Several dozen people demonstrated on Wednesday outside the Jerusalem District Court in solidarity with Malka Leifer’s alleged victims, who flew to Israel from Australia to attend hearings this month to determine whether the former high school principal and suspected sexual predator is fit for extradition.
Sisters Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyer addressed the crowd after exiting what was the 48th hearing on the matter.
“It is because of your support that we can continue fighting for justice, and ensuring that this abuser is not out on the streets anymore,” said Erlich, who has led a public campaign pushing for Leifer’s extradition to Australia where she is wanted on 74 charges of sex abuse.
The sisters expressed frustration over the testimony that they heard in Wednesday’s closed-door hearing from Dr. Brian Trappler, who flew in from New York on behalf of Leifer’s defense.
Hours before he testified, the Australian Jewish News reported that Trappler has published several Facebook posts in recent years in which he argued vehemently in defense of the alleged sex abuser.
In a June 2017 post responding to an online appeal for Leifer’s extradition, Trappler wrote, “Anyone who signs this petition without full knowledge of the case is placing themselves in [danger].”
“I suggest that before the lynch-mob commits the ultimate crime of Mesira they pause to realize that this case is not what you’ve been told,” the Brooklyn psychiatrist added, referring to an ultra-Orthodox prohibition against turning in a fellow Jew to non-rabbinic authorities.
Responding to an individual’s comment on his post, Trappler went on to say that Leifer “never committed the crimes she was accused of.”
Asked by another follower how he was sure, he suggested that this was because Leifer’s accusers do not look religious.
“Just looking at their pictures and listening to their comments should give you an idea that this is not a heimeshe or Hareidi crowd,” Trappler wrote, using terms describing the ultra-Orthodox.
Speaking to The Times of Israel, rally organizer Manny Waks called it “shocking” that Trappler was allowed to testify given his public comments on the issue.
“For someone like that who is a psychiatrist to write such absurd comments and then be taken seriously in the court of law… in my opinion is a joke and should’ve been thrown out immediately,” said Waks, who is the CEO of Kol V’Oz, an Israel-based organization combating child sexual abuse in the global Jewish community.
After the hearing, Meyer told reporters outside the courtroom that it had been difficult to sit and listen to the defense’s expert, who she argued had his “personal opinions mixed with his professional opinions.”
Trappler was tapped once before by the defense to attest to Leifer’s mental state. His 2015 testimony deeming her unfit for extradition was among those cited in the court’s decision to drop proceedings against her at the time. However, an undercover operation tailing Leifer two years later found her going about her life with no apparent difficulty, leading to the 51-year-old’s rearrest and the resumption of the extradition-related proceedings against her.
“We are optimistic that the judge will see who this person is and will not take his opinion into account,” said Erlich of Trappler.
Both Trappler and Leifer’s attorney declined The Times of Israel’s requests for comment.
Also addressing the rally was Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum. To the applause of the several dozen demonstrators, she called for the resignation of Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who is being investigated by police on suspicion that he sought to have a psychiatric opinion drafted that deemed Leifer unfit for extradition.
“The country that I love does not protect sex offenders and pedophiles. This is a warped situation that we need to change. Litzman needs to resign. This is a man that is hugging sex offenders. This is a man that is protecting pedophiles. Why? Because the name of his group is more important than the people of his group,” said Hassan-Nahoum, suggesting that the deputy health minister is most concerned with the reputation of his Hasidic Gur sect, with which Leifer is affiliated.
Leifer, an Israeli citizen, was ushered out of Australia back to Israel in 2008, days before allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced, in a plan orchestrated by officials at the Adass Israel school where she taught.
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.
Since she was rearrested in February 2018, nearly two dozen hearings have been held to determine whether Leifer is mentally fit for extradition. Additional hearings have been scheduled for the coming months, where psychiatric experts for both the defense and the prosecution will be cross-examined.