Israel is not a haven for sex offenders

The Law of Return is not supposed to be a welcome mat for murderers, rapists, pedophiles and criminals.

MALKA LEIFER, surrounded by Israel Prison Service guards, covers her face in Jerusalem District Court on February 14, 2018.  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SHOSHANI)
MALKA LEIFER, surrounded by Israel Prison Service guards, covers her face in Jerusalem District Court on February 14, 2018.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SHOSHANI)
President Reuven Rivlin has assured Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison that he is concerned about the case of alleged pedophile Malka Leifer and her extradition to Australia. “We are responsible for handling this matter in an organized and efficient way. The State of Israel will not allow anyone to use it to evade the law,” he said during a visit to Australia this week.
However, the reality is that when it comes to cases like this, Israel is far from being a country with an efficient rule of law. The Leifer case has dragged on for years.
Leifer, who was the principal at the ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel School in Melbourne from 2003 to 2008, fled to Israel in 2008 after allegations that she sexually abused school pupils came to light. She has evaded deportation back to Australia ever since a formal request was received by Israel in 2014 by claiming to be mentally ill. Despite that request for extradition, the legal authorities in Israel have been dragging their feet.
First they accepted the argument that extradition could be prevented due to mental illness. When that was challenged, more than 60 hearings took place, with no end in sight. At each hearing a new analysis, a new determination or new assessment is ordered, followed by more months of delays.
Hearings in the case, after three years, are postponed so that lawyers can attend a “family day” or conferences. It is likely that the case will continue to drag on. This is because of powerful interests in Israel that oppose extraditing people to foreign countries, especially when it involves religious communities. There is evidence that Israel has become a haven for pedophiles who exploit the law of return to flee justice abroad to come to the country.
A recent CBS report found there were dozens of cases where wanted criminals who had engaged in sexual abuse fled to Israel. There may be 60 known cases, and that is likely the tip of the iceberg.
The Law of Return was meant to give Jews a right to live in the Jewish state and also give Jews or those with Jewish ancestors the ability to find sanctuary here. It is not supposed to be a welcome mat for murderers, rapists, pedophiles and criminals. Yet Israel too often has not done due diligence when processing Law of Return rights. There does not appear to be a fast track to deport people who have exploited the system. Instead, wanted criminals can arrive with ease and vanish into local communities.
Unfortunately, there are suspicions that corruption at the highest levels in Israel has helped make it more complex to prosecute or extradite pedophiles and sex criminals. This is one of the problems when these cases occur within communities that are suspicious of outsiders. We need better messaging from community leaders, on all sides, to make it clear that pedophiles are criminals, not victims of some secular court system.
We need to be better at being a place that welcomes the victims of sex abuse, not the abusers. That means Israel should prioritize not only fast tracks for extradition, but also funding for sex-abuse awareness and centers that help victims.
There is an opportunity now to learn from failures of the past and work more closely with friendly governments abroad to make sure no one is fleeing to Israel for the wrong reasons. Israel needs to do better. It should work with Western states that have transparent laws to connect databases, such as those for wanted criminals, so they do not automatically get to settle in Israel just because they qualify under the Law of Return.
Israel should streamline the legal process so that extradition hearings are decided in a timely manner. Cases should not be allowed to drag on for years while victims grow old.
We in Israel know all too well what slow justice has meant historically for those who harmed the Jewish people and then evaded justice.
Nicole Meyer, one of Leifer’s alleged victims, expressed frustration and surprise with the accommodating attitude of Judge Chana Miriam Lomp toward Leifer’s defense attorneys and their various legal and scheduling demands.
“It’s hard to think that the system has continued the way it has with so many court dates and so many delays, but unfortunately that is the way it is and I hope it will not continue any longer,” she said this week in Jerusalem.
The state should not be a place where pedophiles think they can wander the streets without being brought to justice. They are a danger to Israeli children and citizens. We must put a priority not only on the rule of law, but also on protecting our children from threats.