Convicted Sex Abuser Rabbi Baruch Lanner Denied Israeli Citizenship

Haaretz revealed that Rabbi Baruch Lanner, who served prison time for sexually assaulting students at the New Jersey high school where he was principal, was granted a temporary residence in Israel, but 'in light of his offenses' the Interior Ministry said it will deny him citizenship

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Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a convicted child sex abuser, has been denied the right to Israeli citizenship, a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry said Tuesday.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked “clarified this morning, that in light of his offenses, she does not intend to approve his request for citizenship” when his temporary visa to the country expires. Her decision comes a day after the largest Orthodox organization in the United States sent her a letter urging her to deny Lanner’s application.

The ministry, however, did not announce the cancellation of Lanner’s A-5 temporary resident visa, a status which is usually granted for a year's time, allowing holders to live and work in the country.

Baruch Lanner.Credit: Florida Department of Law Enforcement

“The question is whether it will be extended,” said immigration and human rights attorney Yadin Elam, noting that Israel has people who reside in the country with such visas on a long-term basis.

“With Lanner’s wife being an Israeli citizen, I doubt they will cancel or refuse to extend his visa and throw him out of the country,” Elam said. “What is most likely is that he will be able to keep his visa, with the understanding that if he violates the law in any way, they will revoke it, and he would have to leave.”

“We're pleased that the Interior Ministry has made the decision to deny citizenship to Lanner,” said Shana Aronson, executive director of Magen, an Israel-based non-profit that advocates and provides services to victims of sexual abuse. "I certainly hope they will not allow them to renew his visa."

"We are relieved for his victims who now live in Israel, who will now be spared the pain of seeing their abuser given refuge in the country they have made their home," Aronson added, saying she hopes the ministry "will continue to prioritize the safety and security of its children and most vulnerable citizens when considering the aliyah applications of sex offenders.”

On July 7, Haaretz revealed that Lanner, 72, had been granted temporary residence in Israel, allowing him to stay in the country, while, according to the ministry, “a thorough examination” of his case would be conducted. His wife has already been granted full aliyah and citizenship status. At the time, and again in the current announcement, Shaked and the ministry stressed that the decision to grant Lanner a temporary visa was made by the previous interior minister Arye Dery.

In Tuesday’s announcement, they noted that Dery “also had not found it appropriate to grant [Lanner] full immigrant status in light of his crimes.”

On Monday, leaders of the Rabbinical Council of America sent a letter to Shaked, urging her to deny him citizenship. Lanner served three years in prison after being convicted of sexually assaulting students at a Jewish high school in New Jersey while he was principal, and other investigations have found evidence that he committed decades of abuse.

"There are reports that he committed an array of sexual, physical and emotional abuse involving dozens of teenagers for whom he was responsible," reads the letter. "These cases continue to impact his victims as well as the Jewish community in North America.”

Signed by the rabbinical council's president, Rabbi Binyamin Blau, and Executive President Mark Dratch, the letter pointed to a clause in Israel’s Law of Return, which gives Israeli officials the latitude to deny the right of Israeli citizenship to Diaspora Jews who are likely to “endanger public health.”

“Lanner is on the U.S. Sex Offender Registry,” the letter continued. “We are very concerned that granting him citizenship would erase the relevance of this listing and enable him to disappear into general society, clearly a threat to public health and safety.” It concludes, “We urge you to deny his application for citizenship.”

A probe by the rabbinical council-affiliated Orthodox Union, where Lanner worked for decades for the movement’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth, found that Lanner had committed decades of sexual, physical and emotional abuse of teenagers in his charge. In 2002, he was convicted of sexually abusing two teenage girls who were students in the 1990s at the Hillel Yeshiva High School in Ocean Township, New Jersey, where Lanner was principal.

The Orthodox Union investigation was launched following an exposé in New York Jewish Week in 2000. An appeals court later dismissed one of two child endangerment charges against Lanner.

Lanner is also currently facing a civil lawsuit filed late last year in New Jersey against him, as well as against the Orthodox Union and the National Conference of Synagogue Youth – a result of the state's newly established “lookback” window that allows sexual abuse victims to sue abusers and their enablers many years after the abuse took place. The lawsuit alleges that the organizations allowed Lanner’s “willful, malicious and wanton” behavior to persist for years despite multiple complaints.

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