Interpol issues red alert for rabbi from Argentina suspected of sex abuse

Written by on February 11, 2021

Interpol has issued a red alert for the arrest of an immigrant from Argentina who is wanted there on suspicion of the sexual abuse of at least two teenage minors.

The red alert was issued against 44-year-old Rabbi Marcelo Krawiec, following a request from the Criminal and Correctional Court No. 18 in Argentina at the end of January, following the submission of formal complaints by two individuals in the country against the rabbi in recent months.

Israel Police declined to comment when asked what action it was taking on the Interpol arrest warrant.

The Justice Ministry also declined to respond on what actions it might take.

Krawiec has denied the allegations, saying that they were “incorrect and untrue.” 

Krawiec served as a rabbi in a synagogue in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Colegiales. He was married with children, and worked with the community’s youth, serving as director of NCSY Argentina.

The rabbi immigrated to Israel in the 1990s, returned to Argentina for a number of years, then took up residence in Israel again in 2019.

Kevin Palmer, now 27 years old and an alleged victim of Krawiec, was born and raised in a suburb of Buenos Aires, and grew up secular. His father left home when he was two years old and his brother was in ill health. Palmer was subsequently left with many domestic responsibilities.

He started attending Krawiec’s synagogue in Colegiales for the first time in 2010 when he was 16 and formed a friendship with him.

Palmer would babysit for his children, and do various errands including going to the bank and buying groceries for the rabbi, for which he was paid.

Palmer lived a considerable distance from the synagogue, and would often sleep in Krawiec’s office in the building on Friday night, sometimes with other boys, to avoid traveling on Shabbat.

Speaking to the Post, Palmer recounted that the first time Krawiec committed indecent acts with him was on a Shabbat morning when he would wake him up.

“I was pretty confused, I couldn’t explain to him that I felt uncomfortable with it,” Palmer said.

Following several similar incidents and due to Palmer’s brother’s illness, Krawiec offered to give Palmer one-on-one meditation sessions, which he said would transmit positive energy to his brother and help him with his illness.

The first session was in Krawiec’s synagogue office and lasted around 45 minutes to an hour during which he again committed indecent acts.

“I got pretty uncomfortable and confused,” said Palmer. “I was very ashamed, and confused. It was a religious place and I felt more uncomfortable because of that. On the bus on the way home I thought there was no way he did it on purpose, he was almost like my adopted father, he had been so helpful.” Palmer said that he therefore decided just to drop the issue.

A similar incident took place at Krawiec’s home a few months later, and then again after Palmer had needed a place to stay due to personal problems.

Palmer was ready to go to sleep and was wearing shorts, and the rabbi asked him if he wanted to mediate first to which Palmer agreed, thinking it might help his personal problems.

He said however that he had prepared himself to stop Krawiec if he engaged in inappropriate touching again and would tell him to stop.

However, when Krawiec again began acting inappropriately, Palmer says he froze.

“I couldn’t move, I was awake but I was paralyzed,” he said, adding that he was scared because he knew what he was going to do but wouldn’t be physically able to stop him. “I wanted to defend myself but couldn’t.”

Palmer ceased contact with the rabbi after that, and told a friend about what had happened, but says he decided not to speak out publicly because Krawiec was a respected figure in the Jewish community and did not think he would be believed.

“I also didn’t want to harm his family,” said Palmer. “I grew up without a dad, and I know how that feels.”

Eventually Palmer confronted the rabbi and told him he appreciated the help he had given him, but that what he had done to him had been abusive, and that he no longer wanted any contact with him and would speak out against Krawiec if he heard of a similar incident with another individual.

Palmer made aliyah in 2012 when he was 18 because he felt it was “an easy way to start new,” but he left three years later when his brother passed away at a young age.

He stayed in Argentina for six months before moving to San Diego, where a friend helped find him a job, an opportunity that Palmer saw as another chance to start over.

He says that he has “a constant fight” when he is alone at home to stop thinking about what happened to him.

“Your brain is still working and thinking, and I don’t know how to stop the images,” Palmer said. “When I go to work I can cut off everything and become happy working,” but that “when the working day ends it becomes more difficult. I need to remind myself I’m not a victim, I’m not 16 anymore, and I remind myself I have a job, I have food, a house, a shower, because I don’t want to fall down into a depression.”

Palmer said that some people whom he has told or become aware of the complaints against Krawiec have not believed him, or told him just to forgive the rabbi.

But he says he now regrets not having spoken out after learning of a second complainant against Krawiec.

Palmer says that the second complainant’s allegations were described as “Lashon Ha’ra,” a Hebrew phrase connoting gossip, and he too was not believed.

“I made a mistake 10 years ago, and I don’t want to carry that pressure on me anymore,” Palmer said. “He will do this again.”

Palmer also said he felt there is a greater taboo for men to speak about such incidents, and that victims may think they are less of a man because of it.

“It doesn’t make you less of a man. Ten years ago [when the incidents happened] I was a child, I was a teenager, and looking back now I’m not less of a man. If I and other victims speak out, we can encourage other people to be less shy and afraid” about their experiences.

Giménez, who is representing Palmer on a pro bono basis, says there are several alleged victims of Krawiec, including some who have not yet filed complaints against him.

“For the victim there are two processes, that of justice and the internal process[ing] of anguish, anger and despair, and seeking justifications for why the accused did what they did,” she said.

Shana Aaronson, director of Magen for Jewish Communities, which assists sexual abuse victims in Jewish communities and in Israel, said she was disturbed by those in the Argentinian Jewish community who were opposed to dealing with the allegations in a formal manner. She also noted that she had spoken with the second complainant about their allegations against Krawiec.

“Unfortunately we know there are still many in the community who believe that this case should have been dealt with behind closed doors, and that the victims’ decision to report the abuse is a chilul Hashem [desecration of God’s name],” Aaronson said in a statement.

“In this day and age, with the proliferation of information about sexual abuse and the damage and pain it wrecks on victims and communities, this kind of belief has no place within the Jewish community.

“Covering up abuse causes victims pain, and is indeed what allows the perpetrator to abuse many young people. Those who knew about Krawiec’s alleged actions and chose to ignore them, and worse, continue to give him a platform working with youth, bear a heavy responsibility here. I hope they will take this opportunity to educate themselves, and create a safer community where the victims will be supported in seeking help and justice.”

Israel does not have an extradition treaty with Argentina.

Aaronson says that there is cooperation however between the Israeli and Argentinian authorities, and that various legal avenues are being explored.

Krawiec said that he had been in touch with Palmer via WhatsApp messaging for “many years” since the alleged incidents took place, and questioned why Palmer would have been in touch with him if he had committed the acts he is accused of.

“Until a few months ago we spoke excellently. All of a sudden everything is upside down. It was just several months ago that he suddenly stopped talking to me.

“My lawyers are working on getting me into Argentina to allow a proper hearing… so I can give the details and evidence and witnesses that I have who can give testimony for me that maybe he [Palmer] understood things that I never intended. I have worked with youth for 20 years, and there have never been any complaints against me or anything with a hint of a complaint against me.”

Palmer said in response that he had indeed been in touch with Krawiec, but that it had been close to 18 months ago.

“I was still in the loop in my mind that what happened was normal,” he said. “I still hadn’t processed what had happened.”

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