Several prominent haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Religious-Zionist politicians gave their backing to Deputy Health Minister and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) leader Rabbi Ya'acov Litzman on Tuesday after police recommended indicting him on charges of fraud and breach of trust.Litzman allegedly interfered in the extradition of alleged pedophile Malka Leifer.
Police said that Litzman, a Gerrer Hassid, attempted to pressure the Jerusalem district psychiatrist into falsely stating that Leifer was mentally unfit to be extradited to Australia to stand trial. Litzman’s meeting with the key witness in the extradition case could constitute obstruction of justice, according to reports.
He is also accused of threatening other medical professionals at the ministry if they would not write reports in a way favorable to Leifer. The former principal fled to Israel in 2008 amid allegations that she had sexually abused students at the Adass Yisroel school in Melbourne.
Senior UTJ leader MK Moshe Gafni said that he had “no doubt that the allegations are false” and that it would become clear that the deputy minister did nothing for himself but rather for the good of those who turn to him for assistance. “The timing of the announcement of the [police] recommendations is odd and arouses questions,” Gafni added. Shas, the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi party, issued a statement saying that it “supports deputy minister Rabbi Litzman,” and described him as a “faithful public servant who has worked faithfully for the public for decades.”The party also stated that Litzman will “be proved innocent and justice will come to light speedily.”Senior United Right MK Bezalel Smotrich came to Litzman’s defense as well, saying that although he was not familiar with the investigative material, “I am familiar with his dedication and that of his office." He said that Litzman helps anyone who turns to him for assistance.“The police announcement appears to be another attempt to revoke the active authorities of elected officials and turn them into functionaries and to delegitimize to the intervention of elected officials,” added Smotrich.Police said that they found sufficient evidence to charge Litzman with trying to influence the opinion of psychiatrists appointed by his ministry in order to aid Leifer and prevent her extradition to Australia, where she is wanted for dozens of cases of sexual abuse that she allegedly committed while serving as a school principal in Melbourne.
Leifer is wanted on 74 charges of child sexual abuse. She was arrested in Israel in 2014 but was released after being deemed mentally unfit for the legal proceedings. She was rearrested last year after an undercover investigation found that she lived a normal life and was mentally fit to face extradition.
The second case investigated by police was about Litzman's alleged involvement in trying to influence officials in the ministry to work on behalf of a food company whose owner is close to the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) politician. Litzman allegedly tried to prevent the closure of the company, which had been found to pose a health hazard to the public, having caused several people to become sick after consuming its products.
The police said that the investigation found sufficient evidence against Litzman to charge him with fraud, obstruction of justice and breach of trust.
After the police recommendation, a statement was released on Tuesday by Litzman's office saying that, "[Deputy] Minister Litzman has worked throughout his years for the benefit of Israeli citizens, with complete transparency and by law. The office of Litzman has a clear, open-door policy to assist the public. This is without discrimination against anyone, and without clarifying the status of those who call for assistance, except under the law and [with] integrity."The statement continued: "The police statement also clearly shows that the police also believe that no offense was committed in most of the suspicions about which Deputy Minister Litzman was interrogated. Regarding the other allegations, we are unquestionably confident that, upon close examination, it will be revealed that no crime was committed by the deputy minister."Deputy Education Minister Rabbi Meir Porush also released a statement on Tuesday morning, saying that, "It is very serious that legitimate and demanding activities of a public envoy in the context of public inquiries – and helping the citizen with complex bureaucratic systems – constitute a basis for investigations."Activist groups combating sexual abuse in the Jewish community in Israel and abroad immediately called for Litzman to resign.“It is deeply disappointing and angering that someone of the stature of Deputy [Health] Minister Ya'acov Litzman allegedly used the power of his position to help scores of child rapists, and we hope the police recommendation is a step toward him facing justice,” said Meyer Seewald, Founder and Director of Jewish Community Watch (JCW). It was a private investigation by JCW in 2017 demonstrating that Leifer was ostensibly functioning normally in her daily life in Emmanuel, which led to a renewed police investigation and her eventual arrest in February 2018. “Our private investigation in 2017 only clarified what was obvious to so many: that Malka Leifer was feigning mental illness to avoid extradition,” said Seewald, adding that it was “apparent that Leifer was being protected by very influential people” and that the police charges demonstrate that it was Litzman who was assisting her.The Kol V’Oz organization also called for Litzman to resign in light of the police’s recommendation to indict him, saying that the “prolonged, sordid case” involving Leifer had damaged Israel’s global reputation. “It seems the truth is slowly coming to light: an alleged interference at the highest level [by] Israel's ultra-Orthodox deputy health minister,” said Manny Waks, director of the group. “Those of us who have been following this case closely over the years have always wondered how it reached this level of farce," he added. "There have been over 50 court hearings, with no end in sight."