A prominent Israeli rabbi who has withdrawn his support for a woman who fled to Israel amid a cloud of child molestation allegations reportedly did so under pressure from donors, who threatened to stop funding a charity organization he runs.
Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman issued a statement on Monday withdrawing his involvement in the case of the woman — who is wanted in Australia for 74 counts of sexual abuse, including rape, while she taught at a local Jewish school — just a week after he had recommended to the court that she be placed in house arrest under his supervision.
“I am very sensitive to the pain and plight of children and adults who are abused,” he said in the statement, stopping short of a direct apology. “It is regretful that the current turmoil has in any way called into question that mission and dedication.”
Last month, the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s court ruled that it would delay consideration of whether to extradite the suspect to Australia until a psychiatrist could review her case. Her name is gagged in Israel by court order because she has not been accused of committing a crime in the country.
Last week, Grossman served as a character witness for the defendant in the Jerusalem District Court, saying that “for her to be in custody is a humiliation.”
He offered to host her under house arrest at his home, adding that if she left the house “for even a second, we will take her straight to the police immediately,” according to the Brisbane Times.
But Grossman’s change of heart wasn’t prompted by a “moral realization,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported Thursday, quoting multiple sources in both Australia and Israel. Rather, it was caused by a barrage of complaints from donors, staff and board members of Migdal Ohr, the organization he has been running for at-risk youth for decades, and for which he has received the Israel Prize.
Major donors, particularly in the United States, were said to have demanded that Grossman retract his support for the 54-year-old former teacher.
The report quoted one source as saying he “personally knew people who had contacted board members to complain, only to be told they were sullying the reputation of a fine man.”
A group of activists from Australia and the US, as well as several Australian rabbis, penned an open letter to Grossman published on social media, accusing him of ignoring the plight of the woman’s victims.
“Your conduct in this matter raises many serious questions,” the letter said. “By involving yourself in legal proceedings which have nothing to do with you for the purpose of supporting an alleged multiple rapist and child sexual abuser and in showing no regard for the pain and suffering of her alleged victims, you are guilty of not only gross Rabbinic overreach but have also committed a huge Chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name), which has brought the entire Jewish community into disrepute.”
After Grossman offered to host the woman during her house arrest, the judge agreed to release her to Grossman’s custody in the town of Migdal Ha’emek, prompting harsh criticism from activists who want to see her extradited to Australia and held to account.
The decision was overturned days later by the Supreme Court, which ordered her kept in police custody.
Grossman received the Israel Prize in 2004 and the Presidential Medal of Distinction in 2013 for having rehabilitated tens of thousands of disadvantaged children through his educational work, which began in 1972. He was twice offered the position of chief rabbi of Israel, but declined in order to focus on his position as head of a yeshiva in Migdal Ha’emek.
On Monday, critics commended Grossman’s decision to withdraw his offer, but slammed him for failing to offer an apology as well. That was before the report about the donors’ threats to withdraw support from his organization.
“Once he takes full and unequivocal responsibility for what he has done, we expect him to undergo an education process regarding the issue of child sexual abuse, so that he will be better placed to address such cases in the future,” victims rights advocate Manny Waks said in a statement.
Dassi Erlich, who has accused the woman of abusing her when she was a pupil, issued an angry statement after last week’s court decision was announced.
The woman “has been released on bail based on some random rabbi’s testimony that he will supervise her,” Erlich charged on Facebook. “If Rabbi Grossman can have a voice, someone who is not a part of this case at all, where is our voice?!”
While often lauded for his philanthropic work, it was not the first time Grossman sought to assist an accused sex offender.
The suspect in the current case is accused of sexually abusing children while she was a teacher and principal at a Melbourne school, Adass Israel.
She fled to Israel in 2008, days before allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced.
She was arrested last month on suspicion of obstructing court proceedings and attempting to hide evidence of a case, according to a joint Justice Ministry and police statement. She had been living in the West Bank settlement of Emmanuel.
Israeli police have said she is feigning mental illness to avoid extradition to Australia.
Her lawyer, Yehuda Fried, said last week that the court ruled she should be dealt with “in the realm of mental illness.” Fried said that likely meant a years-long process before her extradition can be reconsidered.
But Israel’s Court Administration later said that the court will convene again on March 28 after a psychiatric evaluation has been carried out, indicating an extradition decision could be made sooner.
She was arrested following an undercover investigation at Interpol’s request and is suspected of obstructing Israeli court proceedings by attempting to hide evidence.
A court previously stopped extradition proceedings after determining she was not fit to stand trial.
Jacob Magid and agencies contributed to this report.