IN early 2008, the iPhone wasn’t a year old, Kevin Rudd and Ehud Olmert were respectively Australia’s and Israel’s leaders, and the Global Financial Crisis was emerging. It was another era. And a young woman, Dassi Erlich, alleged she was sexually abused as a pupil at Melbourne’s Adass Israel School by principal Malka Leifer.
In our March 14 edition that year, The AJN broke the story that Leifer had been spirited out of Australia back to Israel after allegations of her sexual abuse of students.
On May 26 this year, 12 years later, the State of Victoria – where Leifer faces 74 charges relating to child sexual abuse – can finally feel confident she will keep her appointment with justice. The decision by a Jerusalem judge to accept the findings of a psychiatrists’ panel that Leifer is mentally fit to stand trial for extradition means she will have an extradition hearing on July 20, however, the decision may still be appealed.
Tuesday’s ruling came six years and 67 court hearings after Australian police filed for Leifer’s extradition. It is an epic story involving a 2014 arrest, a ruling she was unfit to face extradition proceedings, and a 2018 re-arrest after surveillance suggested she was feigning mental illness. All along, the case had been hopelessly mired in red tape.
Last year came revelations that Israel’s then-deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman was suspected of interfering by allegedly pressuring psychiatrists to declare Leifer mentally unfit, with Israeli police recommending his indictment.
The AJN joins with Australia’s Jewish leadership and the Jewish community’s friends from all walks of life, significantly from government and opposition, in welcoming this week’s court ruling. We share the relief felt by Leifer’s alleged victims – Erlich, and her sisters Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper – at this turning point in their long fight for justice.
The case has tested Australia–Israel relations and has been discussed at the highest government levels of both countries.
A 2015 civil case in Victoria awarded more than $1 million against the school, and $150,000 in exemplary damages against Leifer. As to a criminal trial, we are in the home straight, but as Macnamara MP Josh Burns put it, “We will all keep fighting until Leifer is in a Victorian courtroom facing justice.”