Israel's Health Czar 'Threatened Psychiatrists' in Australian Principal Sex Abuse Case

New details emerge in case involving Australian ultra-Orthodox principal accused of sexual assault on minors, reveals Litzman's attempts to have Malka Leifer declared unfit for trial and block her extradition

Malka Leifer in court, February 27, 2018.
Mahmoud Illean / AP

As the scope of the Malka Leifer extradition affair becomes clear, so too are the efforts made in Israel to prevent the former principal of a religious school in Australia from being returned to that country to face charges of 74 child sex offenses against eight to fourteen female students, including three sisters.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has been questioned by the Israel Police over allegations that he tried to use his influence, including the use of threats, to get government psychiatrists to have Leifer declared unfit for trial and to block her extradition.

The anti-extradition campaign, which began with an Australian extradition request and Leifer’s subsequent arrest in Israel in 2014, has involved lawyers, media advisers and ultra-Orthodox “fixers.” According to sources in the Gerer (or Gur) Hasidic sect, the campaign has been funded by Leifer’s family, as well as loans and donations. One source said that the community does not deny the gravity of the acts with which Leifer has been charged or think that she shouldn’t be punished; rather, the argument is that she should be in an Israeli prison, rather than in an Australian facility alongside non-Jewish inmates.

According to information obtained by Haaretz, Leifer’s family offered psychiatrists tens of thousands of shekels for a medical opinion on her condition, far above the usual fee. There was no explicit request for a specific conclusion, but apparently the intention was clear, and a number of the psychiatrists were uncomfortable with it. The information has been submitted to the Health Ministry and to the state prosecution.

Senior government psychiatrists refused interview requests from Haaretz this weekend on the case. “To everything there is a season. I’m not interested,” was the response of one who is familiar with the details.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman on his way to the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, November 18, 2018.
Emil Salman

Health care officials are not commenting on the case — or on the pressure that Litzman is known to apply routinely in regard to the sensitive issue of psychiatric services provided to the Haredi community

Over the past decade there have been reports of a number of uncomfortable incidents related to psychiatry in which Litzman was involved. In 2009, Channel 2 News reported that Litzman had asked senior psychiatrists to soften professional assessments of Haredim serving prison sentences for sex crimes — assessments that are critical to determining their supervision during furloughs and after their release. That year, Litzman put up 200,000 ($55,000) of his own money to bail out a Haredi woman who was charged (and eventually convicted) with starving her children, and even offered his own home for her house arrest. Litzman also drew harsh criticism for visiting Rabbi Eliezer Berland after Berland served five months of an 18-month prison sentence for sex crimes.