US media outlets reported Thursday that an Israeli rabbi flying from Tel Aviv to New York allegedly fondled a female passenger a number of times while she slept and when she confronted him he claimed: "It's a mistake I'm asleep". The report is based on US federal court records.
Rabbi Gabriel Bidani, 47, was charged with misdemeanor assault over the event which allegedly occurred on March 27 during Delta flight 269.
According to the report, an hour and a half into the 12 hour flight, Bidani reached over and put his hand under the complainant's blanket, placed it on her crotch and groped her.
The woman then “jumped back,” and Bidani “quickly removed his hand from her groin," she said. The complainant told the FBI that she then “pulled her blanket back over her head and body.” But a few minutes later, Bidani allegedly again “reached under the passenger’s blanket, this time groping the passenger’s breasts.”
“What are you doing, stop touching me,” she told Bidani. He replied, “It’s a mistake, I’m asleep,” an FBI agent said. The female passenger “then left her seat to advise the flight crew of the incident.” The flight crew confirmed the story with the FBI and one crew member described the woman as “visibly shaken and frantic.”
Bidani's lawyer Saul Bienenfeld, said that the rabbi “asserts his total innocence” and contends that the alleged sexual contact “never occurred.” Bidani posted $250,000 bond and was released from prison after surrendering his passport and agreeing to limit his travels to the New York City metropolitan area.
At his April 5 arraignment, the Orthodox rabbi sought permission to return to Israel, though that request was denied by a magistrate judge.
In a subsequent motion, Bienenfeld asked for his client’s curfew to be relaxed since during the Passover holiday he “needs to be in synagogue past 9 PM” and “wishes to see more of those individuals who seek advice in communities that are not near the area that he is sleeping.” At the time, Bidani was staying at a residence on Long Island.
Bidani’s bail terms were modified Thursday when a judge agreed to allow him to fly back to Israel from April 14 to May 1. In a motion, Bienenfeld said that his client wanted to return to Israel “for the Passover holiday,” and had also recently learned that his father is “gravely ill.” Bidani’s bond was increased to $500,000 by Magistrate Judge James Orenstein. The rabbi's trial will open on May 4.