Kluwgant had alleged that in 2017, immediately prior to his appointment as Principal of Adass, Weinberg defamed him in a telephone conversation with former Adass Israel School Secretary, Abe Weiszberger, which resulted in his forced resignation some six weeks after accepting the role. In fact, Kluwgant resigned following enormous media attention and protests from across the community in response to his appointment. The Association of Principals of Jewish Day Schools (Victoria) had even written to Adass insisting that the school send a representative other than Kluwgant to the meetings of the Association. Announcing his resignation, the Adass Board said at the time that Kluwgant resigned due to the reaction to his appointment by certain members of the Adass community and that he had no wish to cause further pain to victims of child sexual abuse.
According to Kluwgant, Weinberg allegedly defamed him by communicating to Weiszberger that Kluwgant had:
a. engaged in such serious wrongdoing in relation to sexual abuse of Jewish children that he was properly regarded as one of the worst people involved in those events;
b. behaved in such a way that he was properly described as the scum of the earth; and,
c. committed a criminal offence in relation to reporting of sexual abuse.
In his defence, Weinberg argued that during the conversation (which had been initiated by Weiszberger), he had said no more than if the school went ahead with the appointment of Kluwgant then it was likely to ‘blow up in their face’ due to the likely distress that it would cause to victims of child sexual abuse in the community and that Adass should publicly apologise to victims who continued to suffer owing to its actions.
Weinberg further argued that even if the conversation had taken place in the manner suggested by Kluwgant, the imputations arising from the alleged comments were true, which provided a complete defence against Kluwgant’s claim. They were true because, as demonstrated below, Kluwgant had sought to portray himself as a supporter of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and other forms of abuse, and claimed to have encouraged such victims to report the crimes to the police, however, he had demonstrated substantial hypocrisy on these matters through his conduct.
Alternatively, if the conversation had taken place as suggested by Kluwgant, its real meaning was that Kluwgant was one of the worst leaders in the Jewish community in his manner of dealing with the issue of child sexual abuse, which was also a true statement, and therefore provided a complete defence against Kluwgant’s claim. Indeed, there were few, if any, other Jewish leaders other than Kluwgant whose behaviour had been ‘so contemptuous, appalling and lacking in empathy in their manner of dealing with Jewish victims of child sexual abuse’.
Finally, Weinberg argued that Kluwgant’s misconduct on matters involving child sexual abuse had led to him being forced to resign from the roles of General Manager of Cultural and Spiritual Services at Jewish Care Victoria, President of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, Executive Member of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV), Victoria Police Chaplain, Member of Victoria Police Multi-faith Council, and White Ribbon Ambassador. His reputation was so poor and had been so widely publicised that even if the conversation had taken place as suggested by Kluwgant, and even if he suffered damage as a result (which would be difficult to accept), then it should be mitigated by virtue of his already well known poor reputation.
The defence relied on the following as evidence of Kluwgant’s history of misconduct and the truth of the imputation that Kluwgant had behaved in such a way that he was properly described as the scum of the earth:
a. In June 2011 Kluwgant confronted a survivor of child sexual abuse known as ‘AVB’ who had sent an email to members of the Yeshivah Melbourne community in which he had urged them to co-operate with police and to come forward with any information relating to child sexual abuse. Kluwgant highlighted his position as a Victoria Police Chaplain and told the survivor that he should not have sent the email and that he had no right to get involved. The survivor was made to feel threatened and intimidated.
b. In April 2014, while he was President of the RCV, Kluwgant knowingly made a false allegation of child sexual abuse against a colleague. When first questioned about making the false allegation, Kluwgant tried to deny making the false allegation until he was shown proof and was forced to confess what he had done. Kluwgant subsequently admitted that he had no proper grounds for making the allegation and that he did not believe the allegation to be true. Kluwgant had made the allegation in an attempt to disparage victims/survivors of child sexual abuse, their families and people who spoke up in defence of such victims.
c. In February 2015, Kluwgant sent a text message to the editor of the Australian Jewish News relating to the evidence then being given by Mr Zephaniah Waks (my father) to the Royal Commission which read: “Zephaniah is killing us. Zephaniah is attacking Chabad. He is a lunatic on the fringe, guilty of neglect of his own children. Where was he when all of this was happening?” The text message sought to shift blame to my father for the sexual abuse of his three children at the Yeshivah Centre.
d. On 13 February 2015, Kluwgant gave evidence to the Royal Commission which was false or misleading in relation to whether he had watched the evidence being given by my father and whether he had sent the above text message. Kluwgant had responded that he was ‘undergoing surgery and was under general anaesthetic’ at the time my father gave evidence and was not really following proceedings that day.
e. The Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand (RCANZ) was established to replace the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia whose executive had forced Kluwgant to resign as President in response to his misconduct. In November 2016, the RCANZ issued a joint statement together with the Rabbinical Council of New South Wales and the RCV: “We believe that those who denigrated or undermined the victims have lost their moral right to serve as leaders in our communities.” This was a reference to Kluwgant.
f. In March 2017, an investigation by the RCV into Kluwgant’s misconduct in relation to the sexual abuse of Jewish children found that his actions ‘were not consistent with Torah values or the standards expected of members of the RCV’.
g. In March 2017 the RCV issued a letter stating that ‘the RCV did not authorise and would not authorise (Rabbi Kluwgant’s) conduct and disavows and distances itself from Rabbi Kluwgant's conduct and condemns it in the strongest possible terms’.
h. In June 2017, as part of his attempts to gain employment at the Adass Israel School, Kluwgant misled Adass by telling them that:
i. he had issued apologies, made amends for his conduct and resolved issues with victims of child sexual abuse and their families including Manny Waks, Zephaniah Waks and ‘AVB’. These statements were false and Kluwgant must have known that they were false at the time he made them.
ii. other than the matters revealed at the Royal Commission, he had not otherwise conducted himself inappropriately on matters involving child sexual abuse. He did not refer to, or mention, the other matters set out above.
Thus Kluwgant has become the second rabbi since the Royal Commission (see (Rabbi) Yossi Feldman) who has tried to restore his reputation through legal action only to fail spectacularly and suffer further humiliation in the process.
This was a case which Kluwgant could never have won and should never have started. He succeeded only in drawing more attention to his hypocrisy and dishonesty in relation to his handling of matters involving child sexual abuse and allowed previously unknown details of his conduct to become public.
As I have done in the past, I encourage Kluwgant to take full responsibility for his actions, seek to understand the hurt and damage he has repeatedly caused to victims/survivors of child sexual abuse and the Jewish community, and undergo appropriate training and counseling.
It seems for now, he remains in a state of denial.