HACKENSACK, N.J. (CN) – In a bizarre custody battle that has escalated into an Interpol manhunt, a New Jersey man claims that three Israeli nationals and two nonprofits helped his ex secret their child away to Israel.
Next month will mark seven years since Sharon Ben-Haim last saw his daughter, according to the complaint, filed on Feb. 23 in Bergen County Superior Court. Ofir was just 6 months old when her mother, Oshrat Abergel, allegedly abducted her on a vacation in Israel.
Though Ben-Haim does not name his estranged wife as a defendant, he says U.S. authorities charged Abergel with criminal abduction in August 2012 and that both Interpol and the state of New Jersey have issued warrants for her arrest. A search of the Interpol’s Wanted List does not bring up her name.
Ben-Haim blames his enduring separation from his child on Israeli customs he calls “anti-male, hostile, and abusive to fathers in divorce proceedings.”
Noting that it was Passover when Abergel filed for religious and civil divorce from him in Israel, Ben-Haim claims the vacation was in fact “a premeditated act of forum shopping to lure Ben-Haim into a more favorable jurisdiction for her, one in which men are routinely discriminated against.”
Though Israel’s Supreme Court determined in May 2010 that Ofir had been abducted, it nevertheless said “that Ben-Haim ‘consented’ to the abduction,” according to the complaint.
Throughout the ordeal, Abergel “waged war” against Ben-Haim, the complaint says, noting that a rabbinical court ordered him arrested, tried to prevent him from leaving Israel, and threatened to jail his mother, father and sister to make him sign off on the divorce and custody arrangement.
Ben-Haim contends that the rabbinical court rulings against him prohibit members of the religious community in Israel from doing him any favors, praying with him or burying him, among other restrictions.
The Bergen County resident filed his suit pro se, contending that he was awarded full custody of Ofir in a 2013 court divorce decree.
Ben-Haim accuses the nonprofits New Israel Fund and Mavoi Satum of aiding and abetting his ex, while tormenting and threatening him and his family, “both physically and financially.”
The New Israel Fund is a U.S.-based nonprofit that aims to provide social justice and equality for all Israelis. Mavoi Satum, which was founded in 1995, provides “legal and emotional support to women who have been refused a Jewish divorce (get),” according to its website.
Matoi Satum allegedly represented Abergel in one of the rabbinical courts in Haifa, Israel.
Ben-Haim’s complaint also takes aim at one of New Israel Fund’s fundraisers, Batya Kahana-Dror, whom he says defamed him on two Israeli radio stations by claiming that he fled Israel illegally.
New Israel Fund and Matoi Satum did not respond to emails seeking comment. Abergel could not be located for comment.
In a brief interview with Courthouse News, Ben-Haim called New Israel Fund a “criminal organization” and that “they don’t care in Israel” about the kidnapping case.
He says Bergen County prosecutors are working with the Department of Justice and Interpol to extradite Abergel from Israel. The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office filed charges for contempt and interference of custody against Abergel in 2012, then called Oshrat Ben-Haim.
Ben-Haim operates a website, www.bringofirhome.org, that details the custody battle and his allegations. “My entire world has been shattered, as was my family’s,” Ben-Haim’s website states. “The disaster of losing my only daughter is indescribable.”
The abduction allegations also are featured on The Charley Project, an online compendium of missing children. Ofir’s entry states that Ben-Haim “has had only sporadic contact with his child since 2010, and he hasn’t seen her at all before her first birthday.”
Ben-Haim seeks $26 million in damages, as well as an additional $1 million for every year he has been separated from his daughter.