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Justice minister says he'll move ahead with process swiftly

Leifer accusers express relief at long-awaited extradition ruling

‘We can’t believe we finally got here,’ says one of three Australian sisters who accuse ex-principal of sexual assault; others also praise decision, after 71 hearings

Australian sisters Elly Sapper, Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyer who were allegedly sexually abused by former headteacher Malka Leifer arrive for a court hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem, March 6, 2019.  (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Australian sisters Elly Sapper, Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyer who were allegedly sexually abused by former headteacher Malka Leifer arrive for a court hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem, March 6, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Accusers of child sex offender Malka Leifer hailed a ruling by a Jerusalem court that she should be extradited to Australia to face charges Monday, expressing relief that justice may finally be served after a drawn-out legal battle.

Judge Miriam Lomp ruled Monday that Leifer, a former principal who fled to Israel after accusations against her surfaced in 2008, could be sent to Australia to face 74 counts of child sex abuse. Victims rights advocates expressed hopes that the decision would be the final chapter of a six-year effort to see her extradited, though Leifer’s lawyers vowed to appeal the decision, possibly further delaying the proceedings.

“A victory for justice!!” tweeted Dassi Erlich, one of Leifer’s accusers, moments after the ruling. “A victory for all survivors!! Exhaling years of holding our breath! We truly value every person standing with us in our refusal to remain silent! Today our hearts are smiling!”

Erlich and her sisters Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper, who have also accused Leifer, welcomed the news together in Melbourne.

“We can’t stop smiling,” Meyer told Nine Network television news, flanked by her sisters.

“There‘s just so many emotions flooding through us now — like, relief, excitement — we can’t believe we finally got here,” Meyer added.

Dassi Erlich (L) and Nicole Meyer speak to reporters inside the Jerusalem District Court where a hearing on whether Malka Leifer is fit for extradition was held on March 13, 2019. (Johanna Chisholm/Times of Israel)

The Justice Ministry hailed the decision as “an important and significant day for the rule of law, for international cooperation and most importantly for those who were victims of Malka Leifer’s crimes.”

In a statement the ministry said that Leifer had “made every effort to delay the proceedings and avoid extradition, including repeated attempts to convince the court that she was not competent to undergo extradition proceedings.”

“Today, the court put an end to those efforts by declaring her extraditable,” the ministry said. “We are very pleased with the outcome of the court’s decision and look forward to the continued and successful cooperation between Israel and Australia.”

In this photo from February 27, 2018, Malka Leifer, right, is brought to a courtroom in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean, File)

Declarations welcoming the ruling, however, were tempered with lingering criticism over the prolonged period of time it took to reach the extradition decision. Critics, including Leifer’s alleged victims, have accused Israeli authorities of dragging out the case for far too long, and the affair has strained ties between Israel and Canberra, as well as Australia’s Jewish community.

“Justice, justice, you shall pursue,” declared Australian MP Josh Burns MP, a federal member for Macnamara, quoting the Bible in a statement after the ruling.

“Justice has taken far too long,” said Burns, who has followed the case closely. “But finally, justice has won the day. And while we await further appeals, we call on the Israeli judicial system to deal with them as quickly as possible and for the Justice Minister to give the extradition the final sign off without any further delays.”

Leifer’s attorneys said they would appeal an extradition order to Israel’s Supreme Court, saying it would be a “political decision.”

“For those who think that this chapter is now closed, I’m sorry, the process will still last quite a few months more,” said Nick Kaufman, one of Leifer’s defense lawyers.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn will still be required to sign off on the extradition in order for Leifer to be put on a plane back to Australia — another procedural step that provides an opportunity for an appeal.

Family members of Malka Leifer arrive for a court hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on September 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Nissenkorn tweeted that he intends to move swiftly ahead with the extradition procedure.

“After years of torment, the victims of the offense will finally be entitled to justice,” he tweeted. “Leifer committed a serious act and tried to impersonate a mentally ill person in order to evade extradition. I will work to expedite the continuation of the procedure as much as possible in order to carry out Leifer’s extradition to Australia.”

For years, hearings on Leifer were postponed by claims of sudden bouts of a debilitating condition. A Jerusalem court suspended proceedings in 2016, deeming her mentally unfit to stand trial. She was rearrested in 2018 after being filmed appearing to lead a fully functional life.

Leifer was allegedly aided by former health minister Yaakov Litzman, who police last year recommended be indicted for pressuring psychiatrists in his office to change the medical opinions submitted to the court to deem her unfit for trial.

The Zionist Federation of Australia welcomed the “long overdue” court decision to extradite Leifer and called on her “to accept this decision without further needless appeals and face her accusers in an Australian court.”

“It is well past time to bring Leifer home,” said ZFA President Jeremy Leibler in a statement. “The survivors deserve justice.”

Leibler recalled that last October, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured him that as soon as the extradition would be ordered the government “would do everything in its power to facilitate the extradition process, and certainly would not do anything to further delay the process.”

“I look forward to the prime minister delivering on that assurance,” he urged.

Magen, an Israeli organization that used hidden cameras to provide evidence that Leifer was faking her mental illness, said in a statement: “The court ruling this morning has lifted a weight off of our hearts, validating that which we and so many have argued for so long – Malka Leifer is fit and must stand trial for the crimes that she is alleged to have committed.”

Jeremy Leibler (Courtesy/Zionist Federation of Australia)

Manny Waks Waks, the CEO of Kol V’Oz, an Israel-based organization combating child sexual abuse in the global Jewish community, said in a statement that the 71 court hearings it took to get to this point “has been Israel’s shame” that placed an “avoidable toll” on Leifer’s alleged victims.

“It is important that we do not lose sight of that and get to the bottom of how this happened, including the role which the ultra-Orthodox community and their politicians may have had to play in this shameful situation so that it is never repeated,” Waks said.

“Today is a great day for justice,” he said. “It is a day which at times seemed like it would never arrive, but we are thrilled that it is finally here.”

In Monday’s decision, Lomp wrote, “I accept the petition and declare the respondent as extraditable to Australia for the offenses attributed to her in the extradition request.”

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