JERUSALEM – A former headmistress of a Jewish girls’ school in Australia who is accused of sexually assaulting her students may be extradited to be tried. A court in Israel ruled on Monday and brought a year-long legal saga that has strained relations between the two countries, potentially closing.
For almost six years, Australia has requested the extradition of former school principal Malka Leifer on 74 allegations of sexual assault on former students of the school. The focus of the case is allegations made by three sisters who alleged they were ill-treated while attending the ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel School in Melbourne in the early 2000s.
“This is a victory for justice!” Dassi Erlich, one of the sisters, said in a post on Facebook. “A victory not just for us, but for all survivors. Breathe out for years, hold your breath! “
Ms. Leifer’s lawyers in Israel had argued that she was mentally incapable of standing on trial, but after years of private and police investigations and investigations by several psychiatric bodies, the Israeli courts finally decided that she had feigned mental illness .
Ms. Leifer now has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Israeli Supreme Court. The Israeli Justice Minister must approve every extradition request.
In a telephone interview, Ms. Erlich, who was with her two sisters Elly Sapper and Nicole Meyer, said they were all excited and relieved about the decision.
“To have so many twists and turns and cover-ups, this moment is enormous for us,” she said. “We’re all just taking it in.”
Ms. Leifer, an Israeli national, moved to Australia in 2001 according to court records. The allegations, according to the Israeli judicial authorities, relate to a period between 2004 and 2008 when she was the school principal.
She fled to Israel in 2008 when allegations against her first surfaced. Australia officially applied for extradition in 2014.
After dozens of hearings, the Jerusalem District Court found in May that Ms. Leifer was suitable for extradition proceedings after previous decisions that she has been feigning mental incompetence for years.
“Today is an important and significant day for the rule of law, for international cooperation and especially for those who were victims of the crimes of Malka Leifer,” said the Israeli Justice Ministry in a statement released after the ruling on Monday.
The statement added that Ms. Leifer “made every effort to delay the trial and avoid extradition, including repeated attempts to convince the court that she was not competent to conduct extradition,” but the court did so finally stopped.
Ms. Leifer’s lawyers, Tal Gabai and Yehuda Fried, made their own statement and promised to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
“Today’s decision by the district court is not the last word,” the statement said, adding that there are serious reservations about Ms. Leifer’s ability to stand trial. It was also found that prison service experts were still assessing her mental health and that she was receiving “significant antipsychotic treatment” in the prison she is being held in.
Manny Waks, the head of Kol V’Oz, an Israeli organization that works for Jewish survivors of child sexual abuse, noted that the Israeli Supreme Court had ruled in favor of prosecution throughout the Leifer case, saying it was ” just a matter of time ”before she was sent to Australia.
“I am still confident that this will happen by the end of 2020,” he said in a statement. “We will continue to do everything we can to ensure that justice prevails.”
Ms. Meyer, another of the sisters who accused Ms. Leifer of the attack, said she hoped other sexual abuse survivors would find strength in her persistence.
“We haven’t given up for justice,” she said. “It was so hard on the way.”
Damien Cave reported from Sydney, Australia.