Ex-Australian envoy says Israel’s failure to extradite Malka Leifer damages ties

Ambassador-turned-MP Dave Sharma tells parliament that 5-year-and-counting process to send alleged serial pedophile back to Melbourne increasingly becoming point of contention

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Liberal Party cadidate for Wentworth Dave Sharma (L) waits for voters outside a polling station during the Wentworth by-election in Bondi Beach in Sydney on October 20, 2018 (PETER PARKS / AFP)
Liberal Party cadidate for Wentworth Dave Sharma (L) waits for voters outside a polling station during the Wentworth by-election in Bondi Beach in Sydney on October 20, 2018 (PETER PARKS / AFP)

Australia’s former ambassador to Israel and a current member of federal parliament said on Thursday that a Jerusalem court’s failure to extradite alleged serial pedophile Malka Leifer back to Melbourne after more than five years has damaged his country’s ties with Israel.

“I expected it would be a straightforward case, that the wheels of justice would turn and that within the space of 12 to 18 months we would see Ms. Leifer extradited to Australia in order to face justice for these most grave and serious charges leveled against her. But I regret to report that, in the five years that have since elapsed, we seem to be no closer to seeing this extradition request fulfilled,” said Dave Sharma in a speech before Federal Parliament in Canberra.

Sharma served as ambassador from 2013 to 2017. In 2014, Leifer was first arrested by Israeli authorities following a request for extradition by Australia, which has charged the former ultra-Orthodox girls’ school principal with 74 counts of sexual assault.

Leifer was brought from Israel to work at the Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls school in Melbourne in 2000. When allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced eight years later, members of the school board swiftly purchased the mother of eight a plane ticket back to Israel, allowing her to avoid being charged.

A private investigator tagged Malka Leifer as she did shopping in Bnei Brak on December 14, 2017. (Screen capture/YouTube)

She did not remain in Israeli custody for long as a Jerusalem court released her to house arrest. 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.

Leifer was rearrested in February 2018 following a police undercover operation that cast doubts on her claims regarding her mental state, and has remained in custody since. The operation was launched after Jewish Community Watch, an NGO working to combat sex abuse in Jewish communities, hired private investigators who placed hidden cameras in Leifer’s new hometown of Emmanuel that showed the alleged sex abuser roaming around the town without any apparent difficulty.

She has remained behind bars since, but her attorneys continue to argue that she is mentally incompetent. Unsatisfied with the three district psychiatrists who have determined that she is feigning mental illness, the Jerusalem District Court has ordered a new panel of experts to evaluate Leifer, further delaying the process.

“This is not only an affront to justice but deeply traumatic for the victims of this abuse,” Sharma told his fellow members of parliament this week. “It is damaging to Israel’s reputation, and it is increasingly becoming a point of contention and friction in our otherwise positive and productive relationship with Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a joint press conference at the Prime Minister Office in Jerusalem, on October 30, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He went on to call the Jerusalem District Court’s decision earlier this month to release Leifer to house arrest “almost inexplicable,” and praised Israel’s Supreme Court for overturning the ruling.

“Leifer has continually used claims about her mental state to frustrate and delay attempts to extradite her,” he argued.

Lawyers for 52-year-old Leifer claim their client experiences debilitating panic attacks when placed in situations of stress such as prison or court.

“The willingness of the Israeli legal system to entertain these claims seems to take no consideration of the fragile mental state of Ms. Leifer’s alleged victims and their legitimate desire to see justice served in this case,” Sharma said.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 2, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Liberal Party MP who was elected in May to represent a largely Jewish district in Sydney also referred to the Israel Police investigation into Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, whom it recommended be indicted for pressuring district psychiatrists in his office to deem Leifer unfit for extradition. Leifer taught at a school in Bnei Brak affiliated with Litzman’s Gur Hassidic sect.

“This is an exceptionally serious allegation. If true, this would be a gross interference in the course of justice. I hope it is fully and fearlessly investigated,” Sharma said.

“I do not doubt the independence and the integrity of the Israeli legal system, nor do I doubt the commitment of the Israeli Ministry of Justice to pursuing this case. But enough is enough.”

Former principal Malka Leifer, wanted in Australia for child sex abuse crimes, seen at the Jerusalem District Court, February 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Sharma isn’t the first Australian official to criticize the drawn-out legal proceedings against Leifer.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement earlier this month that she recently raised the issue with her Israeli counterpart Israel Katz.

Australia’s Attorney General Christian Porter has said “the length of time that Israel is taking to finalize Australia’s extradition request is regrettable,” according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Labour MP Josh Burns called the eventually reversed decision to release Leifer to house arrest “deeply disappointing” and said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison “should make direct contact with Israel to express Australia’s strong view that Ms. Leifer must be extradited to Australia to face justice with no further delays.”

Israel’s Ambassador to Australia appeared to come close to criticizing the ruling from his own country after the Jerusalem court ordered Leifer’s release to house arrest earlier this month.

“While Israeli lawcourts are independent, there are very many in Israel, including the State Prosecution, who find the recent legal decisions regarding Malka Leifer incomprehensible and are working avidly to overturn them,” Mark Sofer tweeted. “In their eyes, the case has gone on for far too long and nothing short of full justice can be acceptable. Uppermost in their minds is the immediate extradition of Malka Leifer to Australia to stand trial.”

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