Johannesburg - The South African Jewish community is in turmoil over the arrival of an Israeli rabbi wanted for questioning in his country over sex abuse allegations.
On Sunday, a peaceful protest in Sandringham, Joburg, against the rabbi descended into name-calling and racial slurs when one of the rabbi’s supporters confronted the protesters.
He became aggressive, accusing the group of acting like Germans and Nazis.
The man refused to give his name, but said the rabbi was staying at his home.
According to Israeli newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, orthodox Rabbi Eliezer Berland left Israel more than a year ago after a number of his female followers, including a 15-year-old girl, accused him of sexual abuse.
Since then, he has moved between countries, often only leaving when forcibly removed by authorities and was most recently in Zimbabwe.
He brings with him to Joburg an estimated 200 followers, who are being housed by Jewish community members in a number of shuls in the city.
Followers of the Jewish faith will celebrate Passover on Monday night. Ruben Genish, a member of the Jewish community helping to look after Berland’s supporters, said it was shocking how members of the community turned against themselves, because it opened them up to criticism from non-Jews.
“Why don’t we (talk about it) amongst ourselves. Why don’t we do it in our shuls?” he asked.
A passer-by agreed. She said she thought it was improper to air this “dirty laundry” and it should rather be dealt with quietly.
The Jerusalem Post reported on an e-mail sent by South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein to his colleagues in the country, encouraging them not to shelter or support Berland or his followers, saying any congregants likely to be “drawn into supporting or sheltering Berland and his followers” should be spoken with.
“Berland must return to Israel to face the criminal justice system,” Goldstein said.
Protest organiser Wendy Hendler said Berland had a history of sexual abuse and criminal activity.
“Our community is saying we don’t harbour and shelter anyone from the law,” she said.
Hendler said Berland did have support from influential members of the Jewish community.
But she said the South African Jewish Board of Deputies was in consultation with a number of government departments to have Berland deported.
“Abuse is happening in all communities and it’s about time people speak out and acknowledge this is happening. No community is different,” said protester Wendy Rubbenstein.
The Star provided its contact details to Berland’s supporters and urged them to ask him to contact the newspaper to give his side of the story.
However, he had not contacted the paper at the time of publication.
The International Relations and Co-operation Department had also not responded to requests for comment.