How has Malka Leifer evaded jus­tice?

Why has Is­rael been un­able to bring an end to the shock­ing saga of al­leged sex­ual abuse by the prin­ci­pal of an Aus­tralian haredi school?

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By JEREMY SHARON

In 2000, the ul­tra-Or­tho­dox Adass Is­rael School in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, be­gan look­ing for a new head of Jewish Stud­ies for its girls school, the most es­teemed and pres­ti­gious po­si­tion in the highly re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion. One school board mem­ber had heard of a par­tic­u­lar teacher in Is­rael who was known as a vi­va­cious and charis­matic teacher from Bnei Brak, and quickly went about per­suad­ing her to join the school’s se­nior staff – and the Aus­tralian Im­mi­gra­tion Depart­ment to en­able it.

The new ap­point­ment was an in­stant hit, win­ning over the con­fi­dence and af­fec­tion of staff and pupils alike, so much so that in 2002 she was ap­pointed school prin­ci­pal, with over­sight over the very ethos of the Adass Is­rael School.

She was charm­ing, warm, out­go­ing and dis­played a good sense of hu­mor. Pupils were ea­ger to win her fa­vor, and her fel­low teach­ers and com­mu­nity mem­bers were keen to help her with what­ever she needed.

But de­spite this rosy pic­ture, all was not well at Adass Is­rael, and by 2008 the new school prin­ci­pal, Malka Leifer, was flee­ing from Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties in con­nec­tion with dozens of charges of pe­dophilia, rape and sex­ual abuse of mi­nors.

Fol­low­ing her es­cape from the Aus­tralian jus­tice sys­tem, Leifer hid her­self in a se­cluded, ul­tra-Or­tho­dox set­tle­ment in the West Bank, but an ex­tra­di­tion re­quest even­tu­ally caught up with her when she was ar­rested in 2014.

Those who knew Leifer in Aus­tralia de­scribed her as a mag­netic and in­tel­li­gent in­di­vid­ual, some­one who was so­cia­ble, af­fa­ble and knew how to get what she wanted.

But ever since her ar­rest, she, her fam­ily and her at­tor­neys have claimed she has been trans­formed into a for­lorn wretch, par­a­lyzed by se­vere psychiatri­c ill­ness, who is un­fit for ex­tra­di­tion and trial in Aus­tralia.

For the last five years, this de­fense has served her well, and the Is­raeli ju­di­cial sys­tem has proven un­able to bring an end to a now decade-old saga and bring a mea­sure of jus­tice to her al­leged vic­tims.

As the num­ber of court hear­ings have racked up, and with yet another panel of psychiatri­c ex­perts ex­pected to give a new opin­ion on Leifer’s men­tal fit­ness to stand trial, the process has be­gun to ap­pear far­ci­cal in the eyes of many.

How did this sit­u­a­tion tran­spire? How has it af­fected Leifer’s al­leged vic­tims? And is there an end in sight to one of the most em­bar­rass­ing le­gal sagas in Is­rael’s his­tory?

THE AW­FUL and shock­ing tale be­gins in 2000 when Leifer was brought to the Adass Is­rael School, an in­sti­tu­tion be­long­ing to that city’s highly in­su­lar and aus­tere haredi Adass Is­rael com­mu­nity, num­ber­ing some 500 fam­i­lies.

Leifer was brought from Is­rael to serve as the head of Jewish Stud­ies Depart­ment of the Adass Is­rael girls’ school in De­cem­ber 2000, fol­low­ing a fa­vor­able im­pres­sion re­ceived by school board mem­ber David Rosenbaum, and she served as prin­ci­pal of the pri­mary and sec­ondary girls’ school from De­cem­ber 2002 un­til March 2008.

Leifer quickly made her mark as a friendly and per­son­able in­di­vid­ual who be­came well-liked by fel­low teach­ers and pupils who sought her fa­vor.

“She was a very charm­ing per­son. She was a woman that ev­ery­one loved, and ev­ery­one looked up to her,” re­calls Dassi Er­lich, one of the three sis­ters who were al­leged vic­tims of Leifer, and who came for­ward to make crim­i­nal com­plaints against her.

“She is very in­tel­li­gent. She knew the right things to say to the right peo­ple to get what she wanted. She was very lov­ing,” says Dassi.

Girls in the school were al­ways ea­ger to help Leifer out in the var­i­ous and fre­quent er­rands with which she ap­par­ently needed as­sis­tance, in­clud­ing at her home.

Pupils would help look af­ter her chil­dren at her home, and teach­ers and par­ents would chauf­feur her around to wher­ever she needed to go, since Leifer her­self did not drive, in ac­cor­dance with the modesty stric­tures of the more hard­line ul­tra-Or­tho­dox com­mu­ni­ties.

Sharon Swiatlo, a drama teacher who taught at Adass Is­rael dur­ing Leifer’s ten­ure as prin­ci­pal, was also im­pressed by and en­am­ored of Leifer.

“Malka Leifer was very charis­matic, she has an out­go­ing per­son­al­ity, and knew how to get what she wanted from peo­ple,” says Swialto.

“She had a sense of con­fi­dence and au­thor­ity. She was very pleas­ant in her man­ner. She had a good sense of hu­mor. She knew how to laugh with the staff and was very friendly, very talk­a­tive and so­cia­ble.”

It was with this ap­par­ent charm and charisma that Leifer gained the con­fi­dence of her vic­tims.

She would cul­ti­vate and groom pupils, show them af­fec­tion and play fa­vorites, says Dassi, call­ing on them in classes that she taught, and bring­ing them into the staff room for a per­sonal chat.

“It was a sta­tus that you were one of Mrs Leifer’s fa­vorites,” says Dassi, and pupils en­joyed that sta­tus and were proud of it.

At times, Leifer would call some of her fa­vorites out of class to run er­rands for her or speak with them, or on oc­ca­sion even ask them to cover a kinder­garten class when a staff mem­ber was ab­sent. In this way, she would cul­ti­vate their con­fi­dence.

Dassi be­came one of Leifer’s fa­vorites. She says that at first, she en­joyed the at­ten­tion and sta­tus that the prin­ci­pal’s at­ten­tion con­ferred on her.

She was also par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble due to the abuse she suf­fered at home at the hands of her par­ents, and was happy when Leifer “stood up to them” and in­sisted, for ex­am­ple, that they let her come on school out­ings, which her par­ents were wont to refuse.

Af­ter one such in­ci­dent, Leifer re­quested that Dassi’s mother al­low her daugh­ter to come into school on Sun­days, when school was closed, for some “pri­vate lessons.”

“I was so ex­cited to be away from home on Sun­day and be away from the abuse at home, and to be in­stead with some­one who I looked up to,” Dassi re­called.

It was dur­ing these ses­sions, how­ever, that Le­fier’s al­leged sex­ual abuse of Dassi be­gan.

Ac­cord­ing to Dassi, Leifer sex­u­ally abused her in var­i­ous ways and in var­i­ous set­tings, in­clud­ing in Leifer’s school of­fice and at Leifer’s home when her hus­band was away.

Leifer was ably as­sisted in her sex­ual abuse by the school’s to­tal ab­sence of knowl­edge about any­thing to do with in­ti­macy, sex­ual re­la­tions and even their own bod­ies.

The Adass Is­rael com­mu­nity is iso­lated from the rest of Aus­tralian so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing the rest of the Jewish com­mu­nity. Tele­vi­sion is banned, and the In­ter­net is strictly con­trolled.

Swiatlo re­lated that the pupils in her drama classes had no idea at all about sex or even the con­cept of ro­mance.

Dassi says that the mere men­tion of an in­ter­ac­tion be­tween boys and girls in books per­mit­ted by the school were blacked out, even in nov­els as in­nocu­ous and in­no­cent as Big­gles and The Hardy Boys.

“The com­mu­nity’s plan is that we have no knowl­edge of sex or sex­u­al­ity. We never heard about sex, we had no idea about sex,” says Dassi.

THIS TO­TAL lack of knowl­edge had sev­eral con­se­quences. First was that Dassi was not even sure that what was hap­pen­ing to her was wrong and abu­sive.

Dassi says that Leifer groomed her for sex­ual abuse be­tween the ages of 15 and 16 through var­i­ous forms of in­ap­pro­pri­ate touch­ing. She says the ac­tual al­leged abuse started when she was 16 and took place in var­i­ous lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing in Leifer’s of­fice at school on Sun­days, at her home and at a com­mu­nity camp.

Leifer would tell her that this is how a per­son cared for and loved some­one else. She told Dassi that she was a mother to her and was show­ing her love by touch­ing her, but Dassi had no point of ref­er­ence to be sure if that touch­ing was right or wrong.

“I had no un­der­stand­ing of what she was do­ing,” says Dassi. “It didn’t make any sense to me.”

When asked why she did not tell one of her sis­ters about the in­ci­dents, Dassi says she didn’t even have the vo­cab­u­lary to ex­plain where she had been touched, let alone the abil­ity to un­der­stand what was be­ing done to her and why it was wrong.

“I didn’t have the lan­guage to de­scribe my body parts,” she noted, stat­ing that she felt “mas­sive in­her­ent shame and em­bar­rass­ment” about her as­sault.

“I didn’t know how it was wrong, just that it was wrong. I knew it was wrong be­cause I hid from her some­times, but I didn’t know how to stop it.”

Dassi says that when Leifer was abus­ing her, she “dis­ap­peared in­side myself,” and that she some­times felt dis­as­so­ci­ated from her own body.

“Some­times I felt like I was watch­ing myself from above, like I wasn’t in my body.”

‘Malka Leifer is very in­tel­li­gent. She knew the right things to say to the right peo­ple to get what she wanted, she was very lov­ing’ – Dassi Er­lich

Af­ter fin­ish­ing school, Dassi got mar­ried and even­tu­ally moved to Is­rael, where she lived with her hus­band and had a child.

But be­cause of the se­vere abuse she had suf­fered, she ex­pe­ri­enced prob­lems in con­nect­ing emo­tion­ally with her child, and breast­feed­ing in par­tic­u­lar be­came a dif­fi­cult ex­pe­ri­ence, since it re­vived memories of Leifer’s sex­ual as­saults.

Dassi even­tu­ally sought the as­sis­tance of a so­cial worker and ther­a­pist who was also from Aus­tralia and ac­tu­ally knew Leifer.

Al­though Dassi did not im­me­di­ately re­veal the abuse she had suf­fered, the ther­a­pist soon dis­cerned that some­thing was amiss. When Dassi did even­tu­ally re­late what had hap­pened, the so­cial worker was in­cred­u­lous.

Dassi told her to call a school staff mem­ber whose daugh­ter Dassi knew had also been abused, and for that staff mem­ber to ask her daugh­ter whether Leifer had ever abused her.

The daugh­ter con­firmed the story, as did Dassi’s older sis­ter, Ni­cole Meyer. The in­for­ma­tion was then re­layed to the Adass Is­rael School board of gov­er­nors, af­ter which events moved very quickly.

At the be­gin­ning of March 2008, se­nior fig­ures in the Adass school and com­mu­nity were made aware of the al­le­ga­tions by the teacher, and Leifer was fired on March 5.

The wife of a board mem­ber of the Adass school then phoned a travel agent late that night and booked oneway air­line tick­ets to Is­rael for Leifer and four of her chil­dren, and they fled Aus­tralia the very next morn­ing on a flight that left at 1:20 a.m.

The tick­ets were paid for by an Adass Is­rael com­mu­nity mem­ber and a com­pany as­so­ci­ated with the school board pres­i­dent. The school re­im­bursed them for the ex­pense.

The school never re­ported to the po­lice the al­le­ga­tions against Leifer that were brought to its at­ten­tion be­fore Leifer fled to Is­rael.

In a civil suit brought by Dassi against Leifer and the Adass Is­rael School in 2012, the Supreme Court of the Aus­tralian state of Vic­to­ria de­scribed the con­duct of the school board as “de­serv­ing of the Court’s dis­ap­pro­ba­tion and de­nun­ci­a­tion,” and said its con­duct “amounts to dis­grace­ful and con­tu­me­lious be­hav­ior demon­strat­ing a com­plete dis­re­gard for Leifer’s vic­tims, of which the plain­tiff was one,” as well as “dis­dain for due process of crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion in this State.”

The court awarded Dassi more than 1.1 mil­lion Aus­tralian dol­lars (over $747,000) in dam­ages to be paid by the school, as well as $150,000 payable by Leifer her­self. IT WAS only in 2011, three years af­ter Leifer fled Aus­tralia, that Dassi’s younger sis­ter Elly Sap­per sub­mit­ted a com­plaint to the po­lice for sex­ual abuse at Leifer’s hands.

Even­tu­ally, Dassi and her older sis­ter, Ni­cole, would also file com­plaints with the po­lice, and Leifer was even­tu­ally charged with 47 counts of in­de­cent as­sault, 13 counts of in­de­cent as­sault on a mi­nor, 11 counts of rape and three counts of sex­ual pen­e­tra­tion of a mi­nor.

Dassi, to­gether with her two sis­ters Ni­cole and Elly, are the only three pupils from the Adass Is­rael School to have come for­ward with crim­i­nal com­plaints against Leifer.

It is thought, how­ever, that there are other girls who were abused, al­though no oth­ers have come for­ward with com­plaints, likely due to the fact that they are still within the Adass Is­rael com­mu­nity, and do­ing so would be harm­ful to their sta­tus within it.

A re­quest was sent by Aus­tralian of­fi­cials to Is­rael in March 2012 for Leifer’s ex­tra­di­tion back to Aus­tralia, al­though it took un­til Au­gust 2014 for her to be ar­rested by the Is­rael Po­lice.

Today, seven years af­ter the ex­tra­di­tion re­quest was made by Aus­tralia and more than five years af­ter she was first ar­rested, Leifer re­mains in Is­rael and con­tin­ues to evade ex­tra­di­tion.

In what can only be de­scribed as a Kafkaesque se­ries of events over more than five years, in which key state of­fi­cials have re­versed them­selves mul­ti­ple times, Leifer’s at­tor­neys have suc­ceeded in avert­ing her ex­tra­di­tion back to Aus­tralia.

There have been more than 60 hear­ings in the Jerusalem District Court and the Supreme Court on Leifer’s case, with the time be­tween ma­jor de­vel­op­ments and ju­di­cial de­ci­sions of­ten ex­cru­ci­at­ingly long.

The most egre­gious of these de­lays is con­nected to the vac­il­la­tions of the Jerusalem District psy­chi­a­trist, Dr. Yaakov Charnes, on Leifer’s claims to be men­tally un­fit for trial. These claims were made de­spite the fact that Leifer had no record of men­tal ill­ness be­fore 2008.

Charnes ini­tially said Leifer was fit for trial, then changed his mind and said she wasn’t, and then af­ter ev­i­dence came to light show­ing Leifer was feign­ing men­tal ill­ness, re­versed him­self again and ap­proved a psychiatri­c re­view say­ing she was fit for trial.

In­cred­i­bly, he then re­canted that po­si­tion un­der cross-ex­am­i­na­tion in court by Leifer’s de­fense at­tor­neys.

Charnes ini­tially ex­am­ined Leifer on April 15, 2015, and de­ter­mined that she was fit for trial, writ­ing that in his ex­am­i­na­tion he did not find signs of men­tal ill­ness in the le­gal sense, and that she was there­fore able to stand trial and un­der­stand the pro­ceed­ings against her, the ba­sic le­gal re­quire­ment for men­tal fit­ness for trial.

Leifer’s at­tor­neys man­aged to sig­nif­i­cantly de­lay pro­ceed­ings, how­ever, with claims that she was un­able to ap­pear in court due to health con­cerns. Then, at the be­gin­ning of 2016, a de­vel­op­ment to­tally changed the path of the case.

Hav­ing de­ter­mined in his med­i­cal opin­ion in April 2015 that Leifer was fit for trial, Charnes then sub­mit­ted an opin­ion as­sert­ing the ex­act op­po­site of his pre­vi­ous po­si­tion, with his writ­ten sub­mis­sion cit­ing Leifer’s sis­ter-in-law say­ing, “The pa­tient is to­tally non-func­tional, con­fined to her bed, and is on the verge of hav­ing a power of at­tor­ney ap­pointed for her.”

What caused Charnes to re­verse his po­si­tion 180 de­grees, and adopt the claims of Leifer’s sis­ter-in-law?

This ques­tion con­founded Dassi, her sis­ters and ac­tivists in­volved in the case, but Charnes’ psychiatri­c opin­ion stood and even­tu­ally, in June 2016, the court ended le­gal pro­ceed­ings due to Leifer’s sup­posed men­tal ill­ness, al­though the judge or­dered bi-an­nual re­views of her sta­tus.

It would be al­most three years be­fore the rea­sons for the in­ex­pli­ca­ble na­ture of Charnes’s se­vere about-turn in his psychiatri­c opin­ion of Leifer’s men­tal state would be­gin to be­come clear.

In the mean­time, the case was frozen for nearly two years, dur­ing which time three psychiatri­c re­view pan­els found Leifer un­fit for trial, and her fam­ily con­tin­ued to claim she was in­ca­pac­i­tated and lay in bed all day.

De­spite the claims about se­vere men­tal ill­ness and sup­posed in­ca­pac­i­ta­tion, Leifer was not hos­pi­tal­ized in a men­tal health in­sti­tu­tion or hos­pi­tal and was able to live at her home in Em­manuel with­out le­gal hin­drance.

IN AD­DI­TION to the dam­age to Leifer’s al­leged vic­tims, the pro­tracted le­gal saga has done dam­age to Is­rael’s diplo­matic re­la­tion­ship with Aus­tralia.

In Oc­to­ber, Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son called for the le­gal pro­ceed­ings against Leifer to be ex­pe­dited, while Aus­tralian diplo­matic del­e­ga­tions have met on sev­eral oc­ca­sions in the last four years with Is­rael’s for­mer jus­tice min­is­ter Ayelet Shaked with ques­tions about the lengthy le­gal process.

Diplo­matic of­fi­cials are con­cerned that the trust of Aus­tralia’s politi­cians and gen­eral pub­lic in Is­rael as a state that up­holds the rule of law has been eroded by the le­gal im­broglio, al­though it is also thought that this one is­sue will not do se­ri­ous, long-term dam­age to the re­la­tion­ship.

Aside from any diplo­matic con­cerns, Zion­ist Fed­er­a­tion of Aus­tralia pres­i­dent Jeremy Leibler says the Leifer case has caused em­bar­rass­ment to the Aus­tralian Jewish com­mu­nity.

“There is dis­be­lief here. Peo­ple are very dis­ap­pointed, al­though they un­der­stand that this is a ju­di­cial is­sue,” he says.

Today, seven years af­ter the ex­tra­di­tion re­quest was made by Aus­tralia and more than five years af­ter she was first ar­rested, Leifer re­mains in Is­rael and con­tin­ues to evade jus­tice

Leibler added that rev­e­la­tions re­gard­ing the ap­par­ently il­le­gal in­ter­ven­tion of Deputy Health Min­is­ter Ya’acov Litz­man cast a shadow over Is­rael’s le­gal sys­tem for the Aus­tralian Jewish com­mu­nity, al­though he, too, says that re­la­tions be­tween the com­mu­nity and Is­rael would not be se­ri­ously af­fected.

FOR CLOSE to two years, the le­gal pro­ceed­ings against Leifer re­mained frozen, un­til a pic­ture emerged of her at­tend­ing Lag Ba’omer cel­e­bra­tions at the grave of Rabbi Shi­mon Bar Yochai at Mount Meron in the Galilee in May 2017.

The photo aroused sus­pi­cions that Leifer was not as bedrid­den and in­ca­pac­i­tated as she had been de­scribed, and even­tu­ally Jewish Com­mu­nity Watch (JCW), which fights sex­ual abuse in Is­rael’s Jewish com­mu­ni­ties, hired a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tion com­pany in De­cem­ber 2017 to look into Leifer’s sit­u­a­tion.

What they found would turn the case on its head.

“She was func­tion­ing like any other nor­mal per­son,” said Tsafrir Tsahi, the head of the pri­vate in­ves­tiga­tive team that tracked Leifer around Em­manuel and be­yond for more than two weeks.

“She went to do her shopping at the gro­cery store. She bought toys for her grand­chil­dren. She went to the post of­fice and wrote out a check. There was noth­ing out of the or­di­nary at all,” he said of the team’s ob­ser­va­tions of Leifer.

Tsahi said that on one Shab­bat dur­ing their ob­ser­va­tions, Leifer hosted her chil­dren and their fam­i­lies at her home.

“On Sun­day morn­ing, she came down with all of them to wait for their bus and to see them off,” he noted. “They were all talk­ing to­gether, smil­ing, the chil­dren were play­ing, and when the bus came, she helped them get on and sent them on their way.”

Tsahi added that his team also fol­lowed Leifer as she got on a bus and trav­eled to Bnei Brak to carry out var­i­ous er­rands, and on a visit with her fam­ily.

The pic­ture the in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­cov­ered was a far cry from the in­ca­pac­i­tated, help­less, de­pressed woman whose lawyers had de­scribed as akin to “a sack of pota­toes.”

The in­ves­tiga­tive team and JCW passed the ma­te­rial on to the State At­tor­ney’s Of­fice, and in short or­der the Is­rael Po­lice ini­ti­ated its own un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which re­vealed sim­i­lar find­ings to Tsahi’s pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Un­aware of these in­ves­ti­ga­tions, Leifer’s fam­ily re­quested med­i­cal power of at­tor­ney over her dur­ing her third bi-an­nual psychiatri­c re­view at the end of Jan­uary 2018, claim­ing Leifer was se­verely un­well and in­ca­pable of mak­ing her own med­i­cal de­ci­sions, and that she was un­com­mu­nica­tive and had no com­pre­hen­sion of any­thing around her.

The psychiatri­c panel sub­se­quently de­ter­mined that Leifer was not fit to stand trial and that another re­view would be sched­uled in six months.

But her ar­rest just three weeks later on Fe­bru­ary 12, on charges of feign­ing men­tal ill­ness and ob­struc­tion of jus­tice, made it look like the par­a­digm of the case had changed, and it ap­peared to many that Leifer’s ex­tra­di­tion would now not be long in com­ing.

On Fe­bru­ary 25, a new psychiatri­c opin­ion au­thored by two psy­chi­a­trists ap­pointed by Charnes de­ter­mined clearly that Leifer was not men­tally ill ac­cord­ing to the le­gal def­i­ni­tion of the term since, they wrote, she un­der­stood the sig­nif­i­cance of the le­gal pro­ceed­ings against her.

The two psy­chi­a­trists wrote in their state­ment that Leifer “un­der­stands the sig­nif­i­cance of the le­gal pro­ceed­ings and the sever­ity of the ac­tions at­trib­uted to her, and is there­fore afraid of the con­se­quences of the le­gal process and the pun­ish­ment await­ing her.”

But de­spite the seem­ingly in­con­tro­vert­ible ev­i­dence and ex­pert opin­ions, a fi­nal de­ci­sion by Judge Chana Lomp, who had taken over the case from Judge Am­non Co­hen, still did not come.

Leifer’s le­gal team chal­lenged the in­ves­tiga­tive find­ings, re­quested another psychiatri­c opin­ion, and found nu­mer­ous ways to de­lay the pro­ceed­ings.

At one stage, the judge ac­qui­esced to de­mands for a new psychiatri­c opin­ion, due to the de­fense’s sub­mis­sion of a state­ment by a pri­son doc­tor from a fa­cil­ity where Leifer was be­ing held that she needed anti-psy­chotic drugs.

Leifer’s de­fense lawyers also changed their claim that she was to­tally in­ca­pac­i­tated, and now claimed that she had a form of men­tal ill­ness in which se­vere psy­chotic episodes are brought on spo­rad­i­cally by times of ex­treme stress, such as court hear­ings.

Another few months went by, un­til a new psychiatri­c eval­u­a­tion was or­dered by Lomp in May 2018 and sub­mit­ted by the Jerusalem District psy­chi­a­trist in Au­gust of that year, which again de­ter­mined that Leifer was feign­ing men­tal ill­ness and was fit to stand trial.

But Lomp also de­cided to al­low the psychiatri­c ex­perts who had writ­ten the new eval­u­a­tions to be cross-ex­am­ined by the de­fense at­tor­neys.

MONTHS DRAGGED on be­tween hear­ings, de­layed fur­ther by var­i­ous stalling tac­tics em­ployed by Leifer’s de­fense team. The de­lays con­tin­ued un­til Jan­uary 24, 2019, when un­der cross-ex­am­i­na­tion, Charnes once against changed his mind and cast doubt on the pre­vi­ous psychiatri­c eval­u­a­tions.

Fur­ther court hear­ings with wit­ness cross-ex­am­i­na­tions, Jewish hol­i­days and de­lay­ing tac­tics by Leifer’s de­fense team all stalled the pro­ceed­ings still fur­ther.

Leifer’s de­fense at­tor­neys have ar­gued that there are ex­pla­na­tions to sev­eral of the in­ves­tiga­tive find­ings, in­clud­ing a claim that it was not Leifer her­self who wrote the check in the post of­fice but her hus­band.

They have also claimed, in op­po­si­tion to their pre-2018 ar­gu­ments, that all men­tally ill peo­ple are func­tional at cer­tain times, and that ev­i­dence of her func­tion­ing does not prove she is not men­tally sick.

Crit­i­cally, Leifer’s at­tor­ney’s have pointed to the de­ter­mi­na­tion of pri­son ser­vice doc­tors that she is men­tally un­well as proof of their claims.

This has in­deed been a dif­fi­cult claim to con­tend with for the state at­tor­neys, al­though they ar­gue that the men­tal com­pe­tency stan­dard for ex­tra­di­tion is merely that the de­fen­dant un­der­stand that the process could re­sult in their be­ing re­moved to the coun­try from where they fled.

In Septem­ber 2019, Lomp fi­nally is­sued a de­ci­sion re­quir­ing yet another psychiatri­c re­view to reach a con­clu­sive de­ter­mi­na­tion.

Lomp wrote in a 59-page de­ci­sion that the var­i­ous con­tra­dic­tory med­i­cal opin­ions which had been sub­mit­ted re­gard­ing Leifer’s men­tal state re­quired a new ex­pert panel be ap­pointed to make yet another, au­thor­i­ta­tive de­ci­sion.

The judge also wrote that in the 2018 psychiatri­c re­view, Leifer was feign­ing men­tal ill­ness, and “a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the facts pre­sented were faulty,” point­ing to var­i­ous dis­crep­an­cies and in­ac­cu­ra­cies in the re­port.

Lomp added that the de­ter­mi­na­tion by the panel in 2018 was not com­men­su­rate with the fact the Leifer was tak­ing anti-psy­chotic drugs in jail, which can have po­ten­tially se­ri­ous side ef­fects.

As such, the new panel, from which Lomp specif­i­cally ex­cluded Charnes, is due to sub­mit its opin­ion this month, and a court hear­ing on its find­ings is sched­uled for De­cem­ber 10.

There is a high like­li­hood that once the panel sub­mits it opin­ion, the de­fense at­tor­neys will re­quest an op­por­tu­nity to cross-ex­am­ine its mem­bers in new hear­ings, fur­ther drag­ging out the case.

Leifer’s lawyers vig­or­ously op­posed any new panel, and re­cently de­clared that Leifer would not co­op­er­ate with a new re­view process.

Even if Leifer is de­ter­mined to be fit for ex­tra­di­tion, the Jerusalem District Court will still need to hold hear­ings into the va­lid­ity of the crim­i­nal com­plaints against her, all these hear­ings will be with­out wit­nesses and are not ex­pected to be lengthy.

But what of those pre­vi­ous psychiatri­c eval­u­a­tions be­fore 2018 that stated Leifer was un­fit for trial? Why did Charnes re­verse him­self af­ter stat­ing in his ini­tial opin­ion that she was able to stand trial?

The ap­par­ent an­swer to that ques­tion was seem­ingly an­swered in a bomb­shell rev­e­la­tion in Fe­bru­ary 2019 that Deputy Health Min­is­ter Litz­man, of the haredi United To­rah Ju­daism Party, was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the La­hav 433 po­lice in­ves­tiga­tive divi­sion, on sus­pi­cion of wit­ness tam­per­ing con­nected to the Leifer case.

In Au­gust 2019, the po­lice rec­om­mended to the at­tor­ney-gen­eral that Litz­man be in­dicted on charges of wit­ness tam­per­ing, fraud and breach of trust in con­nec­tion with the case.

Ac­cord­ing to the po­lice, Litz­man worked to ob­tain psychiatri­c opin­ions for Leifer which would state that she was not fit for trial. Litz­man also al­legedly threat­ened peo­ple in his min­istry, in­clud­ing se­nior of­fi­cials, warn­ing them that if they did not write fa­vor­able psychiatri­c opin­ions for her, they would be fired.

Po­lice re­port­edly have phone mes­sages and record­ings of Litz­man and his as­so­ciates re­quest­ing that of­fi­cials in the Health Min­istry act to en­sure Leifer was not ex­tra­dited to Aus­tralia.

Why Litz­man would in­ter­vene on be­half of Leifer is un­clear.

Litz­man him­self has de­nied any wrong­do­ing, say­ing that as a deputy min­is­ter he re­ceives many per­sonal re­quests for as­sis­tance from the gen­eral pub­lic, and that he al­ways tries to ad­dress them re­gard­less of per­sonal back­grounds.

But in a re­sponse to a KAN News re­port, sources quoted as “close as­so­ciates of Litz­man” said the deputy min­is­ter had “re­ceived many re­quests from has­sidic grand rab­bis to help the sus­pect [Leifer] and to pre­vent her ex­tra­di­tion.”

In­ter­est­ingly, Leifer’s hus­band is Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Leifer, the head of the small Chust Has­sidic com­mu­nity in Em­manuel.

The source cited by KAN added that Litz­man held a hear­ing on the is­sue but told the grand rab­bis he could not in­ter­vene.

An in­ves­tiga­tive re­port by Chan­nel 13’s Mekor pro­gram found, how­ever, that Litz­man had al­legedly in­ter­vened on be­half of at least 10 con­victed sex of­fend­ers dur­ing his time as deputy health min­is­ter.

Litz­man has de­nied any wrong­do­ing and in­sisted that the al­le­ga­tions against him have arisen from of­fi­cials in the Health Min­istry who want to harm his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer and pre­vent him from re­turn­ing as health min­is­ter af­ter the April elec­tions.

Charnes has said that he stands be­hind all of the pro­fes­sional med­i­cal opin­ions he has sub­mit­ted, in ac­cor­dance with the in­spec­tions he per­formed at the spe­cific time.

THROUGH ALL these many months and years, the end­less court hear­ings, the psychiatri­c opin­ions, the re­ver­sals, the change of judges, court mo­tions, de­ci­sions, ap­peals and in­ter­minable le­gal pro­ceed­ings, Dassi and her sis­ters have had to cope with the con­se­quences of their al­leged abuse and the fact that their abuser con­tin­ues to evade jus­tice.

For Dassi, the ef­fect of what she suf­fered has had a huge im­pact on her life. As she be­gan to deal emo­tion­ally with her abuse, she also be­gan to deeply ques­tion her re­li­gious faith.

She says that even­tu­ally she saw reli­gion as a tool that had been used to fa­cil­i­tate her abuse, due to how the re­pres­sion of any knowl­edge and in­for­ma­tion about sex­u­al­ity had en­abled a sex­ual preda­tor to take ad­van­tage of her en­forced ig­no­rance.

Dassi even­tu­ally de­cided she could not be re­li­gious any­more. That ne­ces­si­tated a di­vorce from her hus­band, who re­mains strongly re­li­gious, and a cus­tody bat­tle en­sued in the Aus­tralian fam­ily courts over their child.

She also had dif­fi­culty con­nect­ing emo­tion­ally to her young daugh­ter, she says, be­cause she had “numbed out a lot of my emo­tions” due to the abuse she suf­fered.

“When I had my daugh­ter, I knew cog­ni­tively that I loved her, but emo­tion­ally I was blocked, so when it came to want­ing to feel emo­tions that was hard for me,” she ex­plains.

Breast­feed­ing in par­tic­u­lar be­came very dif­fi­cult be­cause it gave her flash­backs and trig­gers of what hap­pened dur­ing her abuse.

Dassi says that at one stage she had “pretty much a com­plete break­down.” She be­gan to self-harm and be­came sui­ci­dal, and even­tu­ally checked her­self into a psychiatri­c hos­pi­tal.

Cop­ing with the ef­fects of the in­tense sex­ual abuse she suf­fered is an on­go­ing process, she says.

“It’s a con­stant jour­ney, and I’m still work­ing on it. I’m still try­ing to feel my emo­tions, not to dis­as­so­ci­ate from them when I feel they’re too much.”

Dassi says there are con­stant trig­gers that re­mind her of the abuse, cer­tain scents, in­clud­ing “smells of weather,” which can trans­port her back in time to sim­i­lar weather, evok­ing “the feel­ings of pow­er­less and help­less­ness” that she ex­pe­ri­enced when she was be­ing abused.

“Those trig­gers are con­stantly around, and I have to con­stantly man­age them. More than any­thing I want to put it be­hind me,” she says.

DEAL­ING WITH con­stant me­dia re­quests for in­ter­views, such as this one, and re­quests for com­ments on de­vel­op­ments in the case bring back the suf­fer­ing she ex­pe­ri­enced, and she says it af­fects her for days af­ter.

“The longer it goes on, the harder it gets. It’s im­pos­si­ble to move on to the next chap­ter of my life un­til this is be­hind me. The more me­dia ex­po­sure there is, the harder it is to bal­ance the ef­fect it has on me, and then I have to strug­gle to get that bal­ance back.”

Al­though at the be­gin­ning of the strug­gle to bring Leifer back to Aus­tralia, she fought to try to stop the is­sue from tak­ing over her life, she says she has ac­cepted that “this is where my life is right now.”

And as hard as it is for her to talk about Leifer all the time, Dassi says it can also be a “val­i­dat­ing and pow­er­ful” ex­pe­ri­ence for her since talk­ing al­lows her “to gain back that power that I lost,” know­ing she is now heard and be­lieved.

“It helps bal­ance the ef­fect of be­ing trig­gered” by re­count­ing these events, she says.

What does she hope for now?

“I hope that the ex­tra­di­tion judge sees through the games, and makes a de­ci­sion quickly to put an end to this ridicu­lous farce. I won’t be able to get over what’s hap­pened and put it be­hind me un­til Leifer is brought to jus­tice.”

There have been more than 60 hear­ings in the Is­raeli courts on Leifer’s case

(Avshalom Shoshani)

MALKA LEIFER, sur­rounded by Is­rael Pri­son Ser­vice guards, cov­ers her face in Jerusalem District Court on Fe­bru­ary 14, 2018.


DASSI ER­LICH stands in front of the haredi Adass Is­rael School in Mel­bourne where Leifer took a lead­ing role from the end of 2000 to March 2008.

(Marc Is­rael Sellem)

SIS­TERS DASSI ER­LICH (third from left) and Ni­cole Meyer (sec­ond from right) to­gether with sup­port­ers, at­tend a protest call­ing for the ex­tra­di­tion to Aus­tralia of Leifer, out­side Jerusalem District Court this past March.

(Marc Is­rael Sellem)

WHY DEPUTY HEALTH MIN­IS­TER Ya’acov Litz­man would in­ter­vene on Leifer’s be­half is un­clear.


THE MEL­BOURNE sky­line, home to Adass Is­rael. The pro­tracted le­gal saga has done dam­age to Is­rael’s diplo­matic re­la­tion­ship with Aus­tralia.

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