Australia has refused to cooperate with an Israeli initiative at the United Nations against the sexual exploitation of children due to Israel’s foot-dragging over the extradition of Malka Leifer, who is accused of the rape and sexual harassment of her students while she headed an all-girls, ultra-Orthodox school in Australia.
The Israeli delegation to the United Nations in Geneva organized an event last month to promote an Israeli video project to raise awareness of the sexual abuse of children in honor of the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Israelis were joined by the Uruguayan and European Union delegations, both of which led the resolution on the rights of the child in the UN Human Rights Council. Senior UN figures, academics and activists participated in a panel led by a representative of the office of the Commissioner of Human Rights.
Notably absent was the Australian delegation, which often collaborates on projects with Israel. Haaretz has learned that the Australians refused to attend because Australia’s demand that Israel extradite Leifer is still pending.
The Australian delegation’s decision not to participate comes at a time of heightened strain on Australian-Israeli relations. Haaretz reported Friday night that two Australian parliamentarians presented a proposal calling on Israel to extradite Leifer. The proposal has no set date for a parliamentary discussion and holds no weight as far as expedite the extradition, but shows the mounting frustration in Australia over the 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.