Three victims of alleged sexual abuse by Malka Leifer expressed shock on Friday upon learning that the media strategist behind a campaign to block the extradition of their former high school principal is now working for Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party.
Sisters Dassi Erlich, Ellie Sapper and Nicole Meyer said the candidate for prime minister needs to explain why he felt it was appropriate to hire Ronen Tzur as his strategic adviser despite a campaign Tzur drafted in November which sought to portray Leifer, who faces 74 charges of sex abuse back in Melbourne, Australia, simply as a “51-year-old grandmother.”
“We understand he works at a PR agency but the nature of his jobs leads to questions as to his ethics,” said Erlich, regarding Tzur, who also advised former president Moshe Katzav as he faced allegations of rape, for which he was convicted in 2010.
“How accountable are those that enable perpetrators to evade justice? When is a job just a job and when does it cross a moral line,” she added.
— אייס – www.ice.co.il (@icecoil1) April 18, 2016
The campaign drafted by Tzur’s Rosenbaum Communication sought to recruit a state psychiatrist willing to testify in court that Leifer was not fit to stand trial, and target the medical experts who have so far rejected the notion that Leifer’s mental health should prevent her from extradition.
Shortly after the Yedioth Ahronoth daily exposed the project, Leifer’s defense team cut ties with Tzur, and his strategy was never put in place. The suspect’s attorney, Yehuda Freid, called the campaign “inappropriate” and asserted that Leifer’s family had nothing to do with its formation.
But Tzur defended the scheme, telling The Times of Israel on Friday that “it would have ensured a fair trial without the scandalous intervention of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked,” who he claimed in the campaign draft held inappropriately close ties to Australian officials seeking to convict the alleged sex abuser.
For her part, Erlich said that the nature of Tzur’s work — on behalf of both Leifer and Katzav — “begs the question as to why Benny Gantz would want to hire him.”
Sapper went a step further, going after what she called the media strategist’s “blatant disregard in the protection of children from abuse.”
“If such decisions and behavior are condoned and this becomes an acceptable precedent, what type of community are we creating?” Sapper added, asserting that Gantz should not be taking advice from someone who had been willing to work on behalf of an alleged sexual predator.
Beyond highlighting that Tzur is no longer working for the Leifer family, a spokesman for the Israel Resilience party declined to comment any further on the matter.
Leifer, an Israeli citizen, fled Australia to Israel in 2008, days before allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced, following a heads-up from officials at the Adass Israel school where she served as headmistress.
After authorities in Melbourne filed charges against her, Australia officially filed an extradition request in 2012. Two years later, Leifer was arrested in Israel but released to house arrest shortly thereafter. Judges deemed her mentally unfit to stand trial and eventually removed all restrictions against her, concluding that she was too ill to even leave her bed.
She was rearrested last February following a police undercover operation that cast doubts on her claims regarding her mental state, and has remained under custody since. The operation was launched after the Jewish Community Watch NGO hired private investigators who placed hidden cameras in the Emmanuel settlement where Leifer had been living, which showed the alleged sex abuser roaming around the ultra-Orthodox town without any apparent difficulty.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.