Israeli Health Czar 'Pressured Psychiatrist' to Soften Assessment of Pedophile

Health system sources say Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, currently investigated for similar allegations in different affair, made repeated requests of a senior psychiatrist to give lower risk assessment of jailed sex offender

Yaakov Litzman outside the Supreme Court, February 27, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman pressured a senior psychiatrist to provide a low risk assessment for an ultra-Orthodox pedophile, sources in the health system said.

The accused pedophile, who is serving a jail sentence, hasn’t admitted to any crimes or taken responsibility for them, but he is close to the Gur Hasidic sect, and Litzman is Gur’s representative in the Knesset.

A low risk assessment means a sex offender will be under less strict supervision during furloughs or after being released, and also eases reintegration into society.

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Litzman’s office denied that he pressured the psychiatrist. “It’s regrettable that a civil servant who ‘feels uncomfortable’ with a legitimate request made to him in the context of his job has chosen to share his feelings with the media,” a spokesperson said. “One would expect a civil servant to act differently and more responsibly.”

Litzman’s request of Dr. Moshe Birger, which the psychiatrist rejected, was first reported on Monday by Channel 13 news, but Haaretz has uncovered new information on the incident.

Sources in the health system said Litzman approached Birger in 2012. Birger heads the Prison Service’s mental health department, and also runs the center for evaluating the risk posed by criminals at the Be'er Yaakov-Nes Tziona Mental Health Center.

The sources said Litzman’s tactics went beyond a simple one-time request. They said he contacted Birger several times and even invited him to a meeting on the subject.

Litzman’s aide Haim Justman, who was recently questioned by the police as a suspect in a criminal case, was also involved in the campaign to lower the risk assessment.

This was not the first time that Birger refused one of Litzman's appeals.

“Birger received requests from Litzman on a regular basis,” one senior health official said, adding that Justman was the one who conveyed these requests. The situation became so bad that the then-director of the Be’er Yaakov psychiatric hospital, Prof. Moshe Kotler, contacted Litzman directly to ask him to stop pressuring Birger.

One source said the pressure halted in 2013, when Litzman briefly left the Health Ministry during Yael German’s term as minister. But several sources said that when Litzman returned to the ministry, Birger voiced fears that the demands would resume.

Litzman and his staff have apparently used such tactics for years. Channel 2 news reported in 2009 that he had asked senior psychiatrists to soften their risk assessments of ultra-Orthodox criminals.

Police are currently investigating suspicions that Litzman and his aides tried to prevent the extradition of Malka Leifer, an ultra-Orthodox principal accused of sex crimes against her students, to Australia. Several psychiatrists have told police they were compelled to declare Leifer unfit to stand trial, and were even threatened with dismissal if they didn’t cooperate.

“This is an utterly misleading and stupid attempt to smear a worthy and admired public figure over nothing,” Litzman’s office said of Birger’s allegations. Litzman sees himself as “obligated to help with requests he receives from the public,” but his handling of such requests complies with the law and the rules of proper administration.

“Nobody has ever been threatened; no pressure was applied” it continued. “This attempt to mislead the public into thinking Litzman serially worked to help sex offenders is false and unacceptable.”

Litzman’s office added that contrary to claims, the criminal “wasn’t a Gur Hasid and wasn’t close to Litzman. The man and his community are completely unknown to the deputy minister and his staff.”

By law, a sex offender’s risk of recidivism is assessed at various stages of the legal process. The offender is then subject to supervision based on these assessments in an effort to prevent repeat offenses. A low risk assessment allows prisoners to participate in rehabilitation programs, receive furloughs and be paroled earlier.

One mental health professional warned that an unfounded low risk assessment increases the risks of recidivism. “These are people driven by strong, sometimes uncontrolled urges, who, if released prematurely, without close supervision and without undergoing a process of recognizing what they did and taking responsibility, will simply attack again,” he said.