Israel needs to stop being a haven for sex criminals - editorial

What happened with Leifer needs to be a lesson for the Israeli government that sex offenders are not wanted in the country.

 Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked at The Jerusalem Post's London conference on March 31, 2022. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked at The Jerusalem Post's London conference on March 31, 2022.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked announced on Tuesday that she will not be granting citizenship to Baruch Lanner, a convicted American sex offender and former rabbi in the New York area.

Shaked’s announcement – made to The Jerusalem Post’s Zvika Klein – was in response to a letter she received from Rabbinical Council of America’s President Rabbi Binyamin Blau and Rabbi Mark Dratch, the group’s executive vice president.

The rabbis wrote to Shaked in order to “express our concern that convicted serial sex offender Baruch Lanner was granted temporary residency status in Israel, and that his request for citizenship is under consideration by your ministry. Lanner served nearly three years in prison for sexually assaulting students at a Jewish high school. There are reports that he committed an array of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse involving dozens of teenagers for whom he was responsible. These cases continue to impact his victims as well as the Jewish community in North America.”

We could not agree more with the RCA and applaud the group of taking a moral and principled stand. Too often, religious groups are seen as covering up for one of their former members. It is reassuring and refreshing to see this group of rabbis doing the exact opposite.

Lanner was convicted in 2002 of sexually abusing teenage girls who were his students in the 1990s at the Hillel Yeshiva High School in Deal, New Jersey, where he had served as principal. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and served three years before being released in 2008.

 Baruch Lanner, who was convicted of abusing students at a New Jersey yeshiva where he worked, is seen here on Florida's sex offender registry. (credit: SCREENSHOT VIA JTA) Baruch Lanner, who was convicted of abusing students at a New Jersey yeshiva where he worked, is seen here on Florida's sex offender registry. (credit: SCREENSHOT VIA JTA)

We also applaud Shaked for making the right decision and clarifying that she will not be granting citizenship to Lanner.

To begin with, the story was strange. In her response, Shaked said that the decision to grant Lanner temporary residency was made by her predecessor, Arye Deri. Why he would have even considered granting citizenship to someone who has ruined the lives of so many people and is a registered sex offender in the US remains a mystery. It is true that Lanner served his time in prison and should be able to get on with his life, but that does not mean that it needs to be in Israel.

Sex offenders fleeing to Israel

Over the years, there have been numerous reports of sex offenders or alleged criminals using the Law of Return to flee to Israel. In some cases – like Malka Leifer – religious communities were complicit in hiding and providing safe havens for these offenders.

In 2020, a report on CBS claimed that 60 sex offenders from the US had fled over the years to Israel and were living out in the open within religious and observant communities.

Leifer was a case in point. She was a former school principal in Australia, where she was accused of 74 counts of child sexual abuse and rape. Leifer escaped to Israel in 2008 after the accusations first surfaced, and it took 13 years and more than 60 court appearances for her extradition to finally go through.

Yes, this is the Jewish state and should be open to all types of Jews, but even that has limits. The members of Knesset who passed the law in the 1950s understood this when they added in Section 2b, which grants the Interior minister authority to deny citizenship to people who have a criminal record or pose a danger and threat to the State of Israel.

Lanner falls under that category, and thankfully Shaked used her authority to prevent him from winning citizenship. Receiving an Israeli identity card and passport is a privilege that needs to be respected. Giving it to someone who is still listed on the National Sex Offender Registry in the US would have been a mistake.

Shaked was right to use the Lanner case as an opportunity to rectify this situation and send a clear message that Israel will not be a safe haven for sexual criminals – those convicted and those under investigation or on trial.

What happened with Leifer needs to be a lesson for the Israeli government that sex offenders are not wanted in the country. The way her extradition process dragged out was a stain on the Israeli justice system and cannot be allowed to serve as encouragement for others like her.