Sharma, Burns call for the immediate extradition of Malka Leifer

February 11, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Strong protests about the unsuccessful and long struggle to extradite Malka Leifer to Australia where she faces 74 charges of child sexual abuse were heard in Federation Chamber in Federal Parliament last evening including the damage the delay is causing to Israel-Australia relations.

Malka Leifer in court June 14 Photo: Hillel Maeir/TPS

A bipartisan motion was announced by Dave Sharma Liberal MP for Wentworth in Sydney and Labor MP Josh Burns who represents Macnamara in Melbourne.

The Federation Chamber is a parallel debating overflow facility to the House of Representatives.

Dave Sharma told the House: “Ms Malka Leifer, who was principal of the Adass Israel School in Elsternwick, Melbourne, bolted from Australia in 2008, two days after she was sacked by the school board amid allegations surrounding inappropriate relationships with some of the pupils at the school.

In 2013, 74 charges of sexual assault were filed against Ms Leifer in connection with her time at Adass school. In 2014, Australia made a formal request for the extradition of Ms Leifer in order to face these 74 charges. In the same year, in August 2014, this extradition request was filed in the Jerusalem district court. I recall this well. I was living in Israel at the time, representing Australia as our ambassador. I distinctly recall receiving and formally conveying our extradition request. I expected it would be a straightforward case, that the wheels of justice would turn and that, within the space of 12 to 18 months, we would see Ms Leifer extradited to Australia in order to face justice for these most grave and serious charges levelled against her.

But I regret to report that in the five years that have elapsed since the extradition request was first made the wheels of justice have stalled. There have now been upwards of 60 court hearings in this case and yet only now are we just beginning, painfully slowly, to see the wheels of justice break free from their shackles and ever so perceptibly begin gradually to turn. The actual petition for extradition has in fact never been argued before the courts in Israel because, prior to each hearing, Ms Leifer would claim to be experiencing a psychiatric episode and fail to appear before the court. This behaviour is not only an affront to justice; it is deeply traumatic for the victims of this abuse, it is damaging to Israel’s reputation and it is increasingly becoming a point of contention and friction in our otherwise positive and productive relationship with Israel.

Dave Sharma, Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Josh Burns Photo: Auspic

Since I last spoke about this issue in the House, however, there has been a noteworthy development. On 13 January this year, 2020, the Office of the State Attorney in Israel requested that the extradition request be expedited. The Office of the State Attorney did so on the basis that a psychiatric panel appointed to assess Ms Leifer reported to the court on 9 January. In its report, the psychiatric panel stated their findings that they:

faking her mental incompetency all along. … unanimously and unequivocally determined that Leifer was mentally fit to stand trial and that she had been

Let me repeat that: they found unanimously and unequivocally that Ms Leifer was mentally fit to stand trial and that she had been faking her mental incompetency all along. The Office of the State Attorney in Israel added in their commentary:

The psychiatric panel’s findings lead to the inevitable conclusion that over the past five years, the court and the mental health system have fallen victim to a fraud perpetrated by Leifer and her supporters.

I could not agree more wholeheartedly.

As a result of the state attorney’s request, the 63rd court hearing in this case was held in the Jerusalem District Court on 24 January 2020. Media reports describe this hearing as ‘an excruciating 90 minutes of groundhog day,’ with Ms Leifer’s lawyers once again attempting to frustrate and further delay the process, which has already been far too prolonged. They have been granted an opportunity to cross-examine the members of the psychiatric panel which assessed Ms Leifer. I hope that this cross-examination happens quickly and we can move forward.

Ms Leifer has continually used claims about her mental state to frustrate and delay attempts to extradite her. The willingness of the Israeli legal system to entertain these claims seems to make no consideration or allowance for the fragile mental state of Ms Leifer’s alleged victims and their legitimate desire to see justice served in this case. At a hearing in October last year Israeli Supreme Court Justice Anat Baron said:

The doubt itself regarding the credibility of the defendant in everything relating to her mental status creates the concern that this is an attempt by her to escape justice and to disrupt the legal proceedings.
I endorse those comments.

Members of the House would be aware that, in a further twist in this case, the Israeli police have recommended the indictment of the Health Minister, Yaakov Litzman, in Israel for allegedly pressuring the officials in his office to prevent the extradition. This is an exceptionally serious allegation. If true, this would be a gross interference in the course of justice. I hope and, indeed, I expect that it will be fulsomely and fearlessly investigated.

In December last year, the member for Macnamara, Josh Burns, and I met with Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyer, two victims of Malka Leifer’s abuse who came to personally lobby for fast-tracked extradition. The passion and determination that Dassi and Nicole and others have shown in continuing to fight for justice in this case is inspiring. Nicole said of her motivations:

We’re trying to send a message to all survivors that even if you have been abused life can go on, justice can be served, and we want to stand strong on behalf of all others, not just ourselves.

After five years of waiting, the persistence of Nicole, Dassi and other victims looks close to being rewarded. But the fact that an extradition like this has been held up for five years based on a claim that the alleged perpetrator has been in the midst of a psychiatric episode that was later found to be fake is, quite simply, unacceptable. I do not doubt the independence and the integrity of the Israeli legal system; nor do I doubt the commitment of the Israeli justice ministry in pursuing this case, but, quite simply: enough is enough. This case has gone on for far too long.

I endorse the recent comments of the Israeli Ambassador to Australia, Mark Sofer, when he said:

… the case has gone on for far too long and nothing short of full justice can be acceptable.

Indeed, nothing short of full justice can be acceptable. As a friend to Israel, I can only advise that this case is causing harm to Australia-Israel relations. It is doing damage to Israel’s reputation as a country governed by the rule of law. It is very important that Israel knows, at all levels, that this is an important case for Australia. It is one that is, increasingly, having an impact on bilateral relations and on how Israel is viewed and perceived in Australia. It is one that we will not let rest until we see Ms Leifer extradited to face justice in Australia.

I and others, including those here today, will keep faith with the victims of this awful abuse, and we will be relentless in ensuring that justice is done in this case. Those who suffered from Ms Leifer’s abuse should be praised for their persistence in the pursuit of justice. Those of us in Australia with the capability to do so owe it to them to stand up and fight alongside them.

I’m confident that others in this House will continue to work alongside us and that the Australian government will continue to pursue the extradition of Malka Leifer. With the breakthrough finally made in January of this year, I am hopeful and, indeed, insistent that this case will reach a satisfying conclusion and that justice will be served. We will not rest until that is the case. Let me also acknowledge the work of the member for Macnamara, here in this place today, who has done a tremendous job in highlighting this issue and bringing it to public attention.

Co-mover Josh Burns focused on the effect of the delay to Leifer’s alleged victims.

Josh Burns

He told the Chamber: “In a free, democratic society such as Australia or Israel, everyone who is accused of a crime is entitled to a fair trial, to representation and to be able to defend themselves. But this case has gone far beyond any course of natural justice. It has been 12 years since Malka Leifer, the former principal of the Adass Israel girls school in my electorate, fled Australia for Israel in the dead of night. She fled as questions were beginning to surface around her conduct as the principal.

It has been nine long years since the first brave victim, Dassi Erlich, gave her statement to Victoria Police. It has been six long years since Australia filed a formal extradition request to Israel so that Malka Leifer could be returned to Australia to face the 74 charges laid by Victoria Police relating to cases of child sex abuse. It has been four long years since Dassi Erlich began her public campaign to bring Leifer back, joining forces with her sisters, Nicole and Elly, to tell their story and to enlist the support of the Australian Jewish community, the wider public, our parliament and our government. In that time, the case of Malka Leifer’s extradition has had 63 court hearings, and not one of them has been about the extradition. The actual extradition process hasn’t yet begun. They’ve been about her fitness to appear before an extradition process.

It is known that sexual assault victims face a significant dilemma when they are forced to decide whether to come forward. It’s a very hard thing to go public. It’s a very hard thing to tell your story. If you are a victim, having other people know what you’ve been through is probably the last thing that you would want. It is to be forced to relive your trauma under the glare of the public, of your family and of your friends, and yet that is what these sisters did. They spoke out not just for themselves but so that the culture that had infected our institutions would be confronted.

The shocking secrets of the past were exposed by our Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, courageously set up by Julia Gillard. The results were horrifying and overdue. It was found that, in the Yeshiva schools in Melbourne and in Sydney’s Orthodox Jewish communities, rabbis had been forbidding the reporting of child sexual abuse to the authorities. It was revealed that victims and those who stood by them were ignored. It is important to acknowledge the work that one such victim, Manny Waks, did in going public at this stage. Just like for Dassi, Nicole and Elly, the choice of coming out publicly meant choosing to leave behind everything that these young people had known. Drastic change was necessary.

The bravery and courage Dassi, Nicole and Elly have shown is remarkable. They’ve spoken out for not just themselves but all other victims at the Adass Israel girls school and for all child sexual abuse victims. Their campaign has not just enlisted the member for Wentworth and I; they have met with former Prime Minister Turnbull, Prime Minister Morrison, former opposition leader Mr Shorten, opposition leader Mr Albanese, the Treasurer, the deputy opposition leader, the Premier of Victoria and several members of the Israeli parliament. I also pay tribute to former Premier of Victoria Ted Baillieu. Ted has been an enormous support for the sisters and has helped elevate their case from the very beginning.

They, our sisters, have made immense progress in alerting not just Australia’s attention but Israel’s. Only a few short years ago, this matter was virtually unheard of in Israel. Today, this story is a headline not just in the Australian and the Israeli press; it makes international headlines on a regular basis. Make no mistake: if justice is allowed to run its course, it will be because of the inspiring pursuit by three brave women. But, despite all that progress, we are here today because the wheels of justice are turning too slowly. In fact, the wheels of justice have been corrupted. That is not just our opinion here in Australia; that is the opinion of the Israeli police.

Israeli police have rearrested Malka Leifer, accusing her of faking mental illness. Israeli police are accusing Yaakov Litzman, formerly the deputy health minister in the Israeli government, of corruptly abusing his position to protect Malka Leifer. Israeli police are arguing that Litzman pressured Jerusalem’s district psychiatrist, Jacob Charnes, whom he appointed, to declare Leifer unfit to stand trial. Under scrutiny from police, Charnes backflipped and then backflipped again. Charnes has now been stood aside from the case, and a new psychiatric panel has come to the unsurprising conclusion that Malka Leifer is fit to stand trial. Yet still the delays continue.

We still have no idea if or when Malka Leifer will ever board a plane to Melbourne. And Yaakov Litzman is no longer the deputy health minister; he is now the health minister of Israel, promoted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There is an ancient concept in Judaism called mesira. It is said that a Jewish person shouldn’t hand over another Jew to authorities. It is the warped justification of many of Leifer’s supporters. But I say to anyone here in Australia or in Israel: anyone who is assisting further delays is choosing to help an adult evade consequences after they robbed children of innocence and dignity. Anyone who is helping Leifer should be held to account as well.”

On the subject of the Australia-Israel friendship, Josh Burns added:”Right now our friends are not doing right by us. Australia does stand up for Israel, and right now we need Israel to stand up for us. This is not merely about what is right for us or for Israel; this is about what’s right for three sisters and countless others who deserve justice. This is about what’s right for every victim of abuse in Australia and Israel and all over the world. The Australian Jewish community is united. The Australian parliament is united. The Australian public is united. We are asking our friends a very simple request: do what is right; do what is just; end this farce, and bring Leifer back.”

Liberal Victorian MP Dr Katie Higgins told the Chamber: “I recently had the privilege of meeting Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyer here in Canberra following the anniversary of our national apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sex abuse. I had the opportunity to sit with them and to hear their story. I was astounded by Dassi and Nicole’s overwhelming sense of strength, courage and, above all, bravery. These sisters have been fighting for justice for themselves and for survivors of sexual abuse. Long-lasting impacts can include guilt, shame and anger.”

Dr Mike Freelander tends a young patient

Dr Mike Freelander is a NSW Labor federal politician. He told the Chamber: “On what has been said about the Israeli legal system, I’m horrified that over 60 hearings have taken place into this matter. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not entirely sure how the Israeli legal system works. But, to me, the fact that there have been over 60 hearings and the fact that the Israeli health minister has, in some way, accommodated Ms Leifer is very concerning. I really do believe that the Israeli legal system needs to bring Malka Leifer to justice.

I share the frustrations of many Australians—not just Jewish Australians but Australians across the board—as parents, as fathers, as mothers and as grandparents, as to why this person cannot be brought to justice. The fact that an individual who is alleged to have committed such heinous acts can flout the rule of law is abhorrent and unacceptable to all of us. I am comforted by the fact that there’s such a consensus across the parliament for this, in defence of the laws of our land and in the belief that this person should be, and will eventually be, held to account. I thank the House.”

Julian Leeser

Liberal MP for Berowra Julian Lesser also spoke for the motion saying “as a Jewish Australian, I know that Israel has provided a safe haven to many people who have no safe place and no home in which to belong. Malka Leifer is not one of these people. A fair trial must take place. Over 60 court proceedings have been heard, and no serious progress has been made to achieve her extradition. Courts should not be involved in the business of obfuscating and delaying justice but in seeing it realised. No-one seeks for Malka Leifer to be tried without having a chance to answer the allegations, but for the process of justice itself to be denied is unacceptable.

Perhaps another reason why this matter weighs so heavily and is so difficult to speak about is that the denial of justice runs completely contrary to Jewish faith. As Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, has said, Judaism’s greatest leap of faith is the belief that the world is ruled by justice. Even in the darkest days of Jewish history, the belief of the Jewish people has been that goodness is the way of life, that humans have dignity and that we must treat people accordingly. Justice must have its time. It’s not simply an exercise of ticking a box or finding technical ways around laws. It’s about the truth being told and judgement occurring. Malka Leifer must answer the charges against her.

I want to finish my remarks by taking a moment to also acknowledge the victims, who’ve not yet been able to have their day in court. I want to commend them for their bravery and tenacity. I’m sorry we haven’t been able to give them what they rightly deserve at this time and that their bravery hasn’t seen the outcomes they should have seen yet. I continue to hope that justice will be served for them and their families, and I call on Israel to extradite Malka Leifer immediately so that justice can be served. Then we will live out the words of Deuteronomy: ‘Tzedek, tzedek, tirdoph; justice, justice, shall you pursue.’

Mark Dreyfus

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told the Chamber: “Australia first requested the extradition of Malka Leifer in 2014, but five years later, and despite 63 court hearings, that extradition is yet to be determined. This delay is utterly unacceptable. The ongoing anxiety and stress these delays cause to those who suffered from her crimes demonstrate the truth of the legal maxim ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. It is long past time that Ms Leifer were extradited to Australia to face justice for the horrific crimes that she is accused of, and for Israel to honour its commitment to the rule of law and to justice. It is my hope that the long friendship between our two nations will encourage the Israeli authorities to do all that they can to bring this matter to a resolution.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to once again acknowledge the courage of Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper in their pursuit of justice in this matter.”

Due to interruption caused by a division in the main chamber, the debate was adjourned.

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Comments

One Response to “Sharma, Burns call for the immediate extradition of Malka Leifer”
  1. miriam says:

    Australia should not intervene in the Israeli justice system.

    Imagine the outcry if Israel demanded that Australia extradite Muslim terrorists.

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