Jewish Agency and Kol v’Oz partner to protect children

“We know of 60 convicted and credibly accused perpetrators of child sexual abuse who have made aliyah,” says Manny.

MANNY WAKS’S greater goal: Changing the culture around discussion of child sex abuse.  (photo credit: TIM KNOX)
MANNY WAKS’S greater goal: Changing the culture around discussion of child sex abuse.
(photo credit: TIM KNOX)
“The concern is that Israel is viewed by many as an ‘ir miklat,’” according to Manny Waks, CEO of the international child protection organization Kol v’Oz. He is referring to the cities of refuge described in the book of Deuteronomy for those whose actions led to an accidental death, therefore protecting them from retaliation by the victim’s family.
The case of Malka Leifer, whose ultra-Orthodox school helped her escape with her family to Israel, has sparked outrage in Israel and abroad because of the justice system’s failure to extradite her to Australia to stand trial for abusing three teenage sisters. Although Leifer was born in Israel, her case has called attention to immigrants who made aliyah in the wake of sexual abuse allegations.
One example is Ephraim Shrivjer of the Netherlands, who made aliyah after complaints about his molesting of a 13-year-old were made to the school where he worked. In 2016, Israel extradited him to the Netherlands, where he was sentenced to two years of prison.
While most countries require potential immigrants to undergo intensive vetting, Israel’s Law of Return allows anyone who can prove Jewish lineage to apply for aliyah. But first, they must open a file with the Jewish Agency. This places the organization in a unique position.
Waks recently met with chairman of the Executive Isaac Herzog and deputy chairman David Breakstone to discuss ways of preventing perpetrators and alleged perpetrators of sex abuse from making aliyah, and other ways of helping victims.
“We know of 60 convicted and credibly accused perpetrators of child sexual abuse who have made aliyah,” says Manny. “There are likely many more, with the vast majority from the ultra-Orthodox community. Their institutions help them come here to avoid justice. The unique element within the haredi community is the lack of exposure to media.”
Leifer lived for several years under the radar in the haredi enclave of Emanuel before her victims found her.
WAKS HIMSELF was sexually abused as a child by men within the close-knit Chabad community of Melbourne, Australia, where he grew up. In retrospect, his aliyah path was closely tied to the abuse. “I left home at 18, the first opportunity. Clearly some of my behavior in Israel was a cry for help.” He disclosed his abuse in Australia while on leave from the army, where he served as a lone soldier, and continued the process back in Israel.
“I personally know quite a few victims,” says Waks, “who joined the Israeli army in part to regain a sense of masculinity, after being sexually assaulted as a male.”
Waks noted that lone soldiers who come from abroad have a higher suicide rate than soldiers with family in Israel. Dave Gordon, a lone soldier from Detroit who had been a public advocate for victims of child sex abuse, was found dead in 2014 after a military operation. “It’s not enough to encourage Jews to make aliyah and join the army; we have to look after them. Child sex abuse is often disclosed decades after it occurs, and olim need to know what resources are available.”
Jewish Agency employees interact with members of the Jewish community in the Diaspora, where they run programs on aliyah, Jewish identity and continuity. Kol v’Oz hopes to offer training on identifying suspected abuse, reporting it according to local laws, and dealing sensitively with disclosure.
Ultimately, Waks has a larger goal in mind: changing the culture around discussions of child sex abuse.
“The Jewish Agency is stepping away from the chair, and taking a leadership role by involving themselves in these issues. The language they use is critical, and we must be open and honest about these things.”
On the morning of his meeting with the Magazine, Waks posted on Facebook his reaction to having just read his abuser’s written response to Waks’s court testimony in a civil case. “I’m constantly reminded why most victims/survivors don’t pursue justice in any form. I genuinely feel sick,” he wrote.
“I could have met you this morning and didn’t have to mention anything on Facebook, or to you,” Waks told the Jerusalem Post. “I could have used medical cannabis, I could have sucked it up and pretended. I’ve done that before. But it’s critical that we talk about it publicly. I’m not proud... but I get so many private messages. ‘You reminded me again that it’s okay to feel like crap in the morning.’ Or, ‘Thank you for showing me that you can recover, you can look after yourself, you can meditate, you can go for a jog.’ All that language is critical.”
The Jewish Agency Executive’s David Breakstone notes, “The role of The Jewish Agency, through its Eligibility Department in the Aliyah, Absorption and Special Operations Unit, is to examine candidates’ documents determining aliyah eligibility, on behalf of the Population and Immigration Authority – the authorized body under the Law of Return – that ultimately determines whether or not a candidate can make aliyah. In this process, every effort is made to avoid allowing sexual offenders and others with a criminal record to immigrate to Israel. We are currently examining if and how The Jewish Agency, through our Eligibility Department, can further assist the Population and Immigration Authority regarding aliyah eligibility checks of candidates with suspected sexual criminal backgrounds. We will continue to assure that our own emissaries who deal with potential immigrants remain sensitive to the subject.”