Ben Gurion Airport – Fugitive Rabbi Eliezer Berland was arrested on Tuesday morning by the Israel Police at Ben Gurion Airport on suspicion of sex offenses. The arrest was made possible after South African authorities approved an extradition request filed by Israel three years ago.
“The completion of the extradition process this morning is a further expression of the work and professionalism of the Israeli police, prosecution, and law enforcement agencies around the world, which go beyond territorial frontiers,” said a spokesperson for the Israel Police after the arrest.
Rabbi Berland, 80, fled Israel in February, 2013 seven months after the police began investigating allegations that he had sexually harassed and sexually assaulted several women.
Members of Berland’s entourage were allowed to greet him at the airport and released a statement praising the police for their handling of the arrest.
“The policemen behaved wonderfully and treated the rabbi with respect and care due to his medical situation and exhaustion from the flight,” the statement said. “Rabbi Berland is pleased to return to Israel and would like to thank the Israeli police for their sensitivity over the last 24 hours.”
Rabbi Berland is affiliated with the Breslov Hasidic school of ultra-Orthodox Judaism and used to head the Shuvu Banim Yeshiva in Haifa. The allegations against him were made public in July, 2012, and the police began an investigation during which at least four women described how their spiritual leader had sexually harassed them.
Since his escape from the country, the Israeli police and Foreign Ministry have continuously attempted to locate and extradite Rabbi Berland to Israel in order to press charges against him. Formal extradition requests were filed to the relevant authorities in the various countries he visited during his three years abroad.
Following stints in the US, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and after being expelled from Morocco and Zimbabwe, Rabbi Berland settled in South Africa. He was arrested on June 30 by South African authorities who had acceded to Israel’s extradition request. He was flown back to Israel where he was arrested on Tuesday morning and taken for questioning.
The investigation is being monitored by the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office, and formal legal proceedings are expected to begin against Rabbi Berland shortly.