Justice moving forward

The continued delay in ruling on the Malka Leifer case has strained Israel’s ties with its close friend Australia.

Malka Leifer
The Malka Leifer case has long been a stain on Israel and particularly its justice system. An alleged pedophile and sex offender, Leifer has been on trial for years so that she can be extradited to Australia and be tried for 74 counts of sexual abuse against girls in the religious school where she was their principal, specifically against sisters Dassi Erlich, Ellie Sapper and Nicole Meyer.
A Kafkaesque back-and-forth has been going on in Leifer’s case for over five years, including nearly 60 hearings. She was arrested in Israel in 2014, after fleeing Australia in 2008 to escape justice. Her status as a flight risk is one of the reasons the Supreme Court decided she should stay in prison during the proceedings.
Over the years, Leifer has claimed that she is mentally unfit to stand trial. Sadly, the courts believed her – until now. On Thursday, a panel of psychiatric experts, which has been evaluating her over the last two months, ruled that she is fit to stand trial – meaning that her extradition process can move forward.
The three-member panel was appointed following a decision in September by Judge Chana Miriam Lomp of the Jerusalem District Court seeking a conclusive assessment of Leifer’s mental state, as she has claimed mental illness for almost six years in order to avoid extradition.
The court will hold a hearing in the case on Tuesday.
The continued delay in ruling on this case has strained Israel’s ties with its close friend Australia. In October, after Leifer was granted bail (which was later overturned), Australian Ambassador to Israel Chris Cannan tweeted: “Australia maintains its consistent position that Malka Leifer should be extradited to face allegations of child sex abuse in Australian courts. Yesterday’s decision to grant bail is concerning. We will continue to put our concerns directly to the Government of Israel.”
Dave Sharma, Cannan’s predecessor in Israel and now a member of the Australian parliament, said that the Leifer case is “doing damage to Israel’s reputation” and “increasingly becoming a point of contention and friction” in the relationship between the two countries.
While the panel’s decision does not yet mean that Leifer is going to be extradited, it is a step in the right direction. Israel is known around the world for having a top notch legal system. In recent years, however, the system has taken a number of blows: some led by the prime minister and his political cronies, and others due to cases like the one ongoing against former Israel Bar Association chief Effi Naveh.
The Leifer case has been another stain on the system. Here was a clear instance of alleged pedophilia and sexual abuse that was being dragged through the mud and held up, each time for another reason. And the accusations that Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman helped Liefer evade extradition have not helped the situation.
In late December, head of the Zionist Federation of Australia Jeremy Leibler called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to appoint Litzman as full-time health minister as mandated by law. Netanyahu had held the portfolio but had to relinquish it due to the pending indictments against him.
“Prime Minister, friendship must go both ways,” Leibler said. “The Australian Jewish Community is regarded as one of the strongest and most Zionist communities in the world. Israel is at the center of our schools, synagogues, community centers and youth movements. Our aliya rate is amongst the highest in the Western world and our community of olim [new immigrants] living in Israel are amongst the strongest supporters of the Zionist cause in Israel. Neither the Jewish community nor the Australian people – nor the community of Australian olim – deserve to be treated this way.”
Leibler could not be more right. Friends should not be treated the way the sisters Erlich, Meyer and Sapper have been treated. We do not know whether Litzman will be indicted or not, but Leifer should be extradited to Australia to stand trial – and give her victims a chance to receive the justice and closure they deserve.