“A SHAMED rabbi forced to step down from a string of posts after vilifying and intimidating victims of child sex abuse is now suing their spokesman for defamation.
Meir Shlomo Kluwgant had to resign as Australia’s top rabbi in the wake of the child abuse royal commission’s probe into Yeshivah College in East St Kilda.
He now claims Phillip Weinberg, who acted as spokesman for the victims, defamed him in telephone calls to Adass Israel School secretary Avraham Weiszberger in June and July last year.
In a writ filed in the Supreme Court, Rabbi Kluwgant claims the first call took place just days before he took up the post of CEO and principal of the Elsternwick school.
Rabbi Kluwgant alleges that during the call, Mr Weinberg told Mr Weiszberger that he (Kluwgant) was “the scum of the earth” and “one of the worst people” he had heard about.
He claims Mr Weinberg suggested he was unsuitable for the job and that the school was making a big mistake employing him and encouraged Weiszberger to contact other members of the Rabbinic Council of Australia and New Zealand to obtain further details of his poor character. The Rabbi alleges further defamatory comments were made in a second call where Mr Weinberg allegedly stated the school was “on the right track” by distancing itself from him.
Rabbi Kluwgant claims Mr Weinberg suggested that he was of such “unsavoury, unscrupulous and distasteful” character that he should be sacked, being unfit to hold any office at a school.
He claims the alleged statements injured his reputation and breached court orders made in December 2015 restraining Mr Weinberg from making derogatory comments about him.
He is seeking aggravated damages and damages for lost income and for the alleged contempt of court.
He claims the alleged statements injured his reputation and occupation and breached court orders made in December, 2015 restraining Mr Weinberg from publishing or sharing certain documents, or making derogatory comments about him to anyone.
Rabbi Kluwgant alleges Mr Weinberg has refused to correct, retract of apologise despite being asked to do so and is seeking aggravated damages and damages for lost income and for Mr Weinberg’s alleged contempt of court for breaching the earlier orders.
Mr Weinberg could not be contacted and is yet to file a defence.
Rabbi Kluwgant resigned as principal of Adass Israel in August last year. His appointment prompted the most powerful rabbi in the ultra-Orthodox community to make an extraordinary call for further consultation, after abuse victims asked the school to reconsider.
Victims had expressed alarm in 2015 that Rabbi Kluwgant was teaching religious studies at Beth Rivkah Ladies College, operated by the Yeshivah Centre, saying it was evidence the centre was not serious about tackling abuse.
Earlier in 2015 Rabbi Kluwgant resigned as president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, lost his position on Victoria Police’s multi-faith advisory committee and resigned as general manager of cultural and spiritual services at Jewish Care.
The royal commission heard that he had labelled the father of Yeshivah College abuse victim Manny Waks a “lunatic” who neglected his children, and told another victim who called on Jewish leaders to confront the child sexual abuse crisis to “remain silent”.
Adass Israel School was previously mired in controversy when former principal Malka Leifer fled to Israel in the middle of the night when she was accused of molesting her students in 2008.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month promised to take a fresh look at extraditing Ms Leifer to Australia, where she is wanted on 74 charges of child sexual abuse.”