IN March 2008, The AJN broke the news that Malka Leifer, then principal of Melbourne’s Adass Israel school, had hurriedly “returned to Israel amid allegations of improper behaviour towards students”.
It subsequently transpired that there were claims of sexual abuse and that her sudden departure from the country had been facilitated by members of the Adass community.
Thirteen years on, after a long and torturous legal struggle, The AJN is finally able to report that Leifer has at last been sent back to Australia to face justice.
At times, it felt this day would never arrive.
It was only in 2014 that Leifer was placed under arrest in Israel, after Victoria Police requested she be extradited to face 74 charges of child sexual abuse.
But in the intervening years, her defence successfully argued that she was mentally unfit to stand trial and it appeared proceedings against her had stalled.
However, presented with evidence that she was feigning her mental illness and amid allegations that medical professionals had been pressured by Israel’s deputy health minister to falsify their psychiatric evaluations, Leifer was rearrested in 2018.
A seemingly never-ending series of fresh evaluations and appeals saw the case drag on and on to the dismay of her alleged victims and their supporters in the Australian Jewish community and beyond. Lamenting that justice delayed was justice denied, they decried the interminable round of hearings as a farce.
The most senior of Australian politicians rallied to the cause, urging their counterparts in Israel to do what they could to speed up the extradition process. But with no end in sight, relations between the two countries became strained.
This week, though, 13 years after boarding a plane to Israel, Leifer was forced to board a plane back to Australia.
But while many may be relieved, or even rejoice, at her return, we need to remember – in Churchill’s immortal words – “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
An extraordinarily arduous battle to bring the former principal back to Australia has concluded, but she is yet to stand trial.
In short, the Leifer saga is far from over.