Israel’s failure to extradite to Australia accused pedophile Malka Leifer would hurt Israel’s image among the Australian public and “make it hard” for Canberra to be as stalwart a friend of Israel as it is, former Australian ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma said on Monday.
In a telephone interview from Sydney with The Jerusalem Post
, Sharma said that a failure to extradite Leifer is something “that would alienate people who naturally defend and are supportive of Israel. This is not about the Palestinian issue or the peace process, but something that people see as a case of justice.”
Sharma’s comments came the same day the Jerusalem District Court ruled that Leifer must remain in detention until the end of her legal proceedings. Deputy Health Minister MK Yaakov Litzman was questioned last week on suspicion of obstructing justice by working to obtain a false psychiatric medical evaluation to prevent her extradition on the grounds that she is mentally unfit.
Leifer fled to Israel in 2008 amid allegations of sexual abuse when she served as head of the Adass Israel School in Melbourne. She was arrested in Israel in 2014, but then released after being deemed mentally unfit. She was re-arrested last year, however, after an undercover investigation found her leading a normal life.
If extradited, Leifer would face 74 charges of child sexual abuse.
Sharma said that if for some reason Leifer is not extradited, “it will be received very badly in Australia,” both in the Jewish community and among the general public.
“More broadly, I think people are saying, ‘Israel is a modern liberal democracy, with whom we have a good relationship, that is harboring a sexual fugitive.’ All this has been covered in Australia, and it does not do any favors to Israel in terms of its reputation.”
Sharma said that the “circus” surrounding the case in Israel “is the stuff you see in other countries.”
He stressed that Australia was not seeking Leifer’s extradition “so we can lock her up.” Rather, he said, “We want her to stand trial. That is all we are asking.”
The former ambassador said that were the situation reversed, and an Australian teacher was accused of molesting Israeli students and then fled to Australia, “We would take the extradition of that person very seriously. I think we would be ashamed and embarrassed if that wouldn’t happen.”
The former ambassador said that “everyone from the [Australian] prime minister on down has raised this case with the Israeli government,” and that he himself dealt with it extensively when he served as ambassador from 2013 to 2017.
Sharma said that while he found the Justice Ministry and “professional echelons” to be “very good” in dealing with the issue, “There seems to be an element in Israel that thinks that if they just play for enough time, we will give up on this.
“We will not give up on this,” he said. “We are not going to go away or withdraw the extradition request. We will just become more and more insistent, and I think the sooner people realize that, the better.”