Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Parole board recommends early release for sex offender rabbi 

Rabbi Eliezer Berland at the Jerusalem District Court in Jerusalem on August 1, 2016.(Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The Prison Service parole board recommended on Monday that a rabbi serving a prison term for a sexual assault conviction be granted an early release, months after being jailed following an international manhunt.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland, 80, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in November after being convicted of two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault as part of a plea deal.

His 2016 capture in South Africa followed years of authorities trying to bring him to justice after he fled Israel in 2013.

Under the conditions of his early release, Berland would remain under house arrest at a hotel adjacent to Jerusalem's Hadassah Medical Center and be under constant surveillance until October 2017, the parole board decided.

He would also be required to fulfill all of the conditions agreed upon with the Parole Board and attend follow up meetings as part of his release, as well as pay for the mandated constant security presence.

According to Channel 10, Berland is suffering from numerous cancerous growths.

The Parole Board did not specify at which Hadassah campus in Jerusalem Berland would be treated.

Despite the Parole Board's recommendation to reduce Berland's sentence from 18 months to a year and grant him an early conditional release, the State Prosecutor's Office requested a delay of Berland's release, as it remains strongly opposed to the decision and is expected to appeal, the Haaretz daily reported.

Considered a cult-like leader to thousands of his followers from the Bratslav Hasidic sect, Berland fled Israel in 2013 amid allegations that he molested two female followers, one of them a minor.

He was on the run from authorities until 2016, eluding several Israeli attempts to extradite him. He moved between Zimbabwe, Switzerland, the Netherlands and South Africa, accompanied by a group of devout followers numbering around 40 families.

According to the indictment, Berland would often receive people in his homes in Jerusalem and in Beitar Illit and held private meetings intended for spiritual guidance, counseling or benedictions. The rabbi would sometimes take advantage of the meetings and of his position in the community to commit sexual acts with women, including minors.

Berland, founder of the Shuvu Bonim religious seminary in Israel, had also been accused of instructing two of his disciples to hurt anyone who tried to expose his actions.

Days after his July 2016 return and subsequent arrest in Israel, Channel 2 aired a recording, allegedly of Berland admitting to rape. Berland's attorney denied that the voice on the recording was Berland's, saying his enemies were trying to hurt him.

In the summer of 2015, prior to a move to South Africa, Berland fought his extradition from the Netherlands on the grounds that the alleged assaults happened in the West Bank and that Israel does not have jurisdiction there.

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