(photo credit: REUTERS)
An Australian Jewish school that assisted its principal in fleeing the country following accusations of sexual misconduct may be facing a police investigation regarding possible criminal culpability, according to reports.
“Police will be looking at this as a broader part of the investigation to determine whether an offence has been committed,” police told The Australian newspaper.
In 2008, Malka Leifer, a dual Israeli-Australian national, fled to Israel after allegations became public that she had engaged in sexual behavior with eight students at the Adass Israel School in Elsternwick, where she was principal. She is under house arrest and has been awaiting extradition for over a year.
Earlier this month, an Australian court found the school liable in a civil suit, ordering it to pay more than a million dollars to one of the victims.
“The conduct demonstrates a disdain for due process for criminal investigation in this state,” Judge Jack Rush said of the school’s actions, including the role played by board members in helping the disgraced principal obtain late night plane tickets for herself and four of her children.
“It is apparent that either it was not a priority for [board members] Benedikt or Ernst that Leifer answered to the criminal law of this state or that this state’s jurisdiction was deliberately flouted,” Rush was quoted as saying.
“Upon consideration of the manner in which the school arranged for Leifer’s departure from the country, I find the deliberate flouting of jurisdiction the most likely motivation.”
Cultural biases among the ultra-Orthodox against turning to non-Jewish authorities, strict religious rules against gossiping, and a desire to avoid causing a desecration of God’s name apparently served to prevent reports of Leifer’s alleged crimes from surfacing. The social ostracism of victims and the resultant harm to their marriage prospects further serve to create a culture in which abuse goes unreported.
Earlier this year members of an Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard testimony regarding the role of rabbis in covering up sexual abuse and intimidating the families of victims.
In a similar case to that of Leifer’s, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman of Sydney’s Yeshiva Center admitted before the commission that he had failed to report that a community member had informed him of his intention to flee the country shortly after being accused of sexual misconduct with a minor.
Feldman confirmed that the man, who left Australia within two days of the accusations, had informed him that he was considering traveling to America.
Asked if he felt a duty to call the police to inform them of the accused’s plans, Feldman replied that he “did not believe that I have that obligation.”
“If the charges are found to be correct, he can be extradited.
I did not believe, and I do not believe at the moment, that within the framework of my role it is to be able to have to call the police to say, ‘This student may leave.’ Now, if this is something that I should have done, then this was an error of judgment,” he told the commission in February.
Following the royal commission’s hearings, the Australian rabbinate split, with high ranking members of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia uninvolved in the cover- ups leaving to form their own organization.