MONSEY (VINnews/Sandy Eller) – Five years after being sued for libel for warning Har Nof parents on social media to consider a convicted sex offender in their neighborhood as dangerous as “a terrorist with a machete,” a Monsey rabbi has been found not liable for his tweet.
Jerusalem Magistrate Court Justice Michal Hirschfeld’s verdict was issued in September and made public on October 19th, blocking Yona Weinberg’s demand that Rabbi Yakov Horowitz pay him 200,000 NIS for defamation, reported The Times of Israel (https://bit.ly/3aXcmEa). In her decision, Hirschfeld said that Rabbi Horowitz had acted in good faith and that his warning was truthful, her verdict including an implicit criticism of Israel’s lack of a public sex offender registration and failure to monitor immigrants who are convicted sex offenders.
“The law of return is being terribly abused,” Rabbi Horowitz told VIN News. “These people come in emboldened that they evaded justice and they just disappear. Nobody in Israel knows who they are or what they have done.”
Rabbi Horowitz, a long time child safety advocate, said that Americans typically don’t understand the dangers child molestors pose in Israel.
“In Monsey, Flatbush or other neighborhoods, when someone moves in people take notice, but in place like Har Nof, there are large buildings with people constantly moving in and out and it is much easier to be anonymous,” said Rabbi Horowitz.
Equally important is the fact that children in Israel frequently play outside without supervision and that people feel that they are in a safe place and often let their guard down.
As previously reported on VIN News, Weinberg spent 13 months in prison in 2009 for sexually abusing two boys who were coming to him for bar mitzvah lessons. As a level three sex offender, Weinberg was considered to be a high repeat offense risk as well as a public safety threat, and police discovered that he had fled to Israel in 2014 after going to his Brooklyn home to arrest him for sexually assaulting an 11 year old boy. Ten days after news broke in January 2015 that Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson’s slow reaction to charges against Weinberg had given him an opportunity to leave the country, Rabbi Horowitz tweeted “Har Nof residents Convicted sex offender yona Weinberg is LEVEL 3!! Treat him as a terrorist with a machete.”
Weinberg filed his defamation suit nine months later. Rabbi Horowitz said that he never once considered backing down, even with Weinberg’s lawyer accusing him of inciting violence against his client.
“I looked him in the eye and asked him if he ever buried a child who committed suicide and told him ‘I shoveled dirt on the graves of children who had killed themselves so don’t tell me who is a terrorist with a machete,’” said Rabbi Horowitz. “Yona Weinberg posed an existential life-threatening danger to children and I told the judge that if she wanted to punish me for saying that, she could.”
Rabbi Horowitz also recalled a Har Nof community leader telling him that he had contacted someone in Brooklyn about Weinberg and was told that the accusations of sexual abuse were “just a story.”
“I asked him, what if I’m right, and he answered that that they were keeping an eye on him,” said Rabbi Horowitz. “I asked him if he would just keep an eye on a terrorist with a machete, and that became the warning that I tweeted.”
Hirschfeld did order Rabbi Horowitz to pay Weinberg 3,000 NIS for statements he made categorizing him as a fugitive and alleging that he was giving children non-kosher candy.
Rabbi Horowitz was also instructed to pay Weinberg an additional 3,000 NIS to cover expenses and half of his court costs. Despite those relatively minor penalties, Hirschfeld made it clear that she felt that Rabbi Horowitz’s tweet had been intended to protect children from harm, writing in her decision that it came “out of an honest concern for the public’s safety,” and noting that Jewish sex offenders were free to become Israeli citizens and live their lives without any restrictions imposed on them.
Rabbi Horowitz described Hirschfeld’s verdict as “an incredible victory for children.” With the defamation suit now behind him, he is continuing his campaign to create a sex offender registry in Israel and hopes that parents will use news about his defamation case to open a discussion with their children about the dangers of sexual predators in an effort to keep them safe from harm.