The president of the Zionist Federation of Australia published a letter on Sunday protesting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to appoint ultra-Orthodox lawmaker Yaakov Litzman, who is suspected of aiding accused sex offender Malka Leifer evade extradition to Australia, as health minister.
On Sunday morning the government approved Litzman’s appointment, despite the police's recommendation that Litzman be indicted for bribery and breach of trust over the Malka Leifer affair, and another involving an attempt to prevent the closing of a restaurant belonging to an associate of his.
The Australian Jewish community is furious over what they suspect is Litzman’s attempt to prevent the extradition of suspected pedophile Malka Leifer to Australia. ZFA President Jeremy Leibler called the appointment a “slap in the face” of the Australian Jewish community, the Australian people, Australian immigrants in Israel and most of all, Leifer’s alleged victims.
"I write this letter with a heavy heart," Leiber's letter said, claiming that in their meeting several months ago in Jerusalem, Netanyahu assured him "that your government would do everything in its power to facilitate the extradition of Malka Leifer to Australia to face justice for the very serious crimes she is accused of committing."
Regarding the charges pending against Litzman, he conceded that the latter is innocent until proven guilty, but promoting him sent a terrible message to the Australian people and the victims. Leibler urged Netanyahu to reconsider the appointment until Litzman’s legal troubles had been resolved.
“We understand that Litzman is currently deputy health minister, which makes the appointment even more offensive to the Australian Jewish community given he [Netanyahu] could have appointed someone else. It demonstrates a complete disregard for the survivors of Malka Leifer’s alleged abuse and the Australian Jewish community,” Leibler told Haaretz on Sunday.
The affair began in 2008, when Leifer fled to Israel after three sisters, who had been her students, informed the heads of the school that she had allegedly sexually abused them. They did so after one of them underwent psychological treatment for the assaults she described in her complaint. The Australian authorities began to investigate the complaints and eventually indicted Leifer on 74 counts of rape and sexual assault of the sisters, Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper.
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In 2012, Australia filed a request to extradite Leifer from Israel. It was only in 2014 that the Israel Police located Leifer, who is a member of the Ger Chasidic sect, in Israel.
Leifer has been fighting her extradition ever since, claiming that she is not psychologically fit to stand trial. However, the international affairs department of the State Prosecutor’s Office, which oversees extradition proceedings, says that the question of Leifer’s fitness to stand trial should not be a factor in the decision, because Leifer can undergo the tests needed to determine this in Australia.
In February 2019, Litzman was questioned on suspicion of pressuring doctors to prevent Leifer’s extradition. Upon completion of the investigation, the police recommended that Litzman be tried on charges of suborning a witness, fraud and breach of faith. Litzman is now waiting for the prosecution to decide on proceeding with the case against him.
Although Litzman’s appointment is mainly symbolic considering his presumably legal difficulties, the Australian Jewish community sees it as a sign of deep contempt by Israel in an affair that is currently roiling Australian Jewry.