The police will issue an international arrest warrant this week against an extremist rabbi who fled to Canada and is a key suspect in one of the worst child abuse cases in the nation’s history.
Police said Monday that Rabbi Elior Chen and his followers are suspected of severely abusing two children, aged 3 and 4, who were savagely and systematically beaten with hammers, knives and other instruments for months until the younger child lost consciousness last month.
The three-year-old suffered permanent brain damage as a result of the systematic and brutal abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother and her companions, according to an indictment filed against his mother this week in a Jerusalem court.
He is expected to remain in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.
Chen, who served as a spiritual mentor to the abusive mother and who provided explicit written instruction on how to abuse the children, fled to Canada last month after the case came to light to avoid arrest, Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. He apparently does not have Canadian citizenship, Ben-Ruby said.
According to the charge sheet, the woman’s relationship with her husband broke down last year, and she expressed her desire to divorce her husband, who subsequently left their Jerusalem home, leaving his eight children in the care of his wife and two men who were charged with educating her children.
The men, who allegedly carried out the abuse with the mother, received instruction from Chen on how to "fix" the children’s behavior, and "cleanse" them of their Satanic possession, the indictment says.
During a search of Chen’s Betar Illit home, police found evidence that appears to link the rabbi to the abuse, including notebooks that document the violence, police said.
"Put stones on a [Shabbat] hot plate . . . when they are boiling, put them on the bodies of the children and then they will be cleansed," the instructions read.
Chen also instructs his followers how to tie up the children, and to prepare alcoholic drinks made of salt water and turpentine, which, he writes, should be given to the children in order to "vomit out the devil from themselves." Among the items police discovered at Chen’s home were hammers, iron bars, turpentine, sticks, and handcuffs.
The other key suspect in the child abuse case, identified as Shimon Gabbai, remains at large and is also wanted by police.
Meanwhile, another suspect arrested by police late Sunday night was remanded in custody on Monday for five days by a Jerusalem court.
The suspect, Avraham Maskalchi, a yeshiva student who twice tried to flee arrest and was nabbed after a police chase, allegedly took part in the abuse of the children, a police representative told the court.
One of the woman’s eight children identified him as taking part in the abuse as well, the police representative testified in court.
The charge sheet in the gruesome child abuse case recounts that the mother allegedly forced her children to eat feces, locked them in a suitcase for three days – letting them out only for brief periods of time – repeatedly beat, whipped, and shook them, burned their hands with a lighter and a heater, and gave them freezing showers.
The abusive mother and "educators" are also suspected of pouring salt on the burn wounds of the child, stuffing his mouth with a skullcap and sealing his mouth with masking tape, and giving the children alcoholic drinks until they vomited.
The woman remains in police custody.
Since her arrest last month, the mother was repeatedly shown pictures of her children’s injuries, but on most of the days she was in remand, she did not inquire about the children nor did she ask who was taking care of them, the police said.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police would not confirm whether they were working with Israeli police to track down Chen, saying that releasing that type of information could harm the investigation if one were ongoing.
The Canadian Justice Ministry also declined to confirm whether it had received requests from Israel for Chen’s arrest and extradition, citing the confidentiality of communications between countries.
But should Chen be found in Canada under an international arrest warrant and Israel requests extradition, a Canadian judge will determine whether the suspect can be deported under the extradition treaty existing between the two countries, followed by a review of the attorney-general, a Justice Ministry spokesman said.
According to the extradition agreement between Canada and Israel, for extradition to go forward the suspect must be accused of having committed an act that is considered a crime in both countries – as child abuse is. Extradition would also be held up if there was concern that the suspect was being prosecuted for political motives or could face the death penalty, the latter of which has sometimes complicated extradition from Canada to the United States but shouldn’t affect deportation to Israel.
The main issue from Canada’s perspective is "are we respecting the person’s rights and the [Canadian] charter’s rights," explained an aide to MP Irwin Cotler, who served as attorney-general and justice minister in the last government and has argued cases before the Israeli Supreme Court.
A Haaretz report quoted an associated of Chen’s as saying that he chose to flee to Canada because "the extradition law is tough." But observers say that assertion might not jibe with the reality, though extradition from Canada can take a long time because of protections including the right to appeal at different points in the process.
"He’s going to be in for a surprise," said Canadian Jewish News editor Mordechai Ben-Dat.
"This is a more law-and-order government than other governments," he said of the current Canadian leadership, meaning the attorney-general was unlikely to stay an extradition judgment.
Ben-Dat said that while the Canadian Jewish community is a tight-knit one, it also has many different haredi groups, groups which might be sufficiently cut off from the outside world and media to know that Chen is accused of committing serious crimes.
Chen might be able to take advantage of these enclaves, Ben-Dat said, "if he wants to disappear."
"Luke Ford reports all of the 'juicy' quotes, and has been doing it for years." (Marc B. Shapiro)
"This guy knows all the gossip, the ins and outs, the lashon hara of the Orthodox world. He’s an [expert] in... all the inner workings of the Orthodox world." (Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff)
"This generation's Hillel." (Nathan Cofnas)