WEST BANK (Dispatches) – Ex-fugitive rabbi Eliezer Berland, who has served prison time for sex offences, has tried to trade his followers' votes for public rehabilitation from ultra-Orthodox parties.
Berland, 81, was seen in a recording obtained by Hadashot News speaking with Meir Porush, Zionist deputy education minister and a member of parliament from United Torah Judaism, an alliance between two small ultra-Orthodox parties that has six seats in the Knesset.
The controversial Israel-based religious leader Eliezer Berland has made an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate a comeback to the public spotlight following isolation, where he found himself after confessing to sex crimes.
The recording, which is not available online yet, is said to have been filmed ahead of the October municipal election in the occupied territories. Berland's aide, Natan Bezenson, reportedly demanded "minimal recognition" on the part of the ultra-Orthodox, while the controversial rabbi would in exchange take part in a photo op with a call on his followers to vote for Agudoth Israel, one of the two parties that make up United Torah Judaism.
Otherwise, Bezenson allegedly warned that Berland would ally with the enemies of Agudoth Israel. The rabbi followed through with his threat as he failed to hammer out a deal: he later supported a mayoral candidate from Shas, another ultra-Orthodox party with 7 parliament seats.
Eliezer Berland, the founder and leader of the Shuvu Banim religious community, was accused of sex offences in 2013, but fled the Israeli-occupied territories to escape punishment and moved between the Netherlands, Zimbabwe, Switzerland and South Africa. He was eventually extradited to the territories in 2016 and pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent acts and one case of sexual assault.
He received an 18-month sentence but was released in April 2017 after some five months in jail on medical grounds.