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Is a Sephardi-Ashkenazi war behind abduction of Israeli boy in Italy?

CM 13/09/2021

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Is the abduction of a six-year-old boy a new chapter of the decades-old contrast between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Israelis?
Eitan Biran, 6, was the sole survivor in a cable-car crash in Italy in May. Some 14 people died, including the boy’s father Amit Biran, mother Tal Peleg, one-year-old Tom and maternal great-grandparents Barbara Cohen Konisky and Itshak Cohen.
After the incident, the Italian authorities assigned Eitan’s custody to his aunt Aya, Amit’s sister and a doctor who lived with her family – including two daughters around Eitan’s age – in the surroundings of Pavia, the Italian city where the Biran family had moved over five years earlier to allow Amit to study medicine as the local university.

In the past months, however, harsh controversies emerged between Eitan’s paternal and maternal relatives, with the latter accusing the former of keeping the child “hostage” and of disregarding his Israeli and Jewish identity.
In a dramatic development on Saturday, Eitan was picked up at his Pavia home by his grandfather Shmuel Peleg for a routine visit. Later on, it emerged that the boy had been illegally brought to Israel on a private flight.
According to a report in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, his ex-wife Etty accused the Biran family of treating Tal poorly.
“I don’t know why they despise us, maybe because we are Sephardi,” she said.
“I never hid my right-wing views,” she added, suggesting that the Birans, Ashkenazi, hold opposite positions.
The Pelegs accuse Aya also of deciding to send Eitan to a Catholic school. However, the boy’s parents had been sending him to the same Istituto Suore Canossiane in Pavia also for kindergarten in the past years. According to Aya, they had signed him up for first grade there already last January – which is standard practice in Italy. In a press conference with Italian media, she also said that the Pelegs had been helping Amit and Tal paying for tuition in the past years so they were very aware of the choice.
In Italy, like in other countries in the Diaspora, is not uncommon to send Jewish children – or children of other religions – to private religious schools that are sometimes more flexible in meeting their needs than public schools.
On the other hand, Tal’s family have been claiming that the couple intended to move back to Israel soon – Amit was just about to finish their studies. They also said that this is what Eitan wished.
“The boy wanted to go back to Israel the whole time,” she said. “Finally, after four months, the doctors will see him. [His aunt and uncle] forbade my husband and me to meet with his doctors and therapists.”
She added that Eitan was going through extensive testing and therapy in Sheba Medical Center.
The Jerusalem Post confirmed that the child went to Sheba for some checkups.
“He was born and grew up in my house,” she continued. “He’s the first grandson from both sides, a boy with a lot of warmth and love. Just a wonderful, smart boy. During COVID he was here for half a year or even more.”Eitan’s uncle in Italy, Or Nirko – Aya’s husband – was interviewed after Etty, and he told 103FM that Etti was involved in the abduction. “She claims that she flew back to Israel the day before so that she could essentially not be involved in the crime,” he said.
“After Eitan was abducted, you can imagine how we feel,” he added. “Eitan went out for a family visit and was meant to return in the evening. We realized there was a problem when he didn’t come back. We waited a few minutes, and Aya started calling [the grandparents], and no one answered.
Speaking to Italian media, Aya also said that in the past Shmuel Peleg had been sentenced for domestic abuse against Etty before they divorced.
Shmuel is currently being investigated for kidnapping by Italian authorities. According to the Corriere della Sera, he drove Eitan out of Italy through the border with Switzerland – where documents are rarely inspected.
They then boarded a private Cessna plane at the Lugano airport to Ben Gurion – the cost of the flight was around Euro 2,300 per hour.
The question of whether money is also playing a role in the war between the families has also been raised by Italian media. As the court case regarding the case moves forward in the upcoming months and years, as the only survivor Eitan is likely to be awarded a large sum as compensation, perhaps millions of euros.

Police and rescue service members are seen near the crashed cable car after it collapsed in Stresa, near Lake Maggiore, Italy May 23, 2021. (credit: REUTERS)Police and rescue service members are seen near the crashed cable car after it collapsed in Stresa, near Lake Maggiore, Italy May 23, 2021. (credit: REUTERS)

Both families deny any interest in the financial aspect.
Meanwhile, the issue of the immediate future of the child remains. A report by Israeli media according to which the Israeli Foreign and Justice ministries issued a legal opinion suggesting that the boy will need to be returned to his family in Italy has been denied by both ministries.
A Foreign Ministry spokesperson told the Post that while they are aware of the situation, the case does not involve any diplomatic or political aspect and therefore does not fall under the scope of their action.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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