IT took 68 court hearings and six years to reach the extradition hearing for Malka Leifer held on Monday night Australian time – “a pivotal milestone and a big moment”, said her alleged victims Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper.
Now, the three sisters must wait 60 days until September 21 for a decision on whether the former principal of the Adass Israel School will return to Australia to face 74 charges of child sexual abuse.
The night before, Erlich did not get a wink of sleep, she told The AJN. “We had two court hearings in 48 hours. You just get so full of adrenaline.”
The extradition hearing was the first time an Israeli court heard details of the sisters’ alleged sexual abuse. “It’s been extremely difficult to hear, even more so that we couldn’t be there to represent ourselves in court,” they said at the conclusion of the three-and-a-half-hour proceedings.
“The amount of victim blaming was disheartening and traumatising.”
AIJAC welcomes the conclusion of the Malka Leifer extradition hearing, although disappointed the verdict will not be heard until Sept. 21, but applauds the perseverance & courage of the victims who have faced hurtful delays & accusations #BringLeiferHome https://t.co/ssNRT1Rzvv
— AIJAC (@AIJAC_Update) July 21, 2020
As the proceedings played out, Leifer’s legal team argued the issue of consent, with defence attorney Nick Kaufman putting forward that the three sisters were around or even over the age of 18 when the alleged abuse occurred. While he did not specifically state that the allegations were true, he argued that if they were, there were holes in their stories, which should prevent Leifer from being extradited.
“We didn’t expect that in the year of 2020, the issue of consent is discussed in relation to sexual abuse,” said Erlich.
Dismissing the alleged power dynamic between the then-teenage students and their former principal, Kaufman asserted that Erlich, Meyer and Sapper continued meeting Leifer privately and that two of them never tried to resist the alleged abuse.
Erlich said she physically felt sick in the stomach as the argument unfolded. “I thought, how could a person get up and say those things, even in an argument? How dare they say that we wanted what was happening, or we consented to what was happening, or that we knew what was happening.”
State prosecutor Matan Akiva flatly rejected the claims, saying the alleged victims were in no place to say “no” to Leifer and that their principal had total control over them. Moreover, he argued that the nature of their ultra-Orthodox community in Melbourne left the girls without the tools to be able to cope with such abuse.
Extradition hearing has just begun and Malka Leifer’s already asleep pic.twitter.com/UsFX07wCkk
— Jacob Magid (@JacobMagid) July 20, 2020
The prosecution read the police statements filed by the sisters in 2011 which detailed the alleged abuse, as the defence questioned whether the various sexual acts carried out by Leifer counted as rape.
Erlich said, “It took so much for us to file reports with police – it was the first time that we had the courage and the ability to even put those words to paper. And then for someone to take those words and twist them in a way that is completely not true to use them in an argument in order to try and get an abuser not to face justice, how could they? How dare they?”
The state prosecutor illustrated how Leifer groomed the sisters, saying, “Leifer asked one of the complainants to call her ‘mother’. This is the relationship she created with the girls on the basis of which they allegedly gave her ‘consent’.”
He also argued Leifer was aware of the difficult home life of the alleged victims and “took advantage of them, telling them it would be best for them to stay with her rather than going home to parents who would beat them”.
“One of the sisters suffered from PTSD and had breastfeeding problems [as a result of abuse]. Another one tried to commit suicide,” Akiva said.
“Clearly they ‘consented’ because they were afraid of her. Leifer saw in them three girls paralysed [psychologically] who she’d sometimes abuse when they were together in the same room.”
— Dave Sharma (@DaveSharma) July 21, 2020
Other arguments exercised by the defence were that Leifer should not be extradited as she will not be able to adhere to her ultra-Orthodox lifestyle in the Australian prison system; that she would not receive a fair trial in Australia as the media have “turned Malka Leifer into a monster”; that there is a lack of evidence; that complaints submitted by the alleged victims should not be admissible because they have yet to be validated, saying they were only submitted to police and not an official registrar; that there are limitations of the extradition treaty between Israel and Australia and whether the allegations are rape or sexual assault; and that Leifer was never given an opportunity to respond to the allegations.
During the proceedings, Leifer appeared via a Skype video link hunched with her face down, head in hands.
Erlich told The AJN, “We hoped it would feel empowering to see Leifer, to sit across the room from her while our statements were read. She stole our power and now she was in chains and unable to hurt us. But seeing her on screen from across the world meant we couldn’t do that.”
Disgusted by the #victimblaming going on here at the Malka Leifer extradition trial by the defense #BringLeiferBack @dassi_erlich apparently to them 16 and 17 year olds girls of a school are on the same level of power as the abusive principle. #disgusting
— פלר חסן נחום Fleur Hassan-Nahoum (@FleurHassanN) July 20, 2020
Midway through the proceedings, Leifer complained of a headache and was taken back to her cell. She was not seen for the remainder of the session.
Commenting on the hearing, Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler said, “This extradition hearing took far too long to come about. We are extremely disappointed that the judge will not make a decision for two months.”
Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Peter Wertheim said, “It was reprehensible for Leifer’s lawyers to suggest that her alleged victims consented to sexual abuse. This tactic went well beyond the duty of lawyers to put forward the best possible case for their clients.
“It flew in the face of a large volume of uncontradicted evidence of the vulnerability, fear, uncertainty and mental disturbance of Leifer’s alleged victims which was sustained over a period of three years during which the abuse allegedly occurred.”
The defence will appeal against the May ruling that Leifer is mentally fit to face extradition in the Supreme Court on July 29.
With Times of Israel