Netanyahu says Israel will extradite Leifer as soon as court okays it

Delegation led by former premier raises issue of drawn-out trial of former principal wanted in Melbourne on 74 counts of child sex abuse

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

A private investigator tagged Malka Leifer as she spoke on the phone, while sitting on a bench in Bnei Brak, on December 14, 2017. (Screen capture/YouTube)
A private investigator tagged Malka Leifer as she spoke on the phone, while sitting on a bench in Bnei Brak, on December 14, 2017. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured a delegation of former Australian lawmakers in a meeting Monday that Israel would immediately sign off on the extradition of sex abuse suspect Malka Leifer if so ordered by a Jerusalem court, sources present at the sit-down from both countries confirmed to The Times of Israel.

Netanyahu met Monday with a delegation of past and present Australian officials and community leaders headed by former Australian prime minister John Howard.

At the meeting in Jerusalem, Zionist Federation of Australia chairman Jeremy Leibler “sought and received confirmation from Netanyahu” that the Israeli government would not further prolong legal proceedings against Leifer, who is wanted in Melbourne on 74 charges of child sex abuse, said the source, who is close to the Australian Embassy.

An Israeli official confirmed the account of the Australian source. Both requested anonymity.

The extradition process against the former Israeli principal of the Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls school in Melbourne has dragged on for over five years, as Leifer’s attorneys have argued that she is mentally incompetent.

That defense was strong enough to convince a court to release the now-52-year-old shortly after her 2014 arrest. However, she was rearrested in February 2018 following a police undercover operation that found her moving around her hometown without any apparent difficulty.

Three district psychiatrists have concluded that Leifer is fit for extradition, but Jerusalem chief psychiatrist Jacob Charnes has changed his opinion on the matter three times, causing further delays in the proceedings. Last July, police recommended Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman be indicted for fraud and breach of trust over suspicions that he pressured officials in his office, including Charnes, to prevent Leifer from being extradited.

(From L-R) Former Australian treasurer Wayne Swan, chair of the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) Jeremy Liebler, former Australian prime minister John Howard, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer, former Australian communications minister Stephen Conroy, former Australian defense minister Brendan Nelson, Ginette Searle ZFA Executive and Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan meet in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on October 28, 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom/PMO)

While several senior Australian officials have cited the manner in which the Leifer case has played out as having caused serious damage to Canberra’s relations with Jerusalem, the source present at Sunday’s meeting said the atmosphere was “warm and friendly.”

Last week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with two of Leifer’s alleged victims and issued a statement calling for the case to be wrapped up quickly.

Upon Charnes’s recommendations, the Jerusalem District Court ordered the convening of a new psychiatric panel that will hand down a recommendation by December 10 on whether Leifer has been feigning mental illness to avoid extradition.

Leifer moved from Israel to Melbourne in 2000 and began work at the Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls school. When allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced eight years later, members of the school board swiftly purchased her a plane ticket back to Israel, allowing her to avoid facing charges.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court overturned a decision to release Leifer, the mother of eight, to house arrest and ordered that she remain behind bars for the remainder of the legal proceedings against her.

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