way.
“There are various age-sensitive resources available in various languages. In this day and age, it’s very easy to obtain the appropriate, culturally sensitive, age-relevant resources,” he said.
Aaronson and JCW seek to make it more difficult for sex offenders to make aliya by working with the Jewish Agency, the Association for Americans and Canadians in Israel, and Nefesh B’Nefesh.
“Those non government offices should do their part to check, why is this person suddenly making aliya? Is it because they found out their victims just went to the police?” Aaronson said.
Kramer also said: “We have strategic partnerships with the JCW and other similar organizations in order to proactively identify these individuals, and give a heads up to the appropriate authorities in order to prevent their immigration.”
Aaronson said she believes the Jewish Agency is also “making serious efforts to address this to the degree they can on their level. Ultimately the laws need to change, and for now they have really impressed upon me that they are working hard on this.”