Explained

How Accused Pedophile Malka Leifer Is Trying to Block Her Extradition to Australia From Israel

And how did Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman get the police seeking his indictment for corruption in the proceedings?

Malka Leifer in an Israeli court, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

The police recommended Tuesday that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman be indicted for bribery, witness tampering, fraud and breach of trust – one of the two cases involves extradition proceedings against Malka Leifer, who has been accused of raping three then-minor sisters in Australia.

Litzman is suspected of trying to influence the opinions of two Health Ministry psychiatrists asked to determine whether Leifer was psychologically capable of being extradited back home.

Who is Malka Leifer?

Leifer, who has Israeli citizenship, ran an ultra-Orthodox school for girls in Melbourne and faces 74 counts of rape and sexual assault of three sisters who were students of hers. Hours after the charges were published in 2008 she fled to Israel, and in 2014 Australia asked for her extradition. The question of her ability to stand trial is still being discussed by Israel’s courts, where more than 50 hearings have been held.

Why has she not been extradited?

Since 2014, the battle over extraditing Leifer has taken place on all fronts – in the courts, in the media and in the health care community. The question, being battled over by attorneys, media advisers and ultra-Orthodox activists is whether Leifer is psychologically capable of being extradited.

The struggle has cost a great deal of money; sources in the Ger Hasidic community say some of it has been paid by her family and some via loans and donations. “In her community, nobody denies the seriousness of the actions, but they don’t think she should be punished,” one source says. “And they think that a Jewish woman shouldn’t sit in prison with Gentiles, but in an Israeli prison.”

Sources say members of Leifer’s family have asked senior psychiatrists to provide an opinion in return for tens of thousands of shekels, a much higher fee than usual. According to the sources, the family hasn’t explicitly asked for a false opinion or specific conclusion, but the context was clear at least to some of the psychiatrists and it made them uncomfortable. The Health Ministry and state prosecutors also know about these alleged requests.

How did Litzman enter the picture?

In February, Litzman was questioned for the first time on suspicion of abetting efforts to prevent Leifer’s extradition. The police statement Tuesday says Litzman is suspected of pressuring the Jerusalem district psychiatrist, Dr. Jacob Charnes, to change his opinion and determine that Leifer is not capable of standing trial. In the end, Charnes amended his opinion.

Also, Litzman is suspected of meeting with another psychiatrist in an attempt to influence his opinion. This psychiatrist determined that Leifer is capable of standing trial and facing extradition.

Have such efforts been productive?

At first, yes. Following these opinions, in 2016, it was determined that Leifer was not capable of standing trial. But after a police investigation and the Justice Ministry’s conversations with an organization that handles sexual assault cases in the ultra-Orthodox community, psychiatrists from the Eitanim psychiatric hospital determined in February 2018 that Leifer was pretending and was fully capable of facing trial.

What was the basis for the psychiatrists’ opinion that she was pretending?

Doctors at Eitanim, including the hospital’s deputy director Igor Barash, found Leifer’s behavior to be “normative.” “At every crossroad of the legal process, the patient responded in the extreme to the threat of extradition, which included elements of pretense,” the doctors wrote.

“Between these phases she conducted a normal life and functioned properly. This pulls the rug out from claims that she has suffered a long mental illness,” they added.

“The patient understands the meaning of the legal process and therefore fears the repercussions and the anticipated sentence. This is the reason she responds to the legal situation in the extreme by presenting signs of mental illness, with the understanding that only by showing such signs of illness can she be spared the threat of a verdict.”

Where does the extradition process stand, considering the opinions that Leifer is pretending to be mentally ill?

Since February 2018, Leifer has been at the Neveh Tirtza women’s prison. Next month, the Jerusalem District Court is expected to rule on whether she should be extradited to Australia.

Will the psychiatrists who amended their opinions at Litzman’s behest be charged with any crime?

The police considered charging Charnes but closed the case for a lack of evidence; for example, difficulties proving that Charnes’ amended opinion was medically incorrect.