Interior Ministry: US rabbi convicted of sexual assault won’t receive citizenship

Baruch Lanner, who was convicted for abusing pupils, will be allowed to remain in Israel for the next year under a temporary residence visa

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Disgraced rabbi Baruch Lanner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting students, in an undated photograph. (LinkedIn)
Disgraced rabbi Baruch Lanner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting students, in an undated photograph. (LinkedIn)

The Interior Ministry has denied the immigration request of an American Orthodox rabbi convicted of sexually assaulting his pupils, the ministry said Tuesday.

However, the disgraced rabbi, Baruch Lanner, will be able to remain in Israel for nearly a full year with the temporary residency status he was granted a few weeks ago, a spokesperson for the ministry’s Immigration and Population Authority told The Times of Israel.

“Interior Minister [Ayelet Shaked] clarified this morning that in light of his grave actions, she has no intention of approving his request to receive citizenship after the temporary residency visa he has expires,” the spokesperson said.

Lanner served nearly three years in US prison for sexual assault crimes. Dozens of other victims have accused him over the years, but their allegations were not included in the indictments against him.

According to the ministry, the decision to grant Lanner temporary residency status through an A-5 visa was made by the previous interior minister, Aryeh Deri, though he too denied Lanner citizenship “in light of his criminal past.”

The spokesperson said it was not feasible for Shaked to revoke the temporary residency visa. “If she could, it would be much easier. Believe me,” the official said.

Under his A-5 temporary residence visa, Lanner can freely live and work in Israel for roughly the next year.

Lanner’s crimes were first uncovered by the New York Jewish Week newspaper, prompting an investigation in 2000 by Lanner’s former employer, the Orthodox Union, which found he was responsible for a series of incidents of sexual, physical and emotional abuse involving dozens of teenagers in his charge. He was convicted in 2002 of endangering the welfare of two girls during his time as principal of Hillel Yeshiva High School in Deal, New Jersey, in the 1990s.

Earlier this month, the law firm representing Lanner released a video about his case, tipping off activists about his immigration efforts. In the video, in which Lanner and his wife’s faces are blurred, Lanner praised the attorney, Tomer Warsha, for helping them, saying: “I had some legal issues in the United States and I never thought I would be able to make aliyah.” The video has since been deleted.

Baruch Lanner’s mugshot and the exterior of the Interior Ministry building in Jerusalem. (Public domain; Flash90)

Lanner’s second wife applied for citizenship with him and received it. Her immigration status will not be affected by Shaked’s decision.

Lanner’s attorney said he could not comment on his clients or even confirm that they were in fact his clients.

Shaked’s decision came after near-universal criticism of the decision to grant Lanner temporary residency in Israel, both from Israelis and American Jews.

On Monday, one of the leadership bodies of the Orthodox Union — the Rabbinical Council of America — sent Shaked a letter about Lanner’s immigration case, warning that he represented a threat to public safety.

“We write on behalf of the Rabbinical Council of America, the leading membership organization of Orthodox rabbis in North America, to express our concern that convicted sexual offender Baruch Lanner was granted temporary residency status in Israel and that his request for citizenship is under consideration by your ministry,” the group wrote.

“Lanner is on the US Sex Offender Registry. 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,” the rabbis wrote.

Under Israel’s Law of Return, anyone who is Jewish or who has at least one Jewish grandparent is eligible for Israeli citizenship. However, requests can be denied if they are “likely to endanger public health or the security of the State” or are “engaged in an activity directed against the Jewish people.”

The letter was signed by the president of the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbi Binyamin Blau, and the executive vice president, Rabbi Mark Dratch.

Magen, an Israeli organization that advocates for sexual abuse victims, especially in the ultra-Orthodox community, similarly raised these concerns when Lanner’s case first emerged earlier this month.

If granted citizenship, “Baruch Lanner could tomorrow walk into any school and apply for a job and be given a certificate of good standing from Israel law enforcement and get a job working with kids,” the director of Magen, Shana Aaronson, said.

According to the Haaretz newspaper, Lanner and his wife arrived in Israel as tourists and submitted their request for citizenship after landing, thereby circumventing the Jewish Agency, which handles citizenship requests in the United States and tends to reject those with criminal records. Lanner had been living in New Jersey and Florida.

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