Israeli Court Orders Release of Accused Pedophile Malka Leifer to House Arrest

Jerusalem District Court puts decision on hold for 48 hours, during which the prosecution can appeal the decision regarding the ex-school principal

Malka Leifer in an Israeli court, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

A Jerusalem District Court judge ordered Tuesday that accused pedophile Malka Leifer be released to house arrest, where she will stay with her sister following months in detention.

However, Judge Ram Winograd ruled that the move will be put on hold for 48 hours, during which the prosecution can appeal the decision. 

>> Read more: How accused pedophile Malka Leifer is trying to block her extradition to Australia from Israel | Explained

The ruling was issued after judges said last week that the prosecution has so far failed to prove that Leifer is mentally fit to stand trial. 

One of Leifer's alleged victims, Dassi Erlich, released a press statement condemning the judge's decision.

"I can't believe I am writing these words. LEIFER HAS BEEN GRANTED BAIL UNDER HOUSE ARREST!!!

"Given that we are all aware that Leifer is a flight risk as well as the potential of her reoffending, this blatant disregard for the well-being of the Israeli community and her victims is outstanding. What message does this send to other potential victims?" she wrote.

"The court system is overly bureaucratic and vulnerable to exploitation from well funded parties," she added. "The news is intolerable and has left us reeling. We need time to process this massive betrayal of justice, therefore we will not be making any further media statements at this time."

Dassi Erlich and her sisters and alleged fellow victims, Elly Sapper and Nicole Meyer, have been at the forefront of the campaign to have the ex-headmistress extradited to Australia to face trial.

Jewish Community Watch, the organization dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse within the Orthodox Jewish community that has been accompanying the alleged victims, spoke out in the wake of Tuesday's court ruling.

"We are stunned by the decision that was made to send sex offender Malka Leifer to house arrest. This is a dangerous woman who is making a laughingstock out of the court," the group said in a statement. "Our organization provided clear evidence which testifies that Leifer leads a normal life and many psychiatric opinions have reaffirmed this. We regret this decision and our hearts are with the victims."

Two weeks ago, the Jerusalem court decided to appoint a panel of experts to determine whether the former school principal, 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. 

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 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.

Dina Kraft contributed to this report.