Israel Delays Hearing of Accused Rapist Leifer Because Psychiatrists 'Hadn't Noticed' It Was Set

After 60 sessions on matter of Malka Leifer, who stands accused of 74 counts of indecent acts and rape, Judge grants extension to psych panel in extradition affair that has strained Israel-Australia relations

Alleged pedophile Malka Leifer at the Jerusalem District Court, 2018.
Mahmoud Illean / AP

A court in Jerusalem on Tuesday gave the state a month-long extension to file its final psychological evaluation on whether accused sex offender Malka Leifer is fit to stand trial for the rape and sexual assault of her former students at an all-girls ultra-Orthodox school in Melbourne.

The extension was given by a judge on the day of the original session because, according to Israel's State Prosecutor, the panel of expert psychiatrists set to examine Leifer said they "didn't notice" that the crucial hearing on Leifer's case was slated for Tuesday.

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.

Leifer's extradition process has been dragged on for five years, mainly revolving around the question whether she is mentally fit to stand trial. In September, when the 57th hearing was held on Leifer's case, the District Court decided to appoint a panel of experts, and set December 10 as the date to file its final opinion.

The case has hurt diplomatic relations between the two nations. On Sunday, Haaretz reported that 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 on Leifer's extradition.

In a statement released by Dassi Erlich, on behalf of herself and her two sisters Elly Sapper and Nicole Meyer, she expressed her disappointment and anger at the delay.  

"We feel sick with anxiety, we've been waiting three months for this day. Who didn't get the memo?" she asked before adding, "was this intentional?"

Erlich said that now the sisters have to go through "another nerve wracking month. Will it actually go ahead? How much longer can we hold on?"

In August, Israel Police recommended indicting Israel's Deputy Health Minister and United Torah Judaism Chairman Yaakov Litzman for bribery, fraud, witness tampering and breach of trust in Leifer's case.

Litzman is suspected of using his clout at the Health Ministry to influence the professional opinions of his subordinates. In one case, Litzman allegedly tried to use his standing as deputy health minister to prevent Leifer’s extradition to Australia. His office denied any wrongdoing.