Israeli Ex-minister Gets Probation for Assisting Malka Leifer in Australia Sex Abuse Case

Former Health Minister Litzman pled guilty to pressuring ministry employees to alter psychiatric evaluations, in a bid to help Leifer avoid extradition to Australia. He resigned from parliament to avoid a harsher sentence

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Yaakov Litzman, Malka Leifer
Yaakov Litzman, Malka LeiferCredit: Emil Salman / AP

An Israeli court sentenced a former health minister to probation and a fine on Monday for obstructing justice in connection with the protracted extradition case against a former teacher accused of sexually abusing her students in Australia.

Yaakov Litzman, a former health minister and longtime ally of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, resigned from parliament earlier this year after striking a plea deal with prosecutors. He was accused of pressuring ministry employees to alter psychiatric evaluations to make it appear that Malka Leifer was unfit to stand trial.

Leifer was extradited to Australia in January 2021 after a six-year legal battle that strained relations between the two countries and angered Australia’s Jewish community. Leifer has pleaded not guilty to the charges and her trial is expected to start later this month.

Litzman was health minister during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic but resigned in April 2020 in the face of a public uproar over his handling of the crisis. He was charged with fraud and breach of trust earlier this year, but pleaded guilty to the breach of trust charge in the Leifer case.

In Monday’s hearing, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court upheld the plea deal and sentenced Litzman to eight months of probation and a 3,000-shekel ($900) fine.

He and Leifer are members of the country’s insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Last year, then-Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Litzman had used his position “to advance the interests of private individuals.”

Litzman's lawyers, Jacques Chen and Noa Firer, said that the former minister “takes responsibility before an Israeli court,” and argued that it was a “very borderline case,” highlighting the more serious charges that were dropped.

As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges that Litzman used his influence to prevent a friend’s deli from being shut down over health concerns.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel said the court’s acceptance of the “lenient and shameful” plea deal erodes public trust and law enforcement’s ability to perform its duty.

Litzman resigned from the Knesset so that the court would not have to determine whether moral turpitude attaches to his actions, and a hearing on the matter will be held only should he return to the Knesset. The same approach was taken by Shas Chairman Arye Dery, who resigned from the Knesset before a plea deal in his case was reached, and he was convicted of tax offenses without turpitude being attached.

Under the plea agreement, another case was closed in which he was suspected of trying to influence professionals in the Health Ministry not to close a delicatessen belonging to a confidant of his.

The Health Ministry sought to revoke the delicatessen’s production license, among other reasons due to listeria bacteria found in the deli’s salads. The indictment draft claimed that Litzman, a regular patron of the delicatessen, who was also friendly with the owner, demanded that the district food department allow the establishment to remain open. This despite the professionals making it clear to him that removing the restrictions would constitute a “true hazard to the public.”

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