United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Litzman signed a plea deal on Thursday, admitting to breach of trust for using his former position as deputy health minister to thwart the extradition to Australia of Malka Leifer, a former principal of an Orthodox girls school in Melbourne accused of sexually assaulting minors.
The charge of obstruction of justice was dropped as part of the agreement, and Litzman will not be convicted of moral turpitude in the case. The deal still needs to be approved by a judge.
Under the terms of the deal, Litzman will avoid jail time and instead be sentenced to probation, as well as a fine of NIS 3,000 (approximately $940).
Until recently, Litzman denied that he was taking part in plea deal negotiations. He announced last month that he would not run for the Knesset again, although he said that his decision was unrelated to the accusations against him.
The plea deal was finalized just four days before the end of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s term.
In a statement issued by his lawyers, Litzman said he “takes responsibility for one, irregular event.” The statement claimed that the then-minister “acted in response to a public request he received, without acquaintance with the applicant, and without any personal affiliation or motives.”
The Movement for Quality Government decried the deal, and said it has lodged a petition on the matter at the Supreme Court.
“The attorney general’s end-of-season deals continue until the last minute. For shame!” the organization said in a statement, apparently also referring to Shas party leader Aryeh Deri’s tax offenses plea deal earlier in the week.
“Once again, a shameful plea agreement was signed with an elected official,” the watchdog said. “We will all pay a price for this conduct.”
The Magen advocacy group for child abuse victims said that the decision caused pain to those abused by Leifer.
“Unfortunately, today is a difficult time that has caused the Malka Leifer victims great grief. We sympathize with the anger of the victims of the plea deal and hope that the confession will give validity to the serious acts, and that next time politicians will understand that they are not above the law,” the group said.
In Australia, Jeremy Leibler, President of the Zionist Federation of Australia, called the decision “difficult to comprehend.”
“This plea deal does not send the right message to the survivors of sexual abuse or to others who seek to protect and cover up sexual abuse,” said Leibler, calling on the court “have regard to the impact that Litzman’s alleged conduct has had and continues to have on survivors of sexual abuse and the public’s confidence in the integrity of Israel’s elected officials.”
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.
Police had originally recommended Litzman also be charged with bribery in the original indictment, but Mandelblit decided against it.
In the Leifer case, Litzman 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.
The prolonged nature of Leifer’s extradition shook Australia’s Jewish community, which rarely criticizes the Israeli government, but found itself doing just that as leadership became increasingly taken aback by the repeated nature of delays in the case.
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. Litzman is now the party’s No. 2.
Litzman announced on Sunday that he had contracted the coronavirus for a second time.