Rabbi Eliezer Berland, 79, leader of the Shuvu Banim Breslov congregation who is suspected of sexual assault and harassment against women in Israel and has been evading Israeli justice for three years, was arrested on Thursday in Johannesburg, South Africa along with some of his entourage, Israeli media reported.
Lats January, Berland celebrated his victory over the Israeli legal authorities, after having been issued a South African passport, and told reporters he “no longer needs to run.”
Several women have reported that Rabbi Berland raped them, others complained of sexual harassment. In 2012, one of Berland’s students discovered him standing next to a naked woman at home. Berland’s followers have claimed the accusations had been made by the rabbi’s enemies.
Berland fled Israel once the first allegations had been made public, and sought temporary shelter in the US, Italy, Switzerland and Morocco, where he stayed in Marrakech. In November 2013, Moroccan King Mohammed VI personally ordered Berland’s expulsion, following news report about the allegations against him. The fugitive rabbi then left for Cairo, Egypt, continued to Zimbabwe, then flew to Johannesburg, South Africa. He then returned to Zimbabwe, and became the spiritual leader of a synagogue in Khumalo. He was expelled after his visa had expired, and returned to Johannesburg.
Attorney Sharon Nahari told Walla on Thursday that he and Berland’s followers will “continue to fight to prove his innocence.” Apparently, police have been investigating him despite his newly acquired citizenship.
Berland’s followers relate that he has been staying indoors much of the time, emerging only to conduct marriages and to celebrate Purim, knowing police were after him. They claim it was South Africa’s chief rabbi and several local Jewish organizations who have been demanding Berland’s immediate extradition to Israel, to face the serious charges against him.