By Adrienne Sanders and Lee Higgins (The Journal News)
August 4, 2016
A child molester who moved from New York to Israel as he was being sought on a new misdemeanor assault charge has turned to the Israeli court system to quiet a Rockland County rabbi intent on spreading the word about his crimes on the internet and in Jerusalem.
Yona Weinberg, who spent roughly a year in jail for sexually abusing two boys in Brooklyn, lost his bid Tuesday in an Israeli court for an order of protection against Rabbi Yakov Horowitz of Monsey.
Horowitz was visiting Jerusalem to teach a child-safety class in Weinberg's neighborhood, Har Nof. The order would have prevented the rabbi from lecturing there because the community center where he was teaching is within a third of a mile of Weinberg's home.
The bid for the protection order followed Weinberg's filing a defamation lawsuit against the rabbi, who put out tweets warning Weinberg's neighbors in Israel of his presence. The lawsuit remains pending.
Horowitz told The Journal News/lohud that he won't be intimidated by Weinberg, who used his position as a bar mitzvah tutor to gain access to his victims, who were 12 and 13.
He also sees the fight as part of a larger effort designed to thwart others from exposing sex offenders and warning potential victims of the danger. The Israeli legal maneuverings are key to this tactic, he said.
“If you care about the personal safety of children, these lawsuits should trouble you deeply. For, make no mistake, if these outrageous lawsuits are permitted to continue, fewer and fewer people will be posting warnings when convicted sex offenders move near you or those you love,” he wrote on his blog, RabbiHorowitz.com.
Horowitz said he will not be silenced by a bullying sex offender.
"I think this is a test case...," he told The Journal News/lohud. "I am not giving up."
In seeking a protection order, Weinberg had unsuccessfully argued that Horowitz would incite community violence against him and his family, the rabbi said.
For Weinberg to imply Horowitz would incite violence, "is outrageous," Horowitz said, speaking to a reporter Monday from Israel, dismissing the latest court filing as "just another way of him trying to intimidate me."
Just hours after having to appear in court Tuesday to fight the petition for the restraining order, Horowitz taught his child-safety class to 200 people, as planned.
Samuel Karliner, a lawyer for Weinberg in Brooklyn who helped him comply with sex-offender registry requirements while he was in the United States, said Weinberg was fed up with Horowitz, who has been disrupting his life.
"He didn't bring this suit as an aggressor," Karliner said. "He brought this suit to stop things from happening."
Karliner is not representing Weinberg in the suit.
The Journal News/lohud is highlighting the case as it conducts a broader investigation into incidents of child sexual abuse in the Lower Hudson Valley
Lawsuit over tweets
Weinberg's lawsuit takes issue with the content of Horowitz's tweets. On Twitter, Horowitz warned Weinberg's neighbors of his Level 3 sex-offender status in New York, a designation for those most likely to re-offend.
Horowitz contends that many didn't know of Weinberg's conviction because Israel doesn’t have a public sex-offender registry.
What prompted his involvement was when he received an email from Magen, a child-protection agency in Israel, warning that Weinberg moved to the country from Brooklyn, settling in Har Nof, home to thousands of children.
Horowitz, who regularly shares information on sex offenders' whereabouts, tweeted about it. In general, he said, the close-knit nature of the Orthodox community, which can be so mutually supportive in many circumstances, can also lead to denial and disbelief. In January 2015, when he became concerned that some residents weren't taking adequate precautions, he wrote, “Har Nof residents, Convicted sex offender Yona Weinberg is LEVEL 3. Treat him as a terrorist with a machete.”
Six people were killed in a bloody 2014 attack on a Har Nof synagogue by men wielding axes, knives and guns. Horowitz said he invoked the incident to make a crucial point: Weinberg was extremely dangerous to children.
"I believe, personally, if a child has been molested, it's almost a death sentence,” said.Horowitz, who has spent 13 years advocating for child sex-abuse victims in the Orthodox Jewish community and has written several books on child safety and parenting. "When children get violated, it's not just that they're just messed around with, their lives are changed forever."
Weinberg's suit claims the rabbi went too far. His lawyer, Eitan Lehman, wrote, “How dare Horowitz use the Har Nof massacre, when everyone is on high alert, to compare my client to such people?”
Weinberg contends that the tweets have ruined his peace and caused people to photograph and bother him. He denied "fleeing" the United States, as Horowitz's tweets said, claiming to have simply moved to Israel as had been planned. Horowitz is puzzled by Weinberg's claims.
"How can you slander a sex offender?" asked Horowitz, founder and director of the Center for Jewish Family Life/Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), a mentorship program for at-risk teens. "If somebody is out there (molesting) children, how do you ruin his reputation?"
A $55,000 default judgment was issued against Horowitz in June 2015 after he didn't show up in court, unaware he was being sued, he said. The judgment was removed, he said, but the case is pending, set to go to trial in November.
In Israel, a plaintiff can win a defamation suit by showing that negative things have been said or written about him but, unlike in the United States, he does not have to prove his reputation, livelihood or social standing have been harmed, according to legal experts.
The Weinberg Case
Weinberg was a licensed social worker and bar mitzvah tutor in Brooklyn who was convicted in 2009 of molesting the two boys. At the time, The Daily News reported that one boy was violated in his home and a synagogue's ritual bath, the other in a van and yeshiva stairwell.
New York City police are seeking him on a misdemeanor charge he physically assaulted a third child, shoving and elbowing him into a coat rack and hurting his back, according to records obtained by The Journal News/lohud.
The child had filed an earlier molestation complaint against Weinberg with the police, but the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office did not charge him related to that complaint.
A source close to Brooklyn law enforcement, who did not want to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the case, told The Journal News/lohud that 10 children originally came forward, reporting abuse by Weinberg in 2008. Though nearly all were from different schools and neighborhoods, the details of their stories were remarkably similar, the source said.
Karliner said Horowitz tells people at schools, synagogues and community centers in Israel not to associate with his client.
"Horowitz does everything he can to ruin this man's life," Karliner said, noting that his client is married and has young children. "I don't know the value of destroying grade-school children's lives for a misdemeanor conviction of their father."
Karliner said he's not aware of any charges against his client, but that, if Weinberg were charged, he would surrender.
"In the event he returns to New York, he will be charged," Brooklyn District Attorney's Office spokesman Oren Yaniv told The Journal News/lohud.
Since Horowitz has been writing about Weinberg, two men have come forward with complaints, alleging Weinberg acted inappropriately around them when they were children.
Sex Offenders in Israel
It's unlikely Weinberg would be extradited on a misdemeanor charge, experts say.
He is one of many Jewish pedophiles from around the world who have moved to Israel.
The country's Law of Return offers an open door to anyone who is Jewish to come to Israel without a rigorous background check, said Manny Waks, founder of Kol v’Oz, an Israel-based nonprofit that aims to prevent child sexual abuse among Jews worldwide. Passed in 1950, the law grants automatic Israeli citizenship to those who meet the nation’s definition of a Jew.
“While the vast majority of Jews are law-abiding citizens and immigrate to Israel for legitimate reasons, some do exploit the system,” Waks said.
Karliner said Weinberg wasn't fleeing from law enforcement.
"My client left the United States with consent and knowledge of the New York City Police Department, with the Israeli government knowing that he was coming, with the Israeli government knowing his background," he said.
Horowitz, who faces thousands of dollars in legal fees, in addition to the threat of a judgement against him, pledged to continue his defense in order to protect families who have a right to know a predator is in their midst.
"I will fight to the end," he said.
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