MONTREAL — The chair of the Israeli parliamentary committee hearing allegations of mistreatment within the Lev Tahor sect says her government launched the inquiry on its own after seeking collaboration with Canadian authorities.
Knesset member Orly Lévy-Abecassis told La Presse in an interview published Dec. 2 that it’s “urgent” authorities in Canada and Israel now co-operate fully “to save the child victims of this sect. Each day counts.”
Many ex-members of the anti-Zionist haredi group and relatives of members living in Israel have given “blood-chilling” testimonies of violence, forced marriages and ill treatment of children, she said.
Lévy-Abecassis said the Israeli government is holding the inquiry into the sect, which was based in Ste. Agathe, Que., until last month, when most of the group left for southwestern Ontario, because many of its members are Israeli. There is also an affiliated group in Israel.
“It was the duty of our state to know exactly what was going on over there and to collaborate with the Canadian authorities to put an end to the ill treatment and to ensure the safety of the children…
“We have learned that some abuses were known for several years in Canada. Therefore, we started to act alone.”
More than 200 Lev Tahor members, the great majority, have moved to Chatham, Ont., where they appear to be settling. Local media reported they have left motels and moved into apartments while they look for property to buy.
The group, led by Israeli-born Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, had lived in Ste. Agathe in the Laurentians for a decade. Their houses and other buildings are up for sale.
Lev Tahor had been under intense investigation by Quebec’s Youth Protection Department for several months and departed overnight just ahead of a scheduled tribunal was to examine allegations of child neglect against two families.
On Nov. 27, a St. Jérôme youth court judge ordered the families’ 14 children immediately placed in foster care for at least 30 days, on the basis of evidence, including from a former group member, which is subject to a publication ban.
As of Dec. 4, the children were still in Ontario with their parents, who defied an order that they appear at the hearing.
A leader of the group, Uriel Goldman, told the media on Dec. 2 that the families would abide by the court order if an Ontario judge certifies it.
As Lev Tahor leaders have said repeatedly, Goldman denied the allegations of abuse and neglect and said the reason the group left Quebec is that it cannot comply with the province’s education curriculum because of its religious beliefs.
Lévy-Abecassis said she thinks Lev Tahor “took advantage of the flexibility of Canadian laws, of the respect for individual freedom that exists in your country…
“They knew that, over there, they would be less watched, less easily worried by justice.”
Among the testimonies was that of a woman who said she was not allowed to see her child for two years because she started to question what was going on in the sect.
The Knesset committee also heard of frequent “cruel” corporal punishment of children, including making children keep their hands in snow for hours, and the “brainwashing” of youth.
She warned Canadians to be more vigilant because other sects, “attracted by this spirit of tolerance, could find refuge with you.”