Malka Leifer, an ultra-Orthodox school principal who fled to Israel in 2008 after learning she would be charged with 74 counts of sexual abuse in Melbourne, Australia, was arrested in Israel Monday on suspicion of obstruction of justice.
Victims groups have tried in vain for years to have Leifer extradited to face trial in Australia. She was arrested in August, 2014 after Australian officials filed a request for extradition, but the Jerusalem District court has ruled repeatedly that Leifer was not mentally fit to stand trial. She missed all seven hearings in the Jerusalem District Court into the case.
The case has been a point of frustration for both victims and the Australian government. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull raised the issue with Israeli officials, including with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, during his visit to Israel last October, but the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said only that “progress” had been made.
But victims’ rights organizations that have consistently slammed the courts for allowing what they have called a “travesty” to continue unabated said that they suspect that Leifer has been coached prior to court-ordered psychiatric examinations in order to appear unwell, whereas in fact they believe she does not suffer from any psychiatric disorder. The Justice Ministry said in a statement that a police investigation throughout 2017 indicated that there was a basis to the allegations.
Manny Waks, the founder of Kol v’Oz, an Israeli organization that addresses the issue of child sexual abuse within Jewish communities around the world, said the development “is potentially enormous” because it would add local criminal charges to the counts she faces Down Under.
Waks, who is also a native of Melbourne but was forced to leave the ultra-Orthodox community there after going public about the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of staff members as a student at a Chabad-run yeshiva high school in the city, added that the arrest, if proven true, would be a “massive and positive development.”
“The Jewish world has been looking at this case with great interest. Several alleged perpetrators have escaped justice by fleeing to Israel. This will send a strong message that Israel will not allow itself to be used as a safe haven, and that the justice system will do what needs to be done in order to ensure a just outcome to this case,” Waks told TPS.
The Justice Ministry added that prosecutors would ask the Petah Tikva District Court to extent Leifer’s remand, and that extradition proceedings against the defendant would be resumed.
An Australian Embassy spokesperson told TPS that “Australia maintains a strong interest in the extradition of Ms. Leifer. The Australian Government remains in close consultation with Israeli authorities on developments in this case.”
By: Andrew Friedman