Arrest of fugitive principal Malka Leifer hailed by victims
Cameron Stewart & Simone Fox Koob
14 February 2018
Victims of accused sex offender and former school principal Malka Leifer have welcomed news of her arrest in Israel, hoping it marks a turning point in the decade-long quest to have her return to Australia to face justice.
Police in Israel confirmed yesterday they had arrested Ms Leifer after a covert investigation into her claims she was too mentally ill to face extradition.
Israeli authorities said they would now renew extradition proceedings to have her return to Melbourne where she is wanted for 74 counts of child sex abuse.
Dassi Erlich, one of Ms Leifer’s alleged victims, along with her two sisters Elly and Nicole, welcomed the news. “We were waiting for this day to come and finally it has,” she said.
“We knew that the legal team in Israel were working really hard. We didn’t have the details of exactly what they were working on, but we knew they were working really hard. So this did come as a shock to us but in a good way. A good shock,” she said.
Ms Erlich said news of yesterday’s development came after a an arduous legal process that began six years ago when she gave her official statement to police, effectively cutting herself off from her ultra-orthodox Jewish Assad community.
“I never thought it would take this long. Six years ago, I was a frightened new mother, knowing that giving my police statement would mean I had no place in the community anymore.
“That was a massive turning point in my life,” she said. “Today is another massive step … I know there will be many more steps but that’s just one more towards where we want to go, which is seeing Malka Leifer in Australia.”
The covert police investigation came after Malcolm Turnbull raised the issue with his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, during a visit to Israel in October.
Both sides of Australian politics and influential members of Australia’s Jewish community, have lobbied Israel over the case.
Ms Leifer, who has been accused of sexually abusing girls in her care while principal of the ultra-orthodox Jewish Adass Israel school, fled Australia in 2008 before charges could be laid. She was initially arrested in August 2014 but extradition proceedings against her all but collapsed in May last year when her lawyers successfully argued she was psychologically unwell and too ill to attend extradition hearings.
Concerns she was faking her illness to avoid justice were raised when she was spotted at a festival in northern Israel last year. Israeli police initiated the covert investigation to see whether her health claims were valid.
Child-sex abuse activist and former abuse victim Manny Waks said: “I’m delighted to hear of Malka Leifer’s arrest and hope that it is the recommencement of a process that leads to her extradition to Australia to face her accusers. Her arrest is a credit to the many people who have worked tirelessly to ensure that she will be held to account and can no longer be a potential threat to children in Israel.
“I’m especially happy for her courageous alleged victims.”
The leaders of the Adass community were widely criticised for helping Ms Leifer fly to Israel on the night the allegations against her were first raised with them.
In 2015, Victorian Supreme Court judge Jack Rush ordered the school to pay $1,024,428 in damages after Ms Erlich sued.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who personally raised the issue with Mr Netanyahu, described the arrest as a significant breakthrough.
Originally published at The Australian.