Two Australian lawmakers presented a proposal to Parliament on Friday calling on Israel to immediately extradite accused pedophile Malka Leifer, so she can stand trial for the rape and sexual assault of her former students as head of an all-girls ultra-Orthodox school in Melbourne.
The private members motion asks that the Parliament recognize that Leifer fled Australia in 2008, when the abuse allegations surfaced; reaffirm the request to extradite her; and recognize the bravery of her alleged victims "for their tireless pursuit of justice." It also notes that in the five years since Australia requested the former principal's extradition, Israel has held over 60 court hearings on the matter without making any significant progress.
It also "expresses regret and concern at the numerous attempts to prevent and delay Malka Leifer facing justice in Australia" and "calls for the immediate extradition of Malka Leifer to Australia to face 74 charges of child sexual abuse."
The motion was presented by two parliamentarians considered to be pro-Israel: Former ambassador to Israel David Sharma and Josh Burns. There is no set date for Parliament to vote on the motion, but the Australian Jewish community believes that it will pass with a broad majority in advance of Leifer's expected hearing in Israel next week.
The motion holds no weight as far as expediting the extradition, but could deal another blow to the increasingly fraught Israeli-Australian relations strained by the Leifer case. Leifer, who holds Israeli citizenship, was the principal of an all-girls ultra-Orthodox school in Melbourne. She is accused of targeting three sisters who were her students, and faces 74 charges of indecent acts and rape. After the accusations against her emerged in 2008, she fled to Israel, and in 2014, Australia filed a request for extradition. Since then, the process has been under discussion in Israeli courts.
Her legal counsel has argued that she is mentally unfit to stand trial, but psychiatrists ruled last year that she is not, and she has remained in detention in Israel as she attempts to appeal the decision. In October, the Jerusalem District Court ordered that Leifer be released to house arrest, to stay with her sister following months in detention. The decision was put on hold for 48 hours during which the prosecution appealed with the High Court, which overruled the Jerusalem's court decision.
After the Jerusalem District Court ordered Leifer's release, there was an outpouring of anger by Australian authorities and its Jewish community, saying they have lost patience with the extradition proceedings.
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A diplomatic source familiar with the case says the decision to release Leifer to house arrest was received in Australia as “the last straw” after years of delays in the extradition proceedings, and as an indication that the case could fall apart without Leifer being tried.
"This story is shocking to the Australian public, the rape of little girls seemingly being whitewashed. We have many areas of cooperation with Australia, including security, and they are in real danger," the source said. "Even as an ordinary citizen, it’s not easy to justify this move to them after the Litzman case. The Jewish community there is so angry they’re even threatening to totally halt all donations to Israel,” the source added.
In February, Israel Police recommended the indictment of Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, himself a Ger Hasid like Malka Leifer, for allegedly using his position to influence the judicial process. Litzman is suspected of putting pressure on Jerusalem District Psychiatrist Jacob Charnes to change his opinion and to rule that Leifer is unfit to stand trial, contrary to what he claimed at first. Charnes did later submit a revised opinion.
According to the same diplomatic sources, this directly threatens the reciprocity clause in the extradition agreement between the two countries. “In Australia, they’re even asking now whether someone paid off the district court. That’s how profound the crisis of trust is,” the source added.