First for some good news. Yesterday Jerusalem District Court Judge Chana Lomp ruled that Malka Leifer, who is alleged to have sexually molested young women in her charge in the Adass Israel school in Melbourne, was deemed fit to stand trial. It comes after more than 66 court hearings during a period spanning over six years in an attempt to secure Leifer’s
extradition matter; and due to ingenious tactics employed by the former Melbourne school principal and her legal team to delay, circumvent, torpedo and slow the legal course. This extradition case has reached the highest echelons both in Israel and in Australia, with Australian diplomats, present and former, displaying intense displeasure – oh the joys of diplomacy – at the foot-dragging which has continued to delay the judicial processes in Israel. The factual basis for the extradition request and Leifer’s alleged crimes are already out in the open, on public record.
On hearing yesterday’s verdict, Dassi Ehrlich, who, along with her two sisters are alleged victims of sexual abuse by Leifer – and so far, the only ones to publicly disclose their abuse at the school – said she was overjoyed. It is hardly surprising. I have met with and reported on Dassi’s story of alleged sexual abuse and the far-reaching effect it has had on her adult life. Her story is an odyssey into the tenebrous spiral staircase of the self; a terrible trauma seared into her soul. It is hardly surprising, then, that Dassi and her sisters were ecstatic to hear that a judge in Israel has ruled that, not only is Leifer fit to stand trial, but she has been feigning psychiatric incapacities to stand trial all this time. It is an apt cause for celebration.
Now for the more sobering news. This case is far from over. There are many players in this drama; it is a cast of dozens– possibly more. And the characters cast in the role of villains is large, as it is intricate. It includes the president of Israel, Ruby Rivlin, who refused to meet with Dassi during a recent official visit to Australia; ministers in the Knesset who have stonewalled requests for clarifications – former Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked’s name springs to mind; the Adass school who spirited Leifer in the middle of the night out of reach of the Australian judicial system; and an assortment of online trolls who write the cruellest things. But the most pernicious of this sideline chorus and alleged enabler, is MK Yaakov Litzman, former Health minister and member of an ultra-Orthodox community with ties to Addas Israel. The police have already recommended that Litzman be indicted on charges of interference with judicial processes and pressuring psychiatrists to alter their reports to conclude that Leifer is mentally unfit to stand trial. It is a disgrace of mammoth proportions and one which begs many questions. But Litzman is too busy right now to answer questions; he currently holds the Housing minister portfolio in the newly formed coalition government.
So before we open the bottle and break into song-and-dance on zoom, we should keep the bottles cool in the fridge; wait with the on-line virtual hugs and take a deep breath. It is more than likely that Leifer’s legal team will mount another challenge and appeal this ruling in the High Court. The extradition saga still has significant mileage before it runs its course.
But this is a good time to reflect on the many people who have fought with and alongside Dassi, Nicole and Elly in their quest for justice. I am thinking particularly of Manny Wax, Chief Executive Officer of Kol v’Oz -himself a survivor of sexual abuse. A tireless campaigner for victims of sexual abuse around the world, Manny has kept journalists, editors, friends and supporters constantly updated on the latest episode in this on-going saga. Spending long hours outside courts, attending hearings, giving interviews, answering text messages, and blogging live as news unfolded, he has displayed tenacity and generosity of spirit which are truly commendable.
Yet he, too, I imagine, would agree that the case is not yet over, justice has still to be seen and done. We are still not out of the woods.