Israeli authorities on Monday extradited a former teacher accused of sexually abusing her former students in Australia, capping a six-year legal battle that had strained relations between the two governments and antagonized Australia's Jewish community.
Malka Leifer, who is wanted on 74 charges of child sex abuse in Australia, was placed on a flight early in the day, several hours before Israel was to close its international airport to nearly all air traffic due to a raging coronavirus outbreak. Israeli media photographed Leifer boarding a plane at Ben Gurion Airport, her ankles and wrists shackled. Her lawyer, Nick Kaufman, confirmed the extradition.
Leifer, a former teacher accused of sexually abusing several former students at a Jewish school in Melbourne, had been fighting extradition since 2014. Leifer maintains her innocence and the protracted court case and repeated delays over her extradition had drawn criticism from Australian officials as well as the country's Jewish leaders.
The Hebrew-language news site Ynet reported that Leifer boarded a flight to Frankfurt, where she was to transfer to another flight bound for Australia.
Three sisters — Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper — have accused Leifer of abusing them while they were students at a Melbourne ultra-Orthodox school. There are said to be other victims. The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual abuse, but the sisters have spoken publicly about their allegations against Leifer.
"This is an incredible day for justice!" said Manny Waks, head of Voice against Child Sex Abuse, an organization representing Leifer's victims. "We can now truly look forward to Leifer facing justice in Australia on the 74 charges she is facing," he said.
Erlich simply wrote on her Facebook page: "Leifer is on the plane to Australia."
Claimed she was unfit for trial
As accusations against her began surfacing in 2008, Israeli-born Leifer left the school and returned to Israel, where she has lived since. Critics, including Leifer's alleged victims, had accused Israeli authorities of dragging out the case for far too long, while Leifer claimed she was mentally unfit to stand trial.
Israeli police also have recommended charges of fraud and breach of trust against former Health Minister Yaakov Litzman for suspicions he pressured ministry employees to skew Leifer's psychiatric evaluations in her favour. Litzman, a powerful ultra-Orthodox politician, denies wrongdoing.
Last year, an Israeli psychiatric panel determined Leifer was lying about her mental condition, setting in motion the extradition. In December, the Supreme Court rejected a final appeal against her extradition, and Israel's justice minister signed the order to send her to Australia.
Avi Nissenkorn, Israel's former justice minister who had signed the extradition order, wrote on Twitter: "I promised that I would not hinder the extradition order, and that's what I have done. Malka Leifer's victims will finally earn an act of justice."