Lessons Learned at the Australian Royal Commission

by David L. Morris
Executive of the Magen Child Protection Agency in Bet Shemesh.
First appeared on his personal blog, Tzedek-Tzedek

David Morris 2The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was mandated in 2013 to investigate and draw up recommendations about child abuse cases and the handling of child abuse allegations, mainly in religious institutions and communities.

The Commission was initially specifically in response to reports of abuses in the Catholic Church, and the various child abuse scandals which came to light in Australia, and the systemic cover-up of offenders by the Church’s institutions.

David Cyprys

David Cyprys

In the past two weeks, the Commissions has turned its attention to child abuse cases and the response to these allegations in Jewish institutions, primarily the Yeshiva Centers in Melbourne and in Sydney, both run by the Chabad movement.

The picture which has emerged has shocked not just the Jewish world, but has been widely reported in scandalous terms in the non-Jewish world also.

Three members of staff at these institutions have already been convicted of sexual offenses against children – David Kramer, David Cyprus and Daniel Hayman

Daniel Robert (Gug) Hayman

Daniel Robert (Gug) Hayman

The Commission heard from victims of these perpetrators, recalling the appalling abuse they suffered. In addition, the victims told the Commission how they had reported the abuse to senior members of the rabbinical staff at the two institutions. The response of some of these rabbonim was allegedly to deny, minimize, circle the wagons (around the institutions and the perpetrators), and to intimidate and even punish the victims. The leadership’s acts to defend the perpetrators included covering their tracks while encouraging at least one of them, David Kramer, to escape from the law, by fleeing Australia to Israel.

From the press point of view, the most dramatic testimony was given by Rabbis Yosef Feldman and Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant.

Rabbi Feldman, perhaps under the impression that the best form of defence is a claim of ignorance, told the Commission that he was clueless about child protection legislation. When asked “do you know that it is illegal for an adult to touch another child’s genitals?”, Rabbi Feldman said he didn’t know that. This is a man who was responsible for educating hundreds of yioung men at Yeshiva College in Sydney. Such a claim of ignorance was either outrageous if taken at face value, or a transparent lie. Either way, the headlines were made.

Among Rabbi Feldman’s other shameful remarks was insisting that some pedophiles should be shown sympathy, particularly where they had repented and not re-offended. Whereas there is room for such sentiment in a discussion about criminal rehabilitation for sex offenders – but not when it is being proposed as a self-policing policy by a Jewish community leader in front of the Commission.

The third statement which was widely reported was that Rabbi Feldman believes that all child abuse allegations should be first reported by congregants to a rabbi, rather than directly to the police.

Although this understandably shocked non-Jewish reporters, it comes as no surprise to orthodox Jews – who recognise Rabbi Feldman’s approach from Agudat Yisrael policy statements.

Indeed, on 22nd July 2011, Rabbi Avi Shafran wrote on behalf of Agudat Yisrael in Cross Currents: “Because the question of reporting has serious implications for all parties, and raises sensitive halachic issues, the individual should not rely exclusively on his own judgment to determine the presence or absence of raglayim la’davar. Rather, he should present the facts of the case to a rabbi who is expert in halacha and who also has experience in the area of abuse and molestation.”

 

Manny Waks

Manny Waks

Among others giving testimony at the Commission was Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, who started by saying the right things, such as “we must be supportive of victims”, but, when cross examined, he admitted to having sent a message to a Jewish journalist, even during the current Commission proceedings, describing Zephania Waks, the father of victims’ advocate Manny Waks, as “Zephaniah is killing us,” the message read. “Zephaniah is attacking Chabad. He is a lunatic on the fringe, guilty of neglect of his own children.”

Manny Waks furthermore claimed that: “Rabbi Kluwgant has been one of the leading forces behind the horrific intimidation campaign against me and my family,” Waks said.
“Until today it was difficult to prove. It has finally been exposed publicly. Rabbi Kluwgant must resign or be sacked immediately from every leadership position he currently holds. He is not fit to lead.”
The Commssion has successfully exposed the corrupt & dangerous practices of these Chabad institutions in Australia. The Commissions recommendations will make important reading.

On a personal level, this has vindicated Manny Waks and his father Zephania’s three years campaign to bring these perpetrators and their enablers to justice and account, which subjected them to backlash they received in their own community.

Unfortunately, the Chabad institutions in Melbourne & Sydney are a sampling, rather than a unique case, of how allegations of child abuse have been handled historically in many orthodox communities, and indeed other closed societies, around the world.

Although there has been dramatic progress in some orthodox communities in just the past five years, such as in recognising abuse as a genuine problem in the orthodox community, and even a (begrudging) acknowledgement that these cases cannot and should not always be solely handled as ‘internal community issues’ – there is still considerable work to be done to ensure that justice is served for past offenses & cover-ups, and to ensure Jewish children are no more at risk of sexual abuse than non-Jewish children.

As Manny Waks has stated, the time has now come for a Jewish International Commission into child abuse, which will also examine the response to child abuse allegations in Jewish communal organizations.

Until there is a full public accounting, and appropriate consequences for those found to have perpetrated or enabled abuse, long standing and discredited policies in the Jewish orthodox world, such as those openly expounded by the Agudat Yisrael, will unfortunately continue to place children at risk.

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4 thoughts on “Lessons Learned at the Australian Royal Commission

  1. David Morris has been one of the most principled activists I know on behalf of abuse victims and against cover-ups. Since he’s Orthodox, he’s been subjected to attacks from some influential Orthodox rabbis, but that clearly hasn’t silenced him. His analysis of the heartbreaking situation in Australia is all too accurate and the facts all too typical. As he says, the Agudah’s stated policy is no better than what shocked non-Jewish reporters who heard the Royal Commission testimony.

  2. Reblogged this on LOSTMESSIAH and commented:

    This article regarding the Australian Royal Commission’s response to claims of sexual abuse within the Jewish community in Australia was published several months ago. Having been repeatedly asked to publish a retraction and apology to “former” Rabbi Yosef Feldman, we wanted to post it for an historical context.

    Mr. Feldman, in a spate of lawsuits is trying to clear his name, which he says is for the benefit of his family members. In other words, in our opinion, he cares less about the children who have been abused than he does about what his family members think of him.

    Our suggestion, Mr. Feldman, is perhaps if you blew wide open what is happening in your Jewish fiefdom your family members would have something about which to be proud. You would have helped the lives of generations of Jewish children.

    WE ASK YOU MR. FELDMAN, how will you enjoy the money you are making in settling with Defendants who feel it is less costly in time and in effort to settle then it is to fight on? That is a poor excuse for a victory.

    Perhaps you could donate all of that money to the families of victims, like that of Manny Waks and others? They are the ones who will live a lifetime with the horrors of sexual assault. You, sir are using a courtroom to change a narrative.

    It is deplorable.

  3. Part of what I posted on Lost Messiah…
    Firstly it is pro bono and if I lose I don’t owe them anything but if I win then obviously they’d want and Id want to pay them for their costs…
    Re leniency, again if you’d read the evidence you’d know. There were 3 perpetrators. One was in my charge thst before he left I didn’t know that there was sexual abuse. The other one who was a friend of mine in my younger years but didn’t have real remorse is in jail. The third one (Gug) who had remorse and paid his victims is, who I argued, should have leniency and the judge actually showed him leniency and gave him a suspended sentence.
    Did you know that there are different sort of abusers. There are some who act out of a natural tendency for sexual relations with little children and don’t control themselves. There are some with sexual attraction for young adults who don’t control themselves and there are some who abuse because they were abused. And in each group there are all sorts. Some can certainly and have been rehabilitated and the one who I called for leniency was from the category which I saw the report that he was rehabilitated with very little or no risk of reoffending…
    I am not looking for words of praise from yourself or from anyone else (besides from my parents and wife…) and even from my recipients! I do what I do as it’s the right thing. As I said in Sydney it is well known and even the paper reported how I help people and victims. The outrageous defamation against me was generated by the anti Chabad forces and so be it.
    As you may know all Chabad institutions here are working hard to rectify any mistakes made in the past and even M Waks met with the Groners to make peace as it was reported. Any mistakes were made -not because of not caring for the victims. But because of not realising the serious effect on the victims and how best to deal with it at the time. This is not the case now in Australia or in any Chabad institution in the world that I know of at present. Everyone is trying their best. Otherwise the reporting negatively is just Loshon Horo and hoitsoas Shel Ru as you see how you got it all wrong in my case. You attacked Chabad for supporting me in my cases. WRONG YOU SHOULD RETRACT AND APOLOGISE FORTHAT. You attacked myself for saying that I held that touching genitals sexually isn’t a crime. WRONG AND YOU SHOULD APOLOGISE FOR THAT.
    So instead of being a publicly false holier than thou person with me, do the right thing and make an article of retracting and apologising FOR ABUSING MYSELF IF YOU REALLY GENUINLY, SINCERELY AND HONESTLY care about abuse. Let’s see you have the courage not to do the easy thing by being a hero for all those Orthodox Jew haters but by showing you’re a person of integrity that when you make a mistake in a abusing someone you retract and apologise. If you don’t all you are is the Orthodox Jew basher protector and not an abuse protector…
    Btw a settlement may be to negate further costs but not an apology. Please read the apology. IBT understood they did the wrong thing an apologised because they don’t have the Jew bashing agenda. Let’s see if you can be as proper as these Goyim or you’re just a real continuation of Shmarya who ultimately no one of substance took seriously because it was clearly seen that he had an agenda and acted improperly accordingly and those loser Jew bashers couldn’t even support him because he was just catering to the low class substandard humans who couldn’t make a living. Is that the direction you want to go?
    I’m awaiting to see whether you’ll do the right thing resgarding your abuse of myself and Chabad or if you’re just a reincarnate Shmarya to end up like him. It’s your choice…

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