Crime & Betrayal
In orthodox neighborhoods, little old ladies can walk safely down the street without getting mugged. And crack is unlikely to be being sold on the street corners.
According to a colleague, who worked in
Israel’s Prison Services, the
ultra-orthodox chaps doing time in the cells are typically there for one of two reasons.
Sex crimes (particularly child abuse) and Financial crimes.
I’ve written about the first problem fairly extensively on this blog.
This past week, two scandals hit the Israeli press, involving orthodox organizations – both centered upon allegations of corruption.
Established and run by Rabbi Abraham Israel, Hazon Yeshaiya http://www.hazonyeshaya.org/ is an Israeli charity which established a network of soup kitchens, food distribution, vocational training and free dental programs helping thousands of needy families around the country. According to their website, Directors include Nobel Prize winner, Eli Weisel and a past director was
4th President. Ephraim Katzir, Israel
Over the past several weeks, ten management and staff from Hazon Yeshiaya have been arrested on suspicion of aggravated fraud, money laundering, falsifying corporate documents and forgery.
In addition, there was allegedly a scam involving the purchase (for charitable purposes) of large quantities of food, which was then resold (for profit) to institutions such as yeshivas. The profits were allegedly creamed off by the Hazon Yeshiaya management for their self-enrichment.
Interestingly, allegations of extortion were dropped from the official allegations against the Hazon Yeshiaya staff, by the police.
Which brings us neatly to the second scandal, involving mafia-style extortion at the very centre of the alleged scam.
The Behadrei Hareidim website is a news-site, plus portal, including popular forums. The website claims to be the largest portal serving the chareidi population.
Ironically, Behadrei Chareidim has been instrumental in exposing corruption and vice in hareidi society – fulfilling an important role as watch-dog, independent from, even in opposition to, the Haredi Establishment..
Perhaps for this reason, BeHadrei Hareidim evoked the ire of the Litvish hareidi leadership “the Gadolim” – who implemented an (ineffective) cherem/ban on the site.
However, the exposes came full circle, when YNet broadcast a film-clip, reportedly from a hidden camera in the Hadrei Haredim’s CEO’s office – recording a dialogue between the CEO and a businessman Yaakov Berger.
The meeting followed a reader comment published on BeHadrei Hareidim, which claimed acts of fornication had taken place at a Berger family wedding.
In the videoed discussion, the CEO offers Berger immunity from future scandals, and positive press on the web site, in return for a monthly retainer. The CEO goes on to explain that he has several such “first class” clients who enjoy this personal “full service”, for $30,000/month. “So they can sleep easy”, he says.
According to press reports, Berger was the first victim to step forward, but there are many others who have been scammed. Apparently, several “clients” have fled the country. It is unclear whether they fear being arrested for bribery, or for the offenses which the CEO and his team at BeHadrei Hareidim were covering up, first class.
I find both these scandals disappointing.
A tzedaka organization is entrusted by both the donors and by the needy families they serve, to be 100% reliable, honest and serve with integrity in their sacred mission. Corruption in such an environment is a foul betrayal of this trust.
And I always admired BeHadrei Hareidim, particularly in their watchdog role. In Hareidi society, the press and all other forms of free expression, are tightly controlled by the leadership, which enables corruption and criminality to go un-policed and unpunished. BeHadrei Hareidim offered some hope that this hegemony had been opened up to honest scrutiny.
In this case, the watchdog was itself apparently deeply corrupt – which is also very disappointing.