Johannesburg - A fugitive Israeli rabbi wanted for sexual crimes in his country has once again evaded police.
The elderly Rabbi Eliezer Berland fled from the police on Monday night, ramping pavements in a car and knocking over plants as he fled.
Hawks spokesman Paul Ramoloko confirmed on Wednesday morning that their investigators received information that Berland was in Sandringham, Joburg.
On Monday night they waited for him and saw him drive up the road. Ramoloko said Berland was travelling with a group of men and they do not know their affiliation to the rabbi.
“Our team tried to nab him. We had a mini roadblock and as soon as he saw that, he jumped out of the car he was travelling in and into a BMW that was nearby. The BMW climbed on the pavements and drove on them, hitting people’s trees and pot plants as they fled. We could not shoot at him because it is not how we wanted to operate this. We know that we will get him,” he said.
Ramoloko said that they did not know whether the people travelling with Berland were armed.
This is not the first time that Berland has evaded the police.
A few months ago he was officiating at a wedding when the Hawks pounced. However, they were not prepared for what they saw.
“This man surround himself with a group of about 12 people or more. They were all wearing black coats and looked the same. The way things were, we would have arrested the wrong person. We asked people we found there where he was and they said he was not there. It is not easy to arrest him but our guys don’t sleep - they are constantly looking for him,”he said.
The Jewish Board of Deputies said they were not aware of this latest development.
National director of the board Wendy Kahn said this morning: “From what we understand he is a fugitive from Israeli law where he is accused of sexual crimes. As law-abiding citizens of South Africa, we encourage him to turn himself over to the South African law enforcement authorities so that he can be returned to Israel to stand justice.”
Berland arrived in South Africa in April with about 200 followers, sparking a protest by the South African Jewish community in Sandringham.
During the Passover holiday this year, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein urged South African rabbis to take in destitute followers of Berland, who has been on the run for more than a year, having fled his country after several women accused him of sexual abuse.
Although Goldstein originally sent a message warning colleagues against taking in Berland or his followers, he had a change of heart later, according to an e-mail sent on behalf of the chief rabbi to The Star. Many of the families who travelled with Berland were without food or shelter during the Passover holiday, Goldstein said.
“Given the dire circumstances, those who are able to help these destitute people over the course of Pesach should do so on the following condition: that after Pesach, the entire group of these followers must agree to return to Israel immediately,” he wrote.
But Berland himself should return to Israel immediately to face the criminal justice system there, Goldstein said then. He warned his colleagues that it would be “untenable and unconscionable” to harbour a fugitive.
According to The Jerusalem Post newspaper in Israel, Berland was accused of sexual abuse by a number of his female followers, including a 15-year-old girl. Previously, Berland has hidden in the US, Switzerland and Morocco.