A leading organization of U.S. Orthodox rabbis is pressing the Israeli government to deny citizenship to convicted child sex abuser Rabbi Baruch Lanner, saying his presence in the country poses “a threat to public health and safety."
In a letter sent Monday to Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, leaders of the Rabbinical Council of America said they were concerned Lanner had been granted temporary residency status in Israel and was being considered for citizenship. Lanner served three years in prison after being convicted of sexually assaulting students at a Jewish high school while he was principal, and other investigations have found evidence 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 points to a clause in Israel’s Law of Return that allow Israeli officials to deny Israeli citizenship to Diaspora Jews who are likely to “endanger public health.”
“Lanner is on the U.S. Sex Offender Registry,” the letter continues. “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.”
“We urge you to deny his application for citizenship,” it says.
Earlier this month Haaretz revealed that Lanner, 72, had been granted temporary residence in Israel, allowing him to stay in the country while further background checks are conducted on him before he is potentially approved for Israeli citizenship. His wife has already been granted full aliyah and citizenship status.
A probe by the RCA-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.
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The OU 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 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 crimes took place. The lawsuit alleges that the organizations allowed Lanner’s “willful, malicious and wanton” behavior to persist for years despite multiple complaints.
When asked about the Lanner case earlier this month, an Israel Interior Ministry spokeswoman said that as a rule, when individuals eligible for aliyah under the Law of Return have a criminal record, "We sometimes decide not to give them any status and sometimes decide to give them temporary status while examining their cases."
The spokeswoman said the decision to grant Lanner temporary status had been made when Arye Dery, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, had been interior minister. She added that the details of the case "will be thoroughly examined."
Last month Lanner appeared, face blurred, in a testimonial video posted by the law firm of immigration attorney Tomer Warsha saying, “I had some legal issues in the United States and I never thought I would be able to make aliyah. ... They got it accomplished. My wife got full aliyah today and I got my A-5 and I’m on the way there, and with God’s help it will be completed.” The video has since been removed from the law firm's website.