An Israeli court decided on Monday to appoint a panel of experts that will determine whether Malka Leifer, who is facing extradition to Australia on 74 counts of indecent assault and rape, is fit to stand trial and sent back to the country.
The panel will be tasked with determining “whether she is mentally ill, or feigning illness," Jerusalem District Court Judge Chana Miriam Lomp ruled. Psychiatrists looking into the matter have submitted differing opinions during the decade-long proceedings marred with accusations of political influence.
Leifer, who has an Israeli citizenship, was the principal of an ultra-Orthodox all-girls school in Melbourne. In 2008 accusations emerged that she assaulted her students, and hours later she fled to Israel. In 2014, the Australian government filed an extradition request.
The hearing on Monday was the 57th on her case, and the panel of experts is expected to submit its opinion by December 10. Should Leifer be found fit to stand trial, there will be additional proceedings regarding her extradition.
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Elly Sapper, Nicole Meyer and Dassi Erlich, three sisters who have accused Leifer of abusing them, lamented after the court's decision became known that they "did not see justice today."
"Five years, 57 court hearings and over 30 psychiatrists have been involved… how is this not enough? How many more psychiatrists need to weigh in? How much emotional pain? We’re defeated but we will not give up,” the sisters said.
The organization Jewish Community Watch, which is fighting to end child abuse in Orthodox society, said that they “were sorry” to hear the decision. “As a panel of experts has already ruled, Malka Leifer is fit to stand trial," the group stated, adding they had provided proof "using a private investigator.”
“We’re convinced that the court-appointed panel of experts will also rule that she’s a dangerous criminal, and it will be possible to extradite her in order to bring her to justice," the organization added.
In 2016, an Israeli court ruled that Leifer was unfit to stand trial, but a police investigation and testimony received by the Justice Ministry from Jewish Community Watch led to a reassessment. Psychiatrists from the Eitanim Mental Health Center then determined in February 2018 that Leifer was feigning illness.
Since then, a battle has been waged in the courts, but also in the media, to prevent her being sent back to face Australian justice. Lawyers, media consultants and Haredi wheeler-dealers are involved in the fight, which has concentrated on attempts to determine that Leifer is mentally unfit to be extradited.
The battle has cost considerable sums of money, which, according to Ger Hasidim sources, came partly from her family, and partly from loans and donations. "The community does not deny the seriousness of her deeds, nor do they think that she shouldn’t be punished," a community source told Haaretz. "They just think a Jewish woman shouldn’t serve time in a non-Jewish prison.”
The subject became a national concern in February, when the Israel Police recommended the indictment of Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, himself a Ger Hasid, for allegedly using his position to influence the judicial process. Litzman is suspected of putting pressure on Jerusalem District Psychiatrist Jacob Charnes to change his opinion and to rule that Leifer is unfit to stand trial, contrary to what he claimed at first. Charnes did later submit a revised opinion.
Litzman, who is also head of the United Torah Judaism alliance and a Netanyahu ally, is suspected of attempting to influence another senior psychiatrist, although that professional finally ruled that Leifer can be extradited.