Prominent rabbi accused of groping identified as Netivot mystic Netanel Shriki

Three women have filed police complaints accusing the religious leader of sexual misconduct when they came to him for counsel

Rabbi Netanel Shriki of Netivot in 2017. (YouTube screen capture)
Rabbi Netanel Shriki of Netivot in 2017. (YouTube screen capture)

A prominent rabbi under arrest over complaints of sexual misconduct was identified Tuesday as Netanel Shriki, a religious leader in the hardscrabble southern town of Netivot.

Shriki was arrested Monday night after two women filed police complaints claiming he had groped them during counseling sessions. A third woman came forward to file a complaint on Tuesday, after his name was publicized.

Shriki’s remand was extended by the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court until Thursday. The court said there was reasonable suspicion Shriki could be a “danger” to the complainants and might attempt to obstruct the investigation.

Shriki is a well-known figure in Netivot and among Likud leaders. Seen as a mystic by supporters, he became known as the “tunnels rabbi” after praying for the destruction of Hamas’s cross-border tunnels in 2016.

The first complaint against Shriki was filed with Beersheba police on Thursday by a woman who had gone to seek his counsel after she and her husband could not conceive a child.

Rabbi Netanel Shriki prays at the Gaza border for Hamas tunnels to collapse, May 2016 (Facebook)

According to her police complaint, during the meeting he asked her to lift her shirt and bra so he could examine her. The woman, a physician, said she didn’t understand why he needed to examine her. He then touched her breast and stomach. She said he told her he understood why her husband loved her, and said her breasts were perfect.

She told officers she felt nausea and “unbearable humiliation” from the incident.

The next day, after seeing the complaint reported on the news — with the rabbi’s name still withheld — a second woman came forward and filed a complaint against him. The second woman’s complaint told a similar story of the rabbi asking her to remove her shirt during a consultation.

The woman told officers she knew of at least two others who had been subjected to inappropriate behavior by the rabbi.

After his name was made public on Tuesday, a third woman came forward.

An aerial view of the southern town of Netivot. (Wikipedia/Lehava Center/SkyPic aerial photography/Pikiwiki Israel/CC BY)

Shriki was questioned on Monday at the Beersheba Police Department, where investigators staged a confrontation between him and the first two women.

Shriki’s attorney Zion Amir said Tuesday the rabbi “completely, absolutely denies these claims. There are no small number of indications that support his version of events. We have full confidence in his claim that he’s innocent.”

An attorney for the first complainant, Suzie Arania, praised the police for “treating the complaint with utmost seriousness and investigating the case fully. The women are cooperating fully with the investigators in order to enable the truth to come out about [Shriki’s] behavior. From their testimony, it appears we’re seeing similar acts, a pattern,” she told Channel 12.

In asking for the court’s permission to publicize the rabbi’s identity, a police representative told the court that “at this point in the case it appears that there were still more incidents, and publicity could prompt additional women to complain who had feared to do so beforehand.”

The rabbi’s assistant, who has not been named, was also arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of obstruction.

The case is the second investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by a rabbi in two months. In July, police arrested a rabbi suspected of sexual misdeeds toward his male students. Several of the rabbi’s aides were also briefly detained in the investigation, which is still underway.

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