Australian Headmistress Accused of Sexual Abuse Deemed Unfit to Stand Extradition Trial by Israeli Judge

Jerusalem judge halts proceedings against former headmistress of ultra-Orthodox girls' school after receiving psychiatrist's opinion.

Aimee Amiga
Aimee Amiga
Malka Leifer, a former headmistress at Adass Israel School, who stands to face 74 counts of indecent assault and rape in Australia
Malka Leifer, a former headmistress at Adass Israel School, who stands to face 74 counts of indecent assault and rape in AustraliaCredit: Courtesy
Aimee Amiga
Aimee Amiga

Extradition proceedings against an Australian woman accused of sexually abusing students at an ultra-Orthodox girls' school were halted Sunday, after a judge in Israel ruled her unfit to stand trial.

The move imposes a significant delay on an already-prolonged effort to extradite Malka Leifer, a former headmistress at Adass Israel School, who stands to face 74 counts of indecent assault and rape in Australia, brought against her by three former students of the school, located in the Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick.

Using her Israeli passport, Leifer fled to Israel in 2008, shortly after the allegations of sexual misconduct arose. She was taken into custody in Israel in 2014 at the request of Australian authorities, and released to house arrest in September that year.

Extradition proceedings were meant to begin the following month, but have been delayed some eight times, including for Leifer's psychiatric hospitalization.

At a hearing Sunday morning at the Jerusalem District Court, Judge Amnon Cohen said that after having received the "unequivocal professional opinion" from a state-appointed psychiatrist, the sides have agreed to halt extradition proceedings against Leifer, citing a law that permits stopping proceedings when a defendant is deemed unfit to stand trial.

The prosecution and defense agreed that a request should be made of the Jerusalem district psychiatrist to recommend a course of treatment for Leifer, and that the extradition proceedings should be halted until such time that she has recovered.

The psychiatrist may propose one of three options: hospitalization, treatment as an outpatient, or no treatment. He has until May 29 to make a recommendation, and on June 2, Judge Cohen will rule which course of treatment Leifer will receive.

Prosecutor Avital Ribner-Oron told the court on Sunday that hospitalization would ensure the defendant receives "the best and most efficient treatment necessary to return her to a state of being fit and able to face the extradition proceedings."

James McGarry, Australia's deputy ambassador to Israel, who attended Sunday's hearing, told Haaretz that "the Australian government has a keen interest in monitoring the progress of this case."

Israel's Justice Ministry, for its part, told Haaretz that "Israeli authorities are making every effort to secure Leifer's extradition to Australia, due to the bilateral extradition treaty between the two countries."

Meanwhile, Manny Waks, an Australian advocate for child sexual abuse victims, told Haaretz that "he has been in touch with some of Leifer's accusers and they are "having trouble eating, sleeping and concentrating on other matters."

"It's a great shame that this matter has not yet been resolved and that it will still not be resolved for some time to come," Waks said.

Leifer is currently residing in the Israeli city of Bnei Brak, under constant supervision and with an electronic monitoring device affixed to her at all times.

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