The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they unfolded.
The Jerusalem District Court is slated to hand down a fateful decision in the six-year trial of Malka Leifer, who is wanted in Australia on 74 counts of child sex abuse.
Judge Miriam Lomp will determine whether Leifer is mentally fit for extradition to face justice in Australia.
The hearing is scheduled to start at 2 p.m.
“Sitting here together with my sisters, [we are] a bundle of a nervous energy, [but] can’t imagine a ruling where Leifer’s manipulation of the court system does not come to an end,” Dassi Erlich tells The Times of Israel in a text message sent from her home in Melbourne where she is waiting along with her sisters Nicole Meyer and Elie Sapper to receive an update regarding Lomp’s decision. The three women have led a public campaign demanding that their alleged abuser be returned to Australia.
During the previous hearing, Leifer had been ordered to be present at today’s session after years of not attending the proceedings. However, due to the coronavirus, the court agreed to allow her to once again refrain from attending.
If found fit for extradition, the defense is likely to appeal the matter to the Supreme Court. If that appeal is rejected, the district court will then move forward with the extradition hearing itself — a largely procedural matter that is expected to be approved quickly (though the trial has been plagued by delays). The defense will then be allowed to appeal before Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn will be asked to sign off on Leifer’s extradition. This signature too can be appealed by Leifer’s attorneys before the alleged serial pedophile can be placed on a plane to Australia.
Leifer faces counts of sexual assault related to accusations brought forward by the three sisters, who say they were abused while she was a teacher and principal at the ultra-Orthodox religious school they attended in Melbourne. In 2008, as the allegations surfaced, the Israeli-born Leifer left the school in Australia and returned to Israel.
After Australia filed an extradition request, Leifer was put under house arrest in 2014 and underwent the beginnings of an extradition process. But that ended in 2016 when a mental health evaluation determined she wasn’t fit to stand trial.
Leifer was again arrested in early 2018 after police found evidence that she had faked her mental incompetence. The court asked for another psychological review, whose findings were handed down in January by a medical panel that unanimously determined Leifer has been feigning mental illness in order to avoid extradition to Australia, and assessed her as fit to stand trial.
The proceedings have been plagued with repeated delays, which allegedly had to do with former health minister Yaakov Litzman pressuring state psychiatrists to change their submitted medical opinions to find Leifer unfit for extradition. One of the psychiatrists alleged to have been influenced by Litzman, Chief Jerusalem District Psychiatrist Jacob Charnes, changed his medical conclusion regarding Leifer’s mental health three times since the case began, causing significant delays in the process. Police last year recommended that Litzman, who is a member of the Gur Hassidic sect to which Leifer has ties, be indicted for fraud and breach of trust over his conduct in the case.
The delays have caused tensions between Jerusalem and Canberra, with the latter for years demanding that the proceedings be moved along at a quicker pace.
— Jacob Magid
Saudi Arabia says it will end its nationwide coronavirus curfew from June 21, except in the holy city of Mecca, after more than two months of stringent curbs.
Prayers will also be allowed to resume in all mosques outside Mecca from May 31, the interior ministry said in a series of measures announced on state media.
Elsewhere in the Gulf, Kuwait and the emirate of Dubai also moved to ease their lockdown measures, which together with a collapse in oil prices have pushed the region into its worst economic crisis in decades.
Saudi Arabia, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus cases in the Gulf, imposed a full nationwide curfew during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
The ministry says it will begin easing restrictions in a phased manner this week, with the curfew relaxed between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. between Thursday and Saturday.
From Sunday until June 20, the curfew will be further eased until 8 p.m., the ministry added. The kingdom will lift the lockdown entirely from June 21.
“Starting from Thursday, the kingdom will enter a new phase (in dealing with the pandemic) and will gradually return to normal based on the rules of social distancing,” Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Monday.
Saudi Arabia has reported around 75,000 coronavirus infections and some 400 deaths from COVID-19.
Bethlehem’s storied Church of the Nativity reopens to visitors, after a nearly three-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The church, built over the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born, was closed on March 5 as the first cases of the virus were reported in the West Bank.
The church is one of Christianity’s most sacred shrines and the closure came ahead of the busy Easter holiday season that typically draws tens of thousands of visitors and worshipers.
Bishop Theophylactos, a Greek Orthodox cleric, calls the reopening a day of celebration for Bethlehem since “all the people now can enter the church and pray like before.”
A UN investigation into a recent exchange of gunfire between the two Koreas has determined that both countries violated the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, the American-led UN Command says.
The May 3 gunfire exchange was the first shooting inside the Korean Demilitarized Zone in about two and a half years. There were no known casualties on either side.
The investigation rules that North Korea breached the armistice by firing four rounds and South Korea by returning fire, according to the statement. It says the investigation was unable to determine if the North Korean rounds were fired intentionally or by mistake.
Authorities name a local company as the winning bidder for a multi-million dollar desalination plant contract, beating out Chinese competition amid reports of pressure from Washington.
IDE Technologies will build the Sorek 2 plant south of Tel Aviv, which by 2023 should be able to produce 200 million cubic meters a year of desalinated water from the Mediterranean, a statement from the finance and energy ministries says.
The new plant will be the largest of its type in the world and increase Israel’s desalination capacity by 35 percent, saving the country money on water, the statement says.
The Israeli company was chosen over Hutchison Water — part of the Hong Kong-based CK Hutchison Group — less than two weeks after the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a lightning visit to Israel during which he discussed Chinese investments.
Israel has boosted cooperation with China in the high-tech and other sectors, but its key ally the United States has urged it to limit Chinese investment in strategic sectors of the economy.
In a pivotal ruling, the Jerusalem District Court has determined that alleged serial pedophile Malka Leifer is mentally fit for extradition to Australia, where she is charged with 74 counts of child sex abuse.
“I decided to accept the expert panel’s opinion,” Judge Chana Miriam Lomp says, referring to a psychiatric board that unanimously ruled in January that Leifer has been feigning mental illness in order to avoid extradition to Australia, and which assessed her as fit to stand trial.
Dassi Erlich, an alleged victim of Liefer and one of three women who have led a public campaign demanding her extradition, writes to The Times of Israel from her home in Melbourne: “This is huge.”
She adds: “Too many emotions to process! …This abusive woman has been exploiting Israeli courts for 6 years! Intentionally creating obstacles, endless vexatious arguments — only lengthening our ongoing trauma.”
If you wish to refresh your memory about the Leifer saga, here is a January piece on the psychiatric board’s decision.
— Jacob Magid
Malka Leifer’s extradition hearing has been scheduled for July 20.
As noted earlier, the defense must now decided whether to appeal the matter to the Supreme Court. If that appeal is rejected, the district court will move forward with the hearing, which is a largely procedural matter.
As a last resort if the Supreme Court rejects the appeal, Leifer will be able to petition Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn to prevent her extradition. Nissenkorn must sign off on the extradition order before it can be put into motion.
— with Jacob Magid
A junior British government minister quits over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s failure to fire his top aide for allegedly breaching coronavirus lockdown rules.
Johnson has stood by Dominic Cummings over his decision to drive 250 miles (400 kilometers) to his parents’ house at the end of March, despite a national order for people to remain at home. Cummings says he traveled so that extended family could care for his 4-year-old son if he and his wife, who both had suspected coronavirus infections, fell ill.
But many Britons say Cummings made a mockery of the sacrifices of people who followed the rules to stop the spread of the disease, even when it meant staying away from loved ones.
Scotland Minister Douglas Ross says in a resignation letter that “the vast majority of people” didn’t agree with Cummings.
“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government,” he wrote. “I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right.”
Israel’s Ambassador to Australia Mark Sofer makes his thoughts on the Leifer ruling clear, tweeting that the court’s decision is “truly wonderful.”
He adds that “at the end of the day, in free and open societies the truth will emerge.”
The court decision that Malka Leifer is fit to stand trial is truly wonderful. We may not always grasp the wheels of justice, but at the end of the day, in free and open societies the truth will emerge.Such welcome news! Mazal Tov @dassi_erlich , Ellie and Nicole!
— Mark Sofer (@MarkSofer) May 26, 2020
More from Judge Chana Miriam Lomp’s ruling this afternoon on Malka Leifer:
“In light of the panel’s opinion, I was persuaded that the respondent understands the charges for which she would be prosecuted in Australia and also understood the nature of the extradition procedure,” Lomp writes.
Referring to medical opinions submitted on the defense’s behalf by three district psychiatrists, Lomp writes that they were based on erroneous facts, and notes that they did not edit their opinions even after the prosecution’s submission of video evidence that suggested Leifer was feigning mental illness.
As to the separate psychiatric panel appointed by the court, Leifer did not cooperate with it “when asked questions related to the legal process, but on other issues she answered questions in a matter-of-fact manner in three different sessions,” Lomp writes.
Lomp stresses that her ruling is based off “clinical examination” of the defendant rather than evidence collected by police and private investigators, which the defense previously argued were prejudicial.
Dismissing the defense’s argument that the court-appointed psychiatric panel’s members had succumbed to public pressure in making their determination, Lomp writes that the experts “are objective, acted as the long arm of the court upon their appointment, did their job faithfully, and ruled in a unanimous measure.”
— with Jacob Magid
Some 14 percent of Israelis, or one in seven people, fear they may lose their home amid the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis it has brought on, according to new data from the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Meanwhile 46.5% are afraid they may not be able to cover their expenses, the CBS poll shows.
It also finds that 14.1% of Israelis — nearly 800,000 people — have cut down on their food consumption to save money amid the crisis.
Iran further eases restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus by allowing restaurants to accept customers, as it announces another 57 deaths from the virus.
Since the first cases of COVID-19 appeared on its soil in mid-February, the Islamic republic has sought to halt the spread of the virus without imposing lockdowns.
A deputy health minister signals the easing of restrictions on eateries.
“Restaurants which before this decree were only allowed to distribute food will be allowed to accept customers from today,” Mohsen Farhadi tells state television.
Farhadi calls on restaurants to respect health protocols to ensure distancing of two meters, a measure he says will reduce client numbers by 50 percent.
Three new coronavirus infections have been confirmed in Gaza, the Strip’s health ministry says.
It says the three patients had already been under quarantine after arriving from outside the Strip — presumably from Egypt.
Gaza currently has 58 total confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with one fatality. Eighteen patients have recovered; 39 cases remain active.
— with Aaron Boxerman
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has instructed his government to implement new parliamentary legislation banning the use of any Israeli products in the country, including computer hardware or software, the Fars news agency reports.
The law was adopted unanimously by Iranian MPs last week. It brands any cooperation with Israel an act against God.
A member of the Hasidic Lev Tahor cult was indicted today at the Jerusalem District Court for assaulting and abusing children mentally and physically in 2009-2011, when he served as the principal of a school belonging to the community in Canada.
Rabbi Elazar Rompler, 46, is accused of abusive behavior toward nine- and ten-year-old children.
In one case Rompler allegedly had a child stripped, tied up and beaten for several hours over suspicions he stole money from a charity money box. In another he is accused of instructing other teachers to hold a child down and beat him repeatedly for allegedly lying.
Lev Tahor, which has about 230 members, has frequently relocated to escape criminal accusations. In 2014 it relocated to Guatemala from Canada following allegations of mistreatment of its children including abuse and child marriages. In 2017 members are believed to have crossed the border to Mexico.
Rompler was arrested in December after arriving in Israel for unspecified reasons. He has since been under house arrest.
Channel 12 news and veteran anchor Dana Weiss are suing the prime minister’s son for defamation after he appeared to suggest she had attained her position through sexual favors.
Yair Netanyahu tweeted yesterday: “Does anyone know how Dana Weiss got such a senior position? … Erudite? No. Smart? No. Interesting…”
When someone commented that she’d probably interviewed like most people do, Netanyahu responded: “Hmmmm I don’t know if that’s called a job interview, what happened there.”
יאיר נתניהו נולד ב1991.פחות או יותר באותה תקופה, בתחילת שנות התשעים, החלה דנה וייס את הקריירה התקשורתית והמוערכת שלה רבת הישגים כעיתונאית מקצוענית עד היום, הן כמגישת חדשות אובייקטיבית ומצוינת וככתבת מדינית.
מ1991ועד היום,אין ליאיר נתניהו קריירה,הישגים או כישרון,רק מוח מלא בזימה. pic.twitter.com/lk6WEoG1Gc
— Dagan wald (@waldagan1) May 24, 2020
Netanyahu’s followers responded by more explicitly suggesting Weiss had used sex to land the job. The younger Netanyahu has employed similar tactics in the past to shame a supporter of Benny Gantz.
Channel 12, in its announcement of a libel suit, says in a statement that Netanyahu made “slanderous, misogynist comments” against Weiss.
Some 60 students at Jerusalem’s Hebrew Gymnasium school, as well as some staff members, have entered a 14-day quarantine after a 7th grade student was diagnosed with coronavirus.
Students in quarantine will be tested for the virus, and random tests will also be conducted among others at the school who were not in close contact with the patient.
Australia’s Attorney General Christian Porter welcomes an Israeli court’s decision to move forward with the extradition of alleged serial pedophile Malka Leifer, saying it is a “positive development.”
Porters says the Australian government is “strongly committed to ensuring justice is served” in Leifer’s case, saying it is Canberra’s “strong view” that this can only be achieved through extradition.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia has passed its peak of coronavirus infections and orders a World War II victory parade postponed by the pandemic to be held next month.
The postponement of the May 9 Victory Day parade was a huge blow to Putin, who had hoped to gather world leaders to watch troops march on Red Square to celebrate 75 years since the defeat of Nazi Germany.
But with the number of new coronavirus cases declining steadily in Russia, Putin tells Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to reschedule the parade for June 24.
After peaking in mid-May at more than 11,000 new cases per day, the number of daily infections has dropped below 9,000.
The Finance Ministry has announced an NIS 6 billion ($1.7b) plan to encourage businesses to bring employees back to work.
The ministry says employers will receive an NIS 7,500 ($2,100) grant in total for every employee brought back, so long as that employee earns at least NIS 3,300 ($940) a month.
Grants will be paid in four monthly installments starting in July.
The plan is set to be discussed by the cabinet next week.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman meets with the members of the tiny right-wing Derech Eretz faction to discuss preparations for Israeli annexation of West Bank land.
Derech Eretz is comprised of Communications Minister Yoaz Handel and MK Zvi Hauser. Both are part of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s bloc in the government. However, despite Gantz’s likely opposition to the annexation push, the two are expected to support it and vote alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on any such proposal.
The coalition deal between Netanyahu and Gantz allows the former to pass annexation with a Knesset majority even without Blue and White’s support. Netanyahu has said he plans to do so in early July.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz makes his first trip to southern Israel and the Gaza border area since entering the post, meeting with both military officials and local mayors, his office says.
During the visit, Gantz met with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, head of the Southern Command Herzi Halevi and commander of the Gaza Division Eliezer Toledano, as well as other lower-ranking officers, the Defense Ministry says.
His office says the visit focused on the Palestinian front in Gaza and the challenges on the southern front.
According to the Walla news site, during the visit Gantz said tensions with Gaza “will not disappear, they will stay with us for some years… there will be ups and downs and we are ready for everything.”
In addition to the IDF officers, the defense minister also met with mayors of Gaza periphery towns and traveled throughout the area, visiting soldiers from the 202nd Battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade who are stationed on the Gaza border.
— Judah Ari Gross
The great-grandchild of Alfred Dreyfus has expressed outrage at the comparison some supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including his son, have drawn between the premier’s corruption trial and the anti-Semitic show trial of her ancestor at the turn of the 20th century.
On Sunday, the day Netanyahu’s trial opened at the Jerusalem District Court, his son Yair tweeted: “Today the Dreyfus trial begins!” Later at a rally in support of the prime minister, some demonstrators held placards and wore face masks comparing the two trials as well.
Yael Perl-Ruiz told i24 News earlier today she was “horrified” by the comparison. “As far as historical facts are concerned there is no place to compare the Dreyfus affair and what is happening in Israel,” she said.
She said collating the two trials “cheapens the symbolic significance” of the Dreyfus affair.
She added that she loves Israel and is “very worried” about the divisions in Israeli society and a crisis of values “that are not the moral values of those who established the state.”
Fake, potentially dangerous coronavirus vaccines with the logo of an Israeli state-funded research institute have been distributed in South America, Channel 12 news reports.
Ampules sporting the logo of the Migal Institute in the Galilee are reportedly being sold in several countries. In Ecuador, one seller was trading in the fake vaccines for $380 each.
Migal officials said they had alerted the Foreign Ministry, the World Health Organization and the foreign ministries of relevant South American nations to the fake vaccines.
Migal has been working on a new oral coronavirus vaccine for adults and children. In March officials at the institute said they believed the vaccine could be ready fairly quickly, as Migal has been working for years on a vaccine that could be customized for various viruses, and has now adapted that work to focus on the coronavirus.
However, the vaccine is not yet ready, and the institute has stressed months of testing are still necessary.
The latest coronavirus statistics from the Health Ministry show no new deaths were recorded today, with the number of fatalities still at 281.
Health officials diagnosed 32 new cases today, bringing the total to 16,757, of which 2,019 are actively sick. Thirty-three people are on ventilators of 37 seriously ill patients and 36 are in moderate condition.
Several European leaders have sent personal letters to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent days, warning him against moving forward with plans to annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley this summer, Channel 13 reports.
French President Emmanuel Macron is said to have told Netanyahu: “I ask you, in friendly spirit, that your new government not take unilateral action [in the West Bank]. Such a move will destabilize the Middle East. Only dialogue with the Palestinians and a just and balanced solution will provide Israel with peace, security and stability.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reported to express similar sentiments.
Meanwhile, the leaders of Spain and Italy urged Jerusalem to act only within the framework of international law.
The report says many European nations are now looking at how to deter Israel from moving forward with the plans under the auspices of the US peace plan, and how to punish it if it ignores their warnings and carries out the annexation.
Channel 13 also says that, as opposed to the vigorous European opposition, Palestinian leaders are concerned that leading Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Gulf states, seem indifferent about the prospect of Israeli annexation.
Citing an unnamed Palestinian source, Channel 13 reports that the notion of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dismantling the PA in response to Israeli annexation in the West Bank is not out of the question.
The US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee has approved upgrading the role of the US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism to that of an ambassador.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations welcomes the move, which it says will provide the role “with additional prominence and visibility on the world stage.” It says the post “plays a critically important part in the global fight against the increasingly urgent threat of resurgent anti-Semitism around the world.”
The committee also passed the US-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2020, approving the allocation of $3.8 billion annually in US aid to Israel as part of a 2016 10-year memorandum of understanding between the countries.
The measures now move to the full Senate for approval.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, speaks with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, but somewhat surprisingly does not highlight the bloc’s vociferous opposition to Israel’s planned West Bank annexation.
A readout of the conversation provided by Borrell’s office quotes him stressing the EU’s wish to “continue working with the new Israeli government in a constructive and comprehensive way, in the spirit of the longstanding friendship that binds the EU and Israel together.”
Ashkenazi and Borrell had “an honest and open exchange of views on a broad range of bilateral and regional issues,” the readout says, without elaborating.
The EU’s foreign policy czar “underlined the EU’s unequivocal commitment to the security of the State of Israel, which is not negotiable for the EU” and reaffirmed the union’s intention to “address jointly issues of mutual interest and concern and to work with Israel to promote global peace and security and to contribute to building trust, in particular in the region and the immediate neighborhood.”
The readout does not mention explicitly the Israeli government’s supposed plan to apply sovereignty over the entire Jordan Valley and all settlements across the West Bank. The obvious omission is noteworthy because Borrell in recent weeks released several statements condemning the annexation plans. Last week, the Foreign Ministry slammed Borrell’s “megaphone diplomacy.”
— Raphal Ahren