Private Event Hosting ultra-Orthodox Sex Offender and Ex-fugitive Canceled After Backlash

The Dimona venue canceled the event with the sex offender Rabbi Eliezer Berland after the mayor intervened in the affair, citing issues with business permit as cause for cancellation

Rabbi Eliezer Berland, who is wanted for sex crimes in Israel, appears before the Randburg magistrate's court, South Africa, April 20, 2016.
Ilan Ossendryver, SA Jewish Report

An event scheduled for Thursday at a privately-owned performance and event venue in Dimona has been canceled by the venue after it learned that the event would be attended by Rabbi Eliezer Berland, a convicted sex offender. The cancellation came after pressure was applied on the venue’s owners by Dimona’s mayor, by female city councilors and by other women in the city. It is not known yet if an alternate site has been found for the event.

The gathering was to have taken place in the Adora event venue, which opened just two months ago. Dimona City spokesman Amos Sarig said that mayor Benny Biton spoke with one of the owners, telling him that there was a serious problem with the proposed event for two reasons – one was the hosting of a person convicted of sex crimes, for which he had gone to jail, and one was that the venue had no business license.

Although one of the venue’s owners, David Alon, told Haaretz that the event was canceled since they did not yet have a license, the venue’s Facebook page shows that events have taken place there since it opened.

The event was organized by ultra-Orthodox Breslau Hasidim in the city and was supposed to host Rabbis Berland, Ofer Erez and Moshe Tsanani. Shahar Ben-Zikri, a Dimona resident who had organized the event, told Haaretz that the venue’s owner had agreed to host it and had been paid. “This is a private business and a private event – I don’t understand why the mayor is intervening,” said Ben-Zikri. He said he had spoken to the owners after speaking with Haaretz, and learned that the event could not take place since there was no business permit. “He [the owner] said that he would try to deal with that the next day.”

Marinette Vaknin, a city councilor and a former head of the Negev branch of the Na’amat women’s organization, told Haaretz that “I and several other women spoke with the venue’s owner. I believe that a rabbi convicted of sex offenses should not be hosted here. That’s my opinion, and I represent thousands of other women.” Daniella Hermon, a Dimona resident and social activist said there was a group who objected to Berland’s visit, including Breslau Hasidim and some women. “We hope they don’t move the event to a private home or another place. We’re obtaining a permit for holding a demonstration so that if it takes place we’ll be there demonstrating.”

Berland was convicted on two counts of inappropriate sexual touching and on counts of assault. He confessed as part of a plea bargain and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He served only 12 of these due to deterioration in his health. Since his release, his lectures have drawn much fire from citizens and social activists. Two weeks ago Berland took part in an event at a venue belonging to a synagogue in Ashkelon. The Israel Center for Cult Victims had appealed to Ashkelon mayor Tomer Galam after learning about the event, asking him to block it. The city said that this was a private event which it was unauthorized to block and that it was unable to dictate to organizers who the participants could be.