Sunday News Reporters—
A FUGITIVE rabbi from Jerusalem who fled Israel after he was accused of abusing underage girls and sleeping with numerous married women is in hiding in Bulawayo together with a handful of faithfuls from that country, Sunday News can exclusively reveal. Rabbi Eliezer Berland (72), the head of Shuvu Banim, one of the largest Jewish educational institutions in Jerusalem, has for a number of weeks been living in various upmarket lodges in Kumalo and leading worship in a synagogue in the same suburb. He arrived in the country in December last year under the guise of religious tourism.
Assistant Regional Immigration Officer Mr Francis Mabika declined comment on the issue, but a senior official from the Department of Immigration revealed that Berland was under investigation.
“We have information on that character and we are still investigating the matter. Right now we cannot act because we do not have concrete evidence against him,” a senior official said.
According to investigations by this paper, Berland and his followers are being taken care of by the Jewish community in Bulawayo who have been shifting him from lodge to lodge. According to sources within the Jewish community, a hotel in Kumalo has been identified as Berland’s next hideout. The hotel will be closed to members of the public as Berland and his associates will book all the rooms. Their movement will also be limited as they will be worshipping from the hotel.
The leader of the Jewish community in Bulawayo, Mr Hylton Solomon, refused to talk to Sunday News regarding their role in the upkeep and presence of Berland. Efforts to get a comment from Rabbi Berland were unsuccessful though Sunday News managed to get his picture while his aides protested, with one of them interpreting that his leader was saying that the photographer would not make it into the next world for taking his pictures.
The aide said in English: “The Rabbi says if you want to make it to the next world, delete those pictures”.
Back in his homeland, several Israeli women reported that the rabbi sexually harassed or raped them. The allegations came to light in 2012 when the newspaper Israel Hayom reported an incident in which one of Berland’s students encountered him at home, standing beside a naked woman. His supporters expressed anger over the report, and the person who leaked the story to the media was later violently attacked.
After the police opened an investigation, Berland immediately fled Israel and spent time in the United States, Italy and Switzerland. He then left for Morocco, settling in Marrakesh.
In November 2013, Berland and his students were ordered to leave Morocco after King Mohammed VI personally ordered their expulsion from the country. According to news reports, a Moroccan newspaper had published an article profiling the rabbi and mentioning the circumstances in which he fled Israel, and the king ordered Berland’s expulsion after reading the article.
Berland is thought to have left Morocco for Cairo, Egypt. He reportedly bought tickets for various destinations to confuse pursuers. This left many confused as to whether he was staying in Zimbabwe, Venezuela or Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was reported to have been taken in by a relative.
According to media reports, Berland’s son and grandson who are under indictment in Israel for money laundering, tax evasion and related criminal charges and several young women are willing to testify against him.
Among those that have been travelling with Berland, is a man believed to be a wealthy businessman whose private jet they have been using. The businessman is also believed to have business interests in Zimbabwe and has partnered locals who reportedly include former Zimbabwe Football Association boss Ms Henrietta Rushwaya.
“I brought the Israelis who are investing in my mine. The religious tourism guys are not involved with me. Mr Solomon only called me requesting the numbers for the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority,” Ms Rushwaya said when reached for comment.
Mr Solomon was recently quoted as saying the Bulawayo Jewish Congregation had entered into a partnership with the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority which would see them bringing over 150 religious tourists into the country.
Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Ambassador Chris Mutsvangwa said the ministry was not aware of Berland’s presence in the country as he was not a diplomat.
“No we are not aware. Unless if he was a diplomat; that’s when our ministry would come in. I think it’s best you highlight that case with police,” he said.
Home Affairs Minister Cde Kembo Mohadi said Berland would have been picked by police if he was on the Interpol red list.
“I’m not aware of such a fugitive in the country. I’m only hearing it from you for the first time. The problem is that he is not on the Interpol red list and in that case there is no way we would have known that he is a wanted somebody in his country. We rely mostly on Interpol in such cases and since he has a valid passport there is no way we would have picked him at the port of entry,” he said.