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Israel grants residency visa to US rabbi convicted of sexually assaulting students

Baruch Lanner, who served nearly three years in prison for child sex offenses in the US, arrived in Israel as a tourist, thereby circumventing the Jewish Agency

Andrew Silow-Carroll is the editor-in-chief of JTA

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

New York Jewish Week via JTA — Baruch Lanner, an American rabbi who served nearly three years in prison for sexually assaulting students at a Jewish high school in New Jersey, has been granted a temporary residency visa that will allow him to stay in Israel while the country’s Interior Ministry reviews his request for citizenship.

Advocates for sexual abuse victims were aghast at the news, first reported by Haaretz on Thursday. While Israel’s Law of Return provides every Jew in the world the opportunity to apply for citizenship, Israel has withheld citizenship in the past from those with criminal records who are seen as posing a danger to the Israeli public.

Lanner and his second wife, who was granted citizenship, appeared in a video for the law firm that is handling the case, which alerted activists to his immigration status. In the video, in which Lanner and his wife’s faces are blurred, Lanner praises the attorney and declares, “I had some legal issues in the United States and I never thought I would be able to make aliyah,” Haaretz reported. The video has since been taken down.

In 2000, following reporting by the New York Jewish Week, Lanner’s former employer, the Orthodox Union, launched a probe indicating that Lanner was responsible for an array 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.

Late last year, alleged victims filed a civil lawsuit against Lanner and his former employers under New Jersey law that allowed for a two-year “lookback” window during which sexual abuse victims could sue their abusers and their enablers.

A pending case like that should be reason enough to reconsider Lanner’s request for residency, said Shana Aaronson, director of Magen, an Israeli organization that advocates for sexual abuse victims, especially in the Haredi Orthodox community.

“It’s more than disheartening, it’s infuriating that despite efforts by organizations like mine and by various government agencies, the government would make such a morally bankrupt decision like this,” Aaronson said.

Magen has compiled and shared with authorities lists of as many as 100 accused and convicted offenders who have applied for and succeeded in getting Israeli citizenship or residency visas, Aaronson said. She said that she had known about Lanner’s intentions to move to Israel since 2019.

“We were aware of his history and recommended strongly that he not be granted citizenship,” she said. While Lanner served his time in the 2002 case, granting him citizenship would erase the relevance of his presence on the US sex offender registry and allow an abuser like him to “disappear into general society,” said Aaronson.

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,” she said.

According to Haaretz, 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 variously in New Jersey and Florida.

“The details [of the Lanner case] will be thoroughly examined,” an Interior Ministry spokeswoman told Haaretz.

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