Suspect in wife’s murder named as veteran doctor with history of aid, abuse

Suspect in wife’s murder named as veteran doctor with history of aid, abuse

Giora Praff, 65, who took part in countless humanitarian missions, also allegedly assaulted second wife when she asked for divorce; was convicted in US court of beating first wife

Dr. Giora Praff during a 2012 interview with Channel 1. (Screenshot: YouTube)
Dr. Giora Praff during a 2012 interview with Channel 1. (Screenshot: YouTube)

A man suspected of killing his wife was named Monday as Giora Praff, 65, a well-known humanitarian doctor who took part in several international aid missions and was the first Israeli member of the Red Cross.

Praff, whose wife, Esti Ahronovitz, was found shot to death in their home on Sunday, was well regarded in Israel, the US, and other countries, but also had a dark side and has been accused of domestic violence, stalking, assault, and harassment.

In 1993, he pleaded guilty to beating his first wife, Heidi Praff, according to Maryland public records. Ahronovitz was Praff’s third wife.

Ahronovitz, 70, was found dead on Sunday evening, in the small community of Talmei Eliyahu in the southern Eshkol region.

She is survived by four children and nine grandchildren, and worked as an elementary school music teacher, prior to her retirement. She was buried Monday evening in a private ceremony.

Praff was apprehended when his car flipped over on the side of the road in the area, hours after his wife’s body was discovered, after police tried to reach him. Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center said Monday that he was in a moderate condition.

A court remanded Praff for four days on Monday evening, although he has remained hospitalized and was unable to attend the hearing.

Esti Ahronovitz, whose husband is suspected of her murder on November 3, 2019. (Facebook)

While Praff has been mainly known as a respected and celebrated veteran humanitarian doctor who operated in countless countries, his second wife told the Ynet news site that he had stalked and harassed her repeatedly after they separated.

“He has a charming side and a twisted side,” said the woman, identified as Nirit, who lives in the United States. “I spoke with Esti once and told her I think there is a problem, but she didn’t want to listen. She was in love with him. He has a charm. He excels at everything. Nobody ever believed what I said about him — they said I was inventing stories because he’s smart and a genius.”

“I’m simply in shock, I lived with a murderer,” said Nirit, who was married to Praff for 13 years. “I’m not overly surprised. I suffered a lot from this man.”

Nirit, a former journalist, said they met when she interviewed Praff, after he had saved a woman with a brain tumor in the United States. “I fell for him. He was smart and intelligent, funny, and nice. He connected with my kids beautifully and told me his [first] wife doesn’t let him meet his kids. Later, I discovered an arrest warrant had been issued against him in the US because he hadn’t paid alimony. Had I known, I wouldn’t have married him in 1996.”

Nirit said that when she told him she wanted a divorce, he became abusive, also after they separated. “It didn’t end until I contacted police,” she said. “He would call me in the middle of the night and would try to get into my house. He would drive by my house repeatedly and follow me when I went swimming in the morning. I did everything to make me miserable. There were many moments in which I was afraid and was told to get a restraining order.”

When Nirit’s father died, she said, Praff came to her home during the shiva mourning period and assaulted her, holding her against the wall and trying to kiss her. “He didn’t let go until I screamed,” she said.

He also sent letters to her children and friends and “said I was a horrible person, told them awful things.”

The abuse only ended, Nirit said, when he met Esti.

Praff’s lawyer, Tsiki Feldman, decried the publication of the allegations against Praff as “unfair,” adding that “my client is in no condition to comment. He is currently sedated and on a respirator. As long as I haven’t spoken to him I have nothing to say.”

An internet user using Praff’s name in 2014 wrote in a forum on mediation and conflict management: “I think divorce should be illegal in Israel and reserved only for extreme cases. A healthy and stable family is a key component of a healthy, productive society.”

In a 2012 interview, Praff said: “At home it’s not always good. You don’t always manage to be a good father, and don’t always manage to be a good husband. The family has certain demands that you can’t always fulfill. One of my sons always reminds me that he had needed me and I was in some desolate place abroad. It’s not always easy. Giving is what keeps me alive.”

Praff served as a medic in the IDF Armored Corps and took part in the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the First Lebanon War in 1982.

He studied with the Red Cross in Switzerland and became an expert on humanitarian and rescue missions in areas hit by war and natural disasters.

Over the years he worked at John Hopkins and Sinai Baltimore hospitals in the US, where he was a clinical professor. He volunteered as the manager of a hospice for terminally ill patients in Maryland. He was a senior doctor for 10 years at Native American reservations in North Dakota and South Dakota, and participated in complex rescue mission in Alaska in extreme temperatures.

He also spent time as a doctor and hospital manager in Equatorial Guinea, and was personally honored by the king and queen of Cambodia for heading a medical delegation during that country’s civil war. He also headed similar delegations in Armenia, Georgia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar.

The apparent homicide came as activists continue to push for tougher action to stem domestic abuse and violence against women.

Hagit Pe’er, head of the Na’amat women’s organization, told Channel 13 news that the government was prioritizing spending on elections and defense, and not on the protection of women.

“Women continue to be murdered and the Israeli government remains indifferent. Budgets for two elections are plentiful — the budget for an emergency plan to combat violence against women? None. The cabinet convened for a four-hour debate on the threat from Gaza. Will the government devote such a special emergency to internal threats?” she said.

Ahronovitz is the 13th woman in Israel thought to have been murdered by a relative or acquaintance in Israel this year, according to a tally by Ynet.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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