The Australian Federal Police said Tuesday that it is assessing a request by victims of sexual abuse at a Chabadrun institution in Melbourne to investigate allegations that one of its senior officials provided false evidence to the Royal Commission last month regarding the school’s handling of the allegations.
Rabbi Chaim Tsvi Groner had been called to appear before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s 53rd case study last month, following an investigation into the Yeshiva Center in East St.
Kilda by the Royal Commission in early 2015.
The commission heard from two victims and their relatives that Rabbi Zvi Telsner, as the former head rabbi of Yeshiva Center, had delivered sermons attacking child sexual abuse victims and their families, encouraging other members of the community to ostracize them and discouraging victims from reporting their abuse to the police or media.
During the hearing last month, Groner – a member of the Yeshiva Board as well as Telsner’s brother-in-law – was questioned over Telsner’s current role at the Yeshiva.
Telsner stepped down as head of the Yeshiva in September 2015, stating that his “conduct toward victims and their families did not demonstrate the values or behavior…
necessary of a rabbi in my position.”
But in a complaint made to the Australian Federal Police and the Royal Commission last week, alleged victims of abuse said that Telsner remained extensively involved in the Yeshiva Center Melbourne and continued to occupy its most senior leadership position.
When giving evidence last month, Groner said that presently, the full extent of Telsner’s involvement in the Yeshiva Center Melbourne is as a congregant who “gives a few classes in the synagogue.” Groner said that Telsner no longer occupied a position of leadership within the Yeshiva.
A small group of alleged child abuse victims, including child abuse victim and activist Manny Waks, subsequently submitted a report to the Australian Federal Police on behalf of dozens of Jewish victims, accusing Groner of providing false or misleading evidence to the Royal Commission and providing a list to back this allegation.
In a bid to prove that Telsner “remained extensively involved in the Yeshiva Center Melbourne and continued to occupy its most senior leadership position,” the complaint provided a list of evidence to back this claim.
Among the points noted are that Telsner officiates congregants’ life cycle events, with specific mention of a wedding he officiated earlier this month. The group also stated that Telsner still occupies the head rabbi’s seat during synagogue services and continues to receive the same salary.
Groner confirmed in the hearing that Telsner continues to receive payment and said that, “Apparently, this is something that the current board of CIVL [Chabad Institutions of Victoria Limited], as it is called, is dealing with in regards to financial arrangements with his resignation.”
The report filed by the complainants also states that Telsner maintains an office in the synagogue building and delivers sermons during weekly and holiday prayer services.
In a press release, the group said that, “Victims who were sexually abused as children cite the continuing involvement of Telsner and Groner with the Yeshiva as a source of ongoing trauma, which makes it difficult for them to move on with their lives.”
Groner is the son of the late Rabbi Yitchok David Groner, the longtime leader of the Yeshiva, who was found by the Royal Commission to have failed to respond to complaints of sexual abuse by his students and their parents.
The group expressed disappointed with both Jewish community donors and the government for continuing to provide funding to the Yeshiva “despite its failure to hold these individuals to account over their roles in the child sexual abuse scandal.”
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) on Tuesday notified the group’s representative that there has been further discussion between the AFP and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse regarding the allegations. “As a result of these discussions, your information has been sent to the relevant area for assessment,” the AFP said.
Waks told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday that the evidence provided by Groner “outraged many victims and survivors, as well as the broader community.
“In particular, Rabbi Groner’s evidence seemed to many of us that, at best, he was misleading the Royal Commission, and, at worst, outright lying at the hearing,” he continued. “We are pleased that both the Royal Commission and the Australian Federal Police are taking this matter seriously, and we have faith that they’ll undertake a professional investigation into the matter, and act accordingly.”
The Royal Commission in December published a damning report on the handling of child sex abuse allegations in their communities by Yeshiva Center and the Yeshiva College in Melbourne, Victoria, and the Yeshiva Center and the Yeshiva College in Bondi, Sydney, New South Wales.
The commission said that there had been a “marked absence of supportive leadership for victims of child sexual abuse and their families within Yeshiva Melbourne. Halachic principles were stridently – even if incorrectly– applied. Criticism of those who spoke out was forceful.”