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Dramatic first court appearance for Berland

  • Rabbi Eliezer Berland HOME2
Having him in custody and keeping him there are two different things as Rabbi Eliezer Berland, the man who has evaded Authorities worldwide seven times over the past 18 months, has a second stab at getting awarded bail by a Randburg magistrate. Last Thursday Berland was allowed the dignity of not having to join the general prison population and the freedom to practice his spiritual beliefs from a private cell at the Randburg police station, where he has also been given permission to confer with his own doctors.
by ANT KATZ | Apr 18, 2016

ABOVE VIDEO: Followers of Rabbi Berland held a “Night of prayer” on 24 March in Chevron Taanis Esther 5776. This is a shortened version of the 6-hour-long event. The FULL VIDEO is also available on Youtube



Rabbi Berland will again appear in court this week for a bail hearing after a number of dramatic events saw the proceedings in the case of fugitive Israeli rabbi begin almost four hours late at the Randburg Magistrate’s Court last Thursday. The delays were the result of requests from both the prosecution and the defence to peruse certain documents which the two sides were presented for the first time on the day.

The hearing was an urgent bail application brought by Berland after he had been arrested on an international arrest and extradition warrant the previous week. The grounds for the urgency were the rabbi’s poor state of health and his particular need for cardiac treatment. The prosecution, however, came armed with two medical affidavits to dispute the rabbi’s claims regarding his health.  

Both sides accused of using “dirty tricks”

The hearing had been set down for 11am on Thursday 14 April. It eventually commenced at 2.45pm.

The Hawks say that the rabbi is on an Interpol ‘red ticket’ list as being wanted for charges of indecent assault in Israel and that their arrest was to facilitated his extradition him to face these charges.

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b16 Diotch court (2)


RIGHT: Rav Berland arrives at court in Haarlem, Holland on 17 November 2014, with his Israeli attorne Sharon Nahari, left, and his Dutch counterpart Louis de Leon


Before the case started the State and defence argued over why Berland’s previous representation was fired. Advocate Mandla Zulu, now representing Berland under the instruction of his attorney, Themba Langa, said a friend of Berland had hired and given instruction to the previous council, not Berland himself.

The State is seriously deliberating whether to bring charges of fraud against Berland for allegedly lying to the court by claiming he wasn’t the one who had instructed his previous council to represent him in court while he was in hospital under police guard after being arrested last week. Berland speaks good English.

Berlov Geoff2“Whatever happened, happened before, we can’t pay for it now. It was never our intention to delay this matter,” Zulu told the court.



Nothing wrong

The rabbi’s high-powered legal team insist that Berland should not have been arrested as he had done nothing wrong.


LEFT: Some of Rabbi Berland's colourful followers in Glenhazel over Pesach 2014. Thausands more are expected this Pesach from all around the world
PIC: GEOFF SIFRIN

 

According to journalist Mia Lindeque, Berland’s attorney, Themba Langa, claims the Hawks are not acting in the interest of justice and have ulterior motives.

The 79-year-old rabbi “is not a threat to anyone. He is just a spiritual man who probably differs in his teaching in the country of Israel,” Langa says.

Bizarre twist

Once the case finally got going, arguments immediately arose as to whether Rav Berland, who heads the Shuvu Banim International Breslov Chassidic sect, headquartered at their Jerusalem yeshiva, was in South Africa legally. When Berland returned to SA on the run from Dutch authorities who had granted Israel an extradition order against him, he was presumed to have entered the country on the standard automatic three-month tourist visa granted to all Israeli citizens.

However, while hundreds of his followers were also granted similar visas – and have been bussing to Botswana and back to leave SA every 90 days and re-enter on a further visa, rabbi Berland is believed not to have done so. In fact, according to Berland’s son, Nachum, the rabbi had been given South African citizenship or permanent residence on 1 January.

His son had been in SA on Sunday 3 January for the Rabbi’s double celebration (of his 79th birthday and his being granted SA citizenship), he said on his return to Israel on Monday.

Gave authorities slip 7 times in 18 months

Rabbi Berland, dubbed the rabbi-on-the-run, is wanted for arrest in Israel, for absconding in Holland and through Interpol in South Africa, he has slipped through the hands of authorities seven times over the past eighteen months:

  • He first evaded arrest by a Hawks tactical team after a high speed suburban Car chase in July 2014;
  • A second attempt by a heavily-armed Hawks team during a wedding service he was conducting in September saw the rabbi’s handlers reportedly following a pre-arranged plan, whipping the rabbi away and replacing him with a double (who was briefly held by police until they were unable to establish his real identity);
  • Within days thereof, Rabbi Berland, his wife and a friend simply walked through SA customs officials at ORT airport, despite the fact that there was a warrant for his arrest, and boarded a scheduled KLM flight to Holland
  • The Dutch court twice denied Israel’s application for the rabbi’s extradition. They finally granted it on the third attempt and the rabbi’s subsequent appeal was denied. But, when they came to arrest him for extradition, Berland had fled
  • He re-entered South Africa on a private jet sometime before Rosh Hashanah in 2015, supposedly through a regular customs checkpoint – despite there still being a valid arrest warrant for him in SA;
  • The third Hawks attempt at arresting him took place in January 2016 at the hotel/campus where he was with several hundred followers. Despite a heavily-armed combined Interpol and Hawks intervention team surprising the rabbi, his handlers somehow managed to once again whisk him away; and
  • Finally, the Hawks and Interpol arranged with Berland’s lawyers for him to hand himself in at the Randburg Magistrate’s Court last month. He didn’t pitch up and the parties agreed to a second date which was also not met.

Berland's followers claim that he originally fled Israel in 2012 to avoid having to give evidence in a criminal trial involving his wife and son.

His subsequent travels reportedly saw him and a band of loyal followers visiting at least four continents: Asia, North America, Africa and Europe. He has been reported to have had short stays in Miami, Zurich and somewhere in Canada before settling in Morocco where he was given refuge.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland - preferred pic - smallHowever, after complaints by locals, he and his followers were evicted. His next refuge was in Zimbabwe – which also resulted in his being evicted at the request of locals after his followers were considered a bit intrusive. It was then, just prior to Pesach 2014, that Rabbi Berland and his followers came to SA for the first time.

Thousands of followers from around the world came to spend Pesach with their spiritual head and it made for a colourful, if uncomfortable, few weeks in Johannesburg’s North-Eastern suburbs.

Shortly after Berland had bolted from Israel in 2012, allegations of sexual harassment against the rabbi began to emerge and Israeli police wanted to question him. His followers say the rabbi was assisting these female followers to arrange for religious divorces - or “gets” – and that after he left they were harassed by their husbands into making the allegations against him.

Rabbi Berland will appear again in the Randburg Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday 20 April when he will again apply for bail.

Among the arguments heard by the magistrate were:

  • Whether Rabbi Berland was in South Africa legally?; and 
  • The defence team suggested that the Hawks were “persecuting” Berland.

Issues that emerged out of what was said in court about Rabbi Berland’s arrest included:

  • Rabbi Berland’s legal team told the court that he had been on his way to hand himself in to the authorities, as previously arranged, on 7 April;
  • En route he had felt ill and was taken to the Morningside Clinic for a check-up
  • “After his check-up, he planned to go to court (to hand himself over),” Advocate Zulu told the magistrate;
  • After a tip-off about Berland’s whereabouts the Hawks and Interpol had then swooped in and arrested him outside the Morningside Clinic, the court heard;  
  • Berland was in any event “planning to go to court,” (to hand himself in) Advocate Zulu claimed; and
  • In a wierd defence not used by Berland in any legal cases before, Langa claims the rabbi is being persecuted for trying to reconcile Jewish people and Palestinians in Israel.

Curiouser and curioser

Further details of the bizarre events that unfolded between 7 and 14 April were given to the court by the State Prosecutor Advocate Nerisha Naidoo. “This bail application is not as urgent as Mr Berland is making it out to be,” she said. Naidoo’s assertions included:

  • That following Berland’s arrest on 7 April he said he was willing to “surrender himself to Israel” and asked if he could go back;
  • That the claimed urgency for Rav Berland to be granted bail on medical grounds was spurious: “We have medical letters from the Joburg Gen and Morningside Clinic that he can be discharged into police custody,” she reportedly told the magistrate;
  • Naidoo asked that the case be postponed to a later date because the State hadn’t had enough time to go through the bail affidavit.

In another unusual turn of events, the magistrate acceded to the requests of Berland’s lawyers to allow him dignity and space while in prison. Among the main unusual issues that the magistrate had to rule on were:

3 Comments

  1. 3 Tony 18 Apr
    'Having him in custody and keeping him there are two different things as Rabbi Eliezer Berland'

    to say such a thing is a disgrace. That a Jew should be held by goyim. Shame on you!

    Let a Beth Din hear the 'case'.

    'Langa claims the rabbi is being persecuted for trying to reconcile Jewish people and Palestinians in Israel'

    see the link.... Its true!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pLAgaHqW8s
  2. 2 nat cheiman 20 Apr
    Whatever the case is. He is innocent until proven guilty. 
    Give the man a chance
  3. 1 Dr C D Goldberg 13 Oct
    It is of paramount importance that the rule of law be applied in all cases irrespective that come before the courts in an impartial and objective manner and where possible a person should be regarded as innocent until proved otherwise.

    This is to be done irrespective race, religious beliefs, nationality, or sexual orientation. For no one is above the law. A Beth Din can also try such cases, independent of the courts according to its own rules and customs.

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