By Asaf Shalev
Israel’s top immigration official says the country will not award citizenship to Baruch Lanner, a rabbi and convicted sex offender from the United States.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s announcement, made Tuesday to the Jerusalem Post, came a day after nearly 200 American rabbis and Jewish scholars sent a letter to Israel’s prime minister, Yair Lapid, urging him to reject Lanner’s citizenship application.
Lanner, an American rabbi and former official of the Orthodox Union’s NCSY youth group, served a three-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting students at a Jewish high school in Jersey in the 1990s. He is staying in Israel on a temporary residency visa pending a decision on his citizenship application by Israel’s Interior Ministry. He is seeking to take advantage of Israel’s Law of Return, under which Jews from anywhere in the world can be granted Israeli citizenship.
News of Lanner’s status in Israel broke earlier in July and triggered an outcry among advocates of victims of sexual abuse in Israel and the United States. Online petitions calling on the government to reject Lanner’s application have cropped up.
The Rabbinical Council of America, which represents Orthodox rabbis in North America, released a letter to the same effect on Monday.
The letter to Lapid from prominent U.S. Jewish professors and members of all streams of American Judaism adds to the chorus that seeks to block Lanner from being able to start his life anew with his wife in Israel. The letter notes that the Law of Return allows for denial if the applicant “is likely to endanger public health.”
“Granting Lanner citizenship, or allowing him to remain in Israel on any other basis, would clearly pose a threat to public health,” the letter said.
The letter also appealed to the Israeli government to avoid damaging its own reputation by providing a haven for a man who has been accused of abuse by dozens of victims.
“For the State of Israel to serve as a shelter for sex abusers would be a moral stain on Israel’s name and a source of shame for Jews everywhere who cherish Israel,” the letter says. “Doing this would send a terrible message to Lanner’s victims as well as to other criminals.”
Lanner is far from the first sexual abuser to seek citizenship in Israel, but his case has drawn heightened attention in part because it was exposed while there is still enough time for the public to intervene. Lanner’s case also stands out because of an unprecedented investigation by an official Jewish body, the Orthodox Union, which established that Lanner likely had dozens of victims and that his misconduct was enabled by others.
The letter, which was organized by an informal group known as the Committee on Ethics in Jewish Leadership, features signatures from a diverse array of Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Yosef Blau, who is one of the heads of Yeshiva University’s seminary; prominent rabbis of the Conservative movement including Aryeh Cohen and Francine Roston; Reform leaders such as rabbis David Ellenson and Charles Kroloff; and Rabbi David Teutsch of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.