It takes a lot for Australian Jews to publicly criticize Israel. Yet the case of alleged sex offender Malka Leifer has become a source of anguish and anger, forcing this community to become increasingly outspoken as it despairs over why Israel is taking so long — five years and 62 hearings (and counting) — to extradite the former school principal.
The common refrain has become “Enough is Enough,” with the Zionist Federation of Australia and the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council among the prominent organizations speaking out. As they see it, Israel has engaged in foot-dragging over whether to return Leifer to Victoria, where she faces 74 charges of child sex abuse, including rape, against some of her female students.
“There is a wave of anxiety and frustration over this issue in the community. It features consistently in community media and social media; it is discussed at a high level with government representatives, and Malka Leifer has become an infamous name,” says Raphael Mengem, a policy analyst and member of Melbourne’s Jewish community. “She has evaded answers to these crimes for too long, and there is a growing and understandable frustration from the local Jewish community.”
It has been over a decade since the night in March 2008 when Leifer fled Australia within hours of accusations surfacing that she had abused students at Melbourne’s ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel School for girls. Leifer, who has Israeli citizenship, secretly relocated to a remote religious settlement in the West Bank. She resided there until Israeli police located and arrested her in 2014, following an official extradition request from the Australian authorities.
A lengthy legal drama has ensued, transforming what should have been a fairly routine procedure into one of the most emotional extradition cases in Israeli history.
The lawyers for 52-year-old Leifer have argued that she is mentally unfit to stand trial, which, according to Israeli law, would prevent her from being extradited. For a time she was deemed mentally unwell and released from custody. But then the police rearrested her after being tipped off by private investigators for Jewish Community Watch (an advocacy group for Jewish survivors of child sexual assault), who caught her on videotape appearing stable and interacting normally with neighbors and shopkeepers.
Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman outside a United Torah Judaism conference, September 2019.Oren Ben Hakun
Several state psychiatrists determined that Leifer was feigning mental illness and was fully capable of facing trial, but then another major setback occurred when a court-appointed psychiatrist recanted his assessment that she was mentally fit. Israeli police now believe that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, one of the most powerful ultra-Orthodox politicians in Israel, was behind efforts to pressure the psychiatrist to change his assessment, and have recommended that Litzman be indicted for fraud and breach of trust.