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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Israeli Parents Turn To U.S. Donors To Stop Sex offender Rabbi From Teaching

Rabbi Moti Elon

Furious that convicted sex offender Rabbi Moti Elon will continue to teach at Bnei Akiva Yeshiva Or Etzion, concerned Israeli parents are turning to the American Friends of Yeshiva Bnei Akiva to protest his continued employment. They are also asking for support in pressuring Or Etzion head Rabbi Haim Druckman to reverse the decision to retain him.

Keeping Elon as a lecturer despite his conviction on two counts of forcible sexual assault and sentencing of community service was a decision made by Druckman, a prominent figure in the national religious world who, along with heading Or Etzion, serves as chairman of the Bnei Akiva schools network, a fact which particularly disturbs many parents with children in the Bnei Akiva educational system.

Beit Shemesh resident Miriam Zussman has distributed a letter to Bnei Akiva supporters abroad, asking them to alert members. of the board of American Friends of Yeshiva Bnei Akiva to the issue. In the letter, she describes Elon as a “dangerous, habitual sexual predator.”

The decision to continue to allow him to teach, she wrote, “reflects very badly on Rabbi Druckman's judgment and calls into question whether he should be entrusted with the welfare of the 24,000 students in the school network…. If you agree and are a donor to YBA or know any of the North American leaders ...I would appreciate if you could contact them and explain how dangerous the support of Moti Elon is, and how flawed Rabbi Druckman's judgment has become.”

Activist Israeli opponents of Druckman’s decision created a popular Facebook page called “Supporters of the Victims of Rabbi Elon”whose slogan is “those who deny sexual violence, permit sexual violence.”

Among those spearheading the effort to pressure Druckman to remove Elon from the yeshiva is Daniel Goldman, co-chairman of the World Bnei Akiva organization. “As head of the network, Rav Druckman has a much greater responsibility than someone who runs his own institution. The fact that he is ignoring and denying the outcome of the appointed court of law on this matter, makes a bad statement and sends a bad message with respect to what we say about what goes on within our schools and what should be the level of tolerance of people who have been convicted of sexual offenses - there should be zero tolerance. Whatever personal feelings Rabbi Druckman might have shouldn’t matter,” Goldman told Haaretz.

Goldman said the decision to turn to the American organization was made “since Rabbi Druckman seems to be immune to criticism in Israel, I wouldn’t do it under other circumstances - but I think people feel strongly.”

Goldman noted that, to put it mildly, Druckman is “not somebody who responds well to criticism” and because of his age and position ‘it is quite difficult to apply any sort of sanction” against him within his organization. The irony, Goldman noted, is the fact that Bnei Akiva is a member of the Takana, the forum of religious leaders which first revealed the allegations against Elon and brought it to the attention of authorities after conducting its own investigation, and recommended distancing him from young people even before his conviction.

Druckman, however, a respected rabbi in the national religious community and an Israel Prize laureate and a longtime supporter and defender of Elon has stood fast. In a radio interview on Sunday, Druckman saidthere was “no reason” to prevent Elon from teaching, and cast doubt on the court’s ruling against him.

“At the end of the day, we’re talking about an incident in which two people were in the room, Rabbi Elon and the complainant. There was no one in the room apart from them,” he said. “This person claims one thing, which the other denies. There’s no other testimony [on this incident]. Who says the claim is true? No one knows what happened in the room and no one can know. This is why I saw the ruling as a mistake,” Druckman told Arutz Sheva.

The religious website Cipa.co.il surveyedOrthodox Knesset members on the issue. Only Jewish Home MK Uri Orbach took a stand, saying that although he personally respects Rabbi Druckman, he believes that convicted sex offenders “must not be permitted to teach young people” and that “first and foremost, we have to stand behind the victims.” 

On Wednesday, Economics Minister Naftali Bennett was asked about the matter on Israel Radio and said, "I think a man convicted of this should not be teaching. Certainly, not for a period of time. That is my position."
The other Knesset members polled, including Education Minister Shai Piron, declined to comment on the matter. It’s unclear whether their silence means that they are reluctant to speak out against Druckman - or whether, perhaps, given the fact that Elon received a relatively light sentence of community service and probation, quietly endorse the decision to allow him to stay in the classroom. Elon, who before the scandal was a highly respected yeshiva head himself, admitted in court that he had kissed and hugged two underage students - but denied that the contact was sexual.

One parent of three children in the Bnei Akiva school network, Miriam Haber, complained on Education Minister Piron’s Facebook page on his unwillingness to condemn Druckman’s decision. Normally, she said, she “feels proud” to have kids studying in Bnei Akiva but “not this week.”

“As Education Minister, do you think it’s right that an organization that manages 60 schools across the country under ministry auspices should welcome someone convicted of sexual impropriety with a minor? I don’t. The double message sent to the 22,000 students in the network are A) that it is acceptable to question the decision of the courts and B) that the network they study in doesn’t take the crime of sexual impropriety with a minor seriously. I would presume that these messages are not acceptable to you as someone who is responsible for the education of my children, and I would appreciate hearing your opinion on the matter.”

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