Israel justice system let down abuse victims, it's time to do the right thing
The Jerusalem Post
18 February 2019
The case of Malka Leifer, the Israeli woman wanted in Australia on 74 charges of sexual abuse including raping several female students when Principal of the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Adass Israel School in Melbourne in the early 2000s, is becoming increasingly farcical and is harming Israel's international reputation as a vibrant democracy with a functioning judiciary.
Leifer was brought from Israel to Australia in 2000 to take up the role of school Principal. When in 2008, the Adass leadership became aware of allegations that she had been sexually abusing pupils, they immediately purchased a one-way ticket for her to Israel and sent her away, assisting the escape of a person they suspected of serious crimes and failing to inform the local police or any authorities. It is alleged that Leifer continued to sexually abuse young females in Immanuel in subsequent years.
In 2011, around the time when stories of children being sexually abused in various Jewish community institutions in Australia began to emerge, some of Leifer's alleged victims went to the police and provided statements.
The following year, Australian police formally requested that Israel extradite Leifer to Australia to face charges. In 2014, Israel arrested Leifer, but she was soon released to house arrest.
It was during the period that followed that the games began, with Leifer's legal team, likely paid for by members of the Haredi community and led by one of Israel's best-known criminal defence lawyers, Yehuda Fried, relying on a loophole in Israeli law which prevents a person who was seriously mentally unwell facing an extradition hearing.
This was the first time in Israel that such an argument had been used by a defendant facing extradition. During multiple court hearings, Leifer’s lawyers argued that she was too unwell to participate in any court hearing. Apparently, she was not even in a position to communicate with her own lawyers. They said that she suffered psychotic episodes and panic attacks requiring her hospitalisation and that at times, she was effectively a vegetable. Medical reports were produced to support their arguments. The fact that her condition only arose immediately before every court hearing did not seem to matter. Nor the fact that she was fine for long periods in between court hearings.
Meanwhile, Leifer’s alleged victims continued to suffer and the Israeli justice system continued to let them down. It was clear that her lawyers would try every strategy to delay attempts to bring her to justice and the Haredi community supporting her, believed she was either the victim of false allegations, could not be extradited for some misguided Halachic reason or, as we have seen in numerous cases of child sexual abuse in Haredi communities, came up with some other justification to cover up her alleged crimes only so that more of their children can be abused and have their lives shattered.
In 2016, Leifer was found to be mentally unfit to face court, and her house arrest was lifted. She was required to see a psychiatrist every month, and a psychiatric panel was instructed to submit a report every six months to court. This arrangement was put into place for 10 years.
In 2018, an under-cover operation revealed what many of us already knew: Malka Leifer was not mentally ill but was simply faking in order to avoid extradition. Investigators took hours of video showing Leifer living a normal life in between the required psychiatric check-ups where she would become a ‘vegetable’ again for a few days.
Leifer was charged with a range of offences relating to obstructing justice for feigning her mental health injuries. She has been in the psychiatric ward of a prison since February 2018.
Since that time, Leifer's defence has been desperately, but thus far unsuccessfully, trying to get her released on bail. At one of the hearings in 2018, they pulled out a trump card; they surprised everyone by inviting prominent ultra-Orthodox leader, Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, a recipient of the prestigious 2004 Israel Prize, who offered to supervise Leifer if the judge released her into his custody. The judge agreed.
Within days, Grossman withdrew his support for Leifer after a public outcry and threats from donors to withdraw financial support to his institutions. Leifer remained in prison.
How is it that in 2018 in the Jewish State, a senior rabbi with no connection to a matter, can walk into a court and influence a judge in this manner? I would expect this to occur in a non-democracy. But not in Israel. And why would a religious leader try to help an alleged perpetrator of child sexual abuse, creating unnecessary pain and suffering to her courageous victims who were so desperately seeking justice?
It was clear that getting people in high places to interfere with the judicial process was part of the Leifer defence strategy. But in our wildest dreams, we did not imagine the level of corruption in Israel could run so deep.
After more than 10 years since fleeing to Israel and 45 court hearings, a judge is finally deciding whether or not Leifer is mentally fit to be extradited to Australia. A key witness in the case is the evidence of Jerusalem District Psychiatrist Jacob Charnes. When Leifer was released from house arrest in 2016, it was on the back of a psychiatric report by Charnes which found her mentally unfit.
In 2018, after Leifer’s re-arrest when video evidence showed she was seemingly faking mental illness, Charnes, as Chief Psychiatrist, signed off on a medical report by his colleagues, reversing his previous assessment, but mysteriously it took months for him to do so. Then, last month, Charnes changed his position again and recommended to the court to appoint another medical panel to re-assess Leifer.
Recently, it has emerged that Israel's Deputy Health Minister, the ultra-Orthodox Yaakov Litzman MK, is suspected of meeting with Charnes to pressure him into falsely reporting that Leifer was mentally unwell. Doctors within the Health Ministry, which is ultimately run by Health Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have apparently repeatedly had their jobs threatened if they did not comply with Litzman’s directions to falsely declare Leifer ill.
Late last year when three courageous alleged victims of Leifer – Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper – visited the Knesset for support in their campaign to bring Leifer to justice, they happened to run into Litzman in the corridors. When they sought his support, he cruelly responded that he knew "the other side of the story" and that he did not support Leifer's extradition. He told them however that he would not interfere in the case. If the police investigations are to be believed, this was a lie to these poor girls who had travelled across the world to seek justice.
It is imperative that Leifer is returned to Australia to face her accusers. She will be given a fair hearing to determine her guilt or innocence. That it has taken this long and she is still not really much closer to being returned to Australia should be a source of embarrassment to Israel. Extraditions are a normal part of relations between western democracies, particularly those who are supposed to be close friends. Why should Israel be any different? Because the alleged perpetrator is Jewish? Or because she is religious, at least externally?
The alleged victims not only deserve justice but they deserve answers. So do the Australian people and especially the mainstream Jewish community who are so committed to loving and supporting Israel. Why has it taken so long for this extradition request to be fulfilled? Who is funding Leifer’s defence? Has government corruption been involved?
The Israeli public must be made aware of what has gone on and if there has been corruption involved, as there has been far too often among Israeli politicians, then those responsible must be punished to the full extent of the law.
Litzman must step down immediately, while the investigation is still pending. And so should Charnes.
The Israeli public needs to ask whether they want to continue being a safe haven for Jewish pedophiles from all over the world and whether they want to keep putting their own children in danger. This is an issue we are continuing to address, including by working with the Knesset's Committee for the Rights of the Child.
Now, Israel has the opportunity to show that it has a strong justice system, as expected of the Jewish state. It is time to bring this farce to an end. Leifer needs to face her accusers in Australia and, if found guilty, pay the penalty for her crimes. Once this happens, her alleged victims can truly begin the process of healing. They have been through enough, without having to take on a corrupt Israeli system to get justice.
Until this happens, Israel's international reputation will justifiably continue to suffer.
Originally published at The Jerusalem Post.