After nearly six years of wrangling before the Israeli judicial system, alleged child abuser Malka Leifer could face extradition and be sent back to Australia to face 74 counts of abuse while head teacher at a Melbourne school.
Dassi Erlich, one of three sisters who claim Leifer abused them, said they had been waiting for this day “since 2011 when we signed our police statements”.
The extradition hearing follows a lengthy and dramatic court saga in Jerusalem that has deeply strained diplomatic relations between Israel and Australia. A verdict is expected to be announced on September 21.
Leifer, an Israeli citizen, returned to the country in 2008 after the sexual offence allegations emerged.
As well as accusations of interference in the case from a former health minister, Ya’acov Litzman, who comes from the same sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, Leifer has been accused of faking mental illness to avoid extradition.
Her lawyers have continued to argue that the court process has negatively affected her mental state. Half way through Monday’s hearing, Leifer complained she was feeling ill and was excused by the judges.
For the extradition case, Leifer’s legal team has hired Nick Kaufman, a former international criminal court prosecutor who has also defended many extradition cases in Israeli courts.
He argued that intense public focus on Leifer’s case in Australia would hamper her right to a fair trial – which will be decided by a jury – and presumption of innocence.
“There is hardly a day that this case is not in the media – on television in Israel, Australia and around the world,” he told the court. “Malka Leifer was turned into a monster.”
He argued that Leifer would not be able to maintain her ultra-Orthodox lifestyle in an Australian prison.
In his most striking point, Kaufman said while he was not arguing Leifer’s alleged sexual interactions were consensual, the prosecution had “failed to prove … a lack of consent”.
Matan Akiva, respresenting the Israel’s state attorney’s office, responded that Leifer was clearly in a position of power over the girls, who were teenagers at the time.
“Leifer saw in front of her three paralysed girls to whom she performed acts, sometimes when they were together in the same room,” he told the court. “I do not know to what cynical level the term ‘consent’ can still be used.”
Akiva also complained that Leifer had not physically attended Monday’s hearing in person. “This is a woman who pretended to be mentally ill,” he said.
Leifer’s lawyers have denied the allegations against her and are fighting to overturn a decision in May that she is mentally competent to stand trial.
Separately, Litzman has denied pressuring doctors to falsify psychiatric evaluations that would deem Leifer unfit to face trial. (Source: The Guardian)