08:01, May 27 211 0 theguardian.com

2020-05-27 08:01:03
Israeli president tells Australian PM: alleged abuser Malka Leifer will not ‘evade justice’

The alleged child abuser Malka Leifer will not be allowed to “evade justice”, Israel’s president has promised Australia’s prime minister, a day after a Jerusalem court ruled the former headteacher is mentally fit to stand trial and be extradited.

“The state of Israel will not allow anyone to use its institutions to evade justice,” Reuven Rivlin told Scott Morrison in a phone call on Wednesday focused on the developing trial, his office said.

During a visit to Australia in February, Rivlin, who holds a mostly ceremonial position, pledged to monitor the case, which has deeply strained relations between the two countries. Australian police want Leifer flown back so she can face 74 sexual assault charges.

Tuesday’s ruling brought hope to Leifer’s accusers of an end to what they say has been a traumatic years-long trial, beset by repeated delays and accusations of political interference.

Dassi Erlich, one of three Australian sisters who have accused Leifer of abuse during her time as principal of a Melbourne Jewish ultra-Orthodox school, said she hoped for a successful extradition by the end of the year.

Morrison, too, said the court decision had been met “with a real sense of relief in Australia, and particularly by the Jewish community”, according to the Israeli president’s office.

However, the statement added that Rivlin had cautioned Morrison that before Leifer can leave Israel, an extradition hearing, scheduled to begin on 20 July, must take place. There will be a right of appeal, and Israel’s minister of justice will also have to approve the extradition.

Jeremy Leibler, the president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, welcomed Tuesday’s ruling but warned it was likely that Leifer’s lawyers would appeal against the decision, adding further delays.

“We continue to urge the Israeli judicial system to expedite matters. Leifer has been credibly accused of serious crimes and must face trial,” he said.