Extradition decision renews focus on alleged abusers who fled to Israel
By Ben Harris
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NEW YORK (JTA)—An Israeli court's decision this week to extradite an accused pedophile to the United States is giving renewed impetus to another sex abuse case that activists say has languished for more than two decades.
On Nov. 16, activists on sexual abuse in the Orthodox community will hold a news conference in New York to renew pressure for action in the case of Avrohom Mondrowitz, who fled to Israel in the 1980s to escape prosecution for abusing several underage boys.
The news conference comes just days after a Jerusalem court ruled that Stefan Colmer, who was indicted on charges he abused two fervently Orthodox boys in Brooklyn, should be extradited to the United States.
Colmer, 30, who fled to Israel to avoid arrest, is the first American to be returned under a revised treaty that permits the extradition of suspected sex offenders charged with crimes less severe than rape.
Mondrowitz, an Israel native who lived in Brooklyn before fleeing, was indicted by a Brooklyn grand jury on eight counts of sexual molestation, including oral and anal sodomy. The Brooklyn district attorney at the time, Elizabeth Holtzman, requested Mondrowitz's arrest, but the request appears to have floundered due to a technicality of Israeli law.
Last month it emerged that the current Brooklyn district attorney, Charles Hynes, issued a new request for the extradition of Mondrowitz. According to Hynes' office, the request was issued early this year, in January or February, after the U.S.-Israel extradition treaty was amended.
But according to a copy of the indictment, the charges against Mondrowitz included forced sodomy. As a result, claims Michael Lesher, a lawyer for several of Mondrowitz's alleged victims, Mondrowitz could have been extradited since 1988. A cable that year from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv obtained by Lesher similarly argues that a new Israeli law made the Mondrowitz case worth pursuing.
Nevertheless, Hynes did not pursue the case until this year. Critics charge that he was influenced by a group of Orthodox rabbis who informally advise him.
“I'm certain of that,” Lesher told JTA. “We know that the Orthodox community didn't want this case pursued. Even today I'm experiencing a lot of reluctance from rabbis familiar with the case.”
Hynes' office refused JTA's request for comment.
Sexual abuse has been a mounting concern in the Orthodox community, a trend propelled by several high-profile cases of rabbis with long histories of abuse that allegedly were swept under the carpet by religious leaders.
In recent years the efforts of several activists, as well as a number of bloggers whose anonymity provided abuse victims with a venue to speak about their experiences with discretion, have brought a number of instances of abuse to light.
“I think in fact that the Colmer case would have gone a similar way,” Lesher said, “if it hadn't been for the fact that a lot of people behind the scenes were so fed up with cases like Mondrowitz that they were willing to work with victims and with people like me to see that the case did go public.”