It may have been in order to save the Vatican from further embarrassment. Or even a gentle push from His Holiness the Pope. But Cardinal George Pell, the former Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, eventually did return from Rome to stand trial on allegations of child molestation.*
Not so Malka Leifer, former headmistress of Melbourne’s all-girl ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel School, accused of 74 charges of sexual abuse allegedly committed on students between 2002 and 2008.
On point of arrest, 54 year old Leifer who holds dual Israeli-Australian nationality, fled to the Orthodox settlement of Bnei Brak, six kilometres east of Tel Aviv.
In 2014, following a request from Canberra for her extradition, Israeli police placed the mother of eight, under house arrest. Since when legal proceedings have been protracted to say the least.
On each occasion Leifer was ordered to appear in court, she defaulted claiming illness, her lawyer citing his client suffered from “panic attacks” triggered by stress.
Eventually ruled unfit to answer allegations, Leifer was admitted to hospital on 30 December 2015 only to discharge herself once the date of her next court appearance elapsed on 3 January 2016.
A secret investigation by the Jewish Community Watch, an organization dedicated to the prevention of child abuse in ultra-Orthodox enclaves, obtained video footage of Leifer pursuing her daily activities as normal. And arrested in February 2018, she was sent to Neve Tirza women’s prison.
In 2019, the acting judge of the Jerusalem District Court ordered a panel of three psychiatrists to assess her mental state.
Its conclusion, announced by the Justice Ministry, stated “unanimously and unequivocally”that Leifer had faked mental illness in order to avoid extradition to account for her crimes.
In reply, Leifer’s lawyer accused the government of rushing a decision before the legal process ran its course, declaring her human rights were being disregarded due to “diplomatic sensitivities”.
As a result, the court has ordered a cross-examination of the panel to examine the veracity of its findings, a date set for either February or March 2020.
This further delay has strained normally congenial Israeli-Australian relations. And after initially welcoming apparent progress, Leifer’s victims have once again had their hopes dashed.
That one of her eight former students has received $1.27 million in damages ordered by the Victorian government against the Adass Israel School is not the point.
What matters is this female predator must stand trial for the pain and shame inflicted on young innocents in her care
A further development in the saga is the now alleged involvement of former Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, himself a member of the ultra-Orthodox community.
According to a report in The Times of Israel of 13 January 2020, Israeli police recommended charges laid against him of fraud and breach of trust on suspicions he manipulated ministry employees to “skew Leifer’s psychiatric evaluations in her favor.”
While Litzman denies this, it is clear to everyone following the case that Israel’s judicial and mental health systems have been deceived by a fraud perpetrated by Leifer and her supporters within the ultra-Orthodox community which itself is viewed with unease.
Members of different Jewish communities, including assault survivors, have held rallies outside the Jerusalem District Court, calling for Leifer’s deportation to Australia.
Until Israel complies, it will inevitably be seen as a safe haven for sex offenders.
*Cardinal Pell’s appeal against his conviction of six years in prison will be heard after 4 March 2020.