A Jerusalem court handed down an extremely light sentence to former minister Yaakov Litzman on Monday, as part of a plea deal that allowed him to avoid jail time. In exchange, Litzman admitted to abusing his powers in a failed bid to thwart the extradition of a suspected pedophile wanted in Australia.
Under the deal, the former United Torah Judaism party leader pleaded guilty to breach of trust, but prosecutors dropped an obstruction of justice charge, allowing him to avoid a moral turpitude enhancement that would have banned him from politics for several years.
The ex-health minister was accused of using his position to protect Malka Leifer, a former principal of an Orthodox girls’ school in Melbourne, who fled to Israel when accused of sexually assaulting minors.
Instead of jail time, Litzman was given a fine of NIS 3,000 ($907) and an eight-month suspended sentence, which will only go into effect if he commits the same crime again within the next three years.
Last week, Litzman resigned from the Knesset as part of the deal, after holding his seat for 23 years. He promised to remain involved in politics.
According to the court ruling, Jerusalem District Attorney Danny Vitman argued at the sentencing hearing that the severity of Litzman’s actions was clear, but added that “there were no financial or personal interests” that motivated Litzman, and that “his actions did not cause damage.”
Litzman’s attorney Jack Chen said that the former lawmaker “took responsibility for his actions,” and defended him: “Out of 600,000 inquiries that he handled, on this occasion, there was a failure of judgment.”
The Movement for Quality Government decried the deal when it was signed in January, calling it “shameful” and noting that it came on the heels of Shas party leader Aryeh Deri’s tax offenses plea deal earlier that month.
“We will all pay a price for this conduct,” they warned.
Charges were dropped relating to a second case in which Litzman was accused of preventing the closure of a deli cited for health violations. The deli was close to Litzman’s home and he was acquainted with its owners.
In the Leifer case, the former minister was accused of pressuring employees in the Health Ministry to alter the conclusions of psychiatric evaluations that had deemed the accused sex offender fit for extradition.
Leifer was eventually extradited to Australia last year, nearly 13 years after she fled Melbourne, as allegations against her were coming to light and after a six-year legal process, during which a court determined that she had feigned mental illness in order to avoid facing justice. She is now facing trial in Australia for sexually abusing girls at a Jewish school.
Elected to the Knesset in 1999, Litzman was the de facto head of the Health Ministry for more than a decade, serving as either deputy or full health minister from 2009 until mid-2020.
Last year, Litzman stepped down as chair of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party after 18 years at the helm, with Moshe Gafni taking the lead,
Yaakov Tessler, a member of the Vizhnitz Hasidic stream, replaced Litzman in the Knesset.