Malka Leifer decision will heal Israel relations: former ambassador Dave Sharma
Tuesday marked the trial’s 67th hearing, which reached what Mr Sharma called “only the end of the beginning”.
Mr Sharma said in the final years of his ambassadorship he “realised this trial was going off the rails”.
“That’s when we started to raise it at a political level in Australia,” he told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
“I sent embassy staff to every court hearing to show we were watching it, we were speaking out more to the media.
“That’s the pattern we’ve been in for four years. It’s been a resource commitment across the Australian government. This is a welcome but overdue decision.”
Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, called Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday night to welcome the judgment.
“Israel will not allow anyone to use its institutions to evade justice. Our courts proved that once again yesterday,” Rivlin said in a tweet about the call.
The Prime Minister’s office said Mr Morrison noted the possibility of Ms Leifer appealing the decision and said the judgment was a great relief for victims and their families.
Ms Leifer’s hearing in the Israeli extradition court is set for July 20, though she has 30 days to appeal Tuesday’s decision and is expected to do so.
Mr Sharma predicted she would be extradited to stand trial in Australia in six to 12 months.
He said the decision at least brought some immediate positivity to the relationship between Australia and Israel.
“It’s something that has been causing frustration and a degree of incomprehension among Australians,” he said.
“The last couple of years, this would be in every set of government talking points. Every senior visitor to Israel has raised it. The fact we’ve moved this far is good for the healing that’s necessary there.”
Ms Leifer moved to Israel in 2008 after the allegations first emerged. The process to extradite her has stalled several times since charges were laid in 2013.
Dassi Erlich, who along with her sisters Elly Sapper and Nicole Meyer accused Ms Leifer of abuse, on Tuesday said they had waited for years for her to face the allegations.
“It’s taken us all night for this process to just sink in. The enormity of this decision is just staggering,” Ms Erlich said.
“This process has really bruised us, but it has not broken us.”
Ms Sapper said it felt surreal to hear the words “Malka Leifer is fit to stand trial”.
“I feel so proud of us three, the strength we’ve shown and the resilience we’ve shown to achieve what we’ve achieved.”
Premier Daniel Andrews met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2017, telling him the only just outcome was for Ms Leifer to face a jury of her peers.
Manny Waks, an advocate for the victims, wrote on Facebook in a live blog from the courtroom: “Celebration. Goosebumps through my body”.
“I’ve been to the vast majority of those hearings and the spectacle and the farce I have observed throughout this process has just absolutely left me speechless,” he told ABC radio.
On Wednesday, Attorney-General Christian Porter said he visited Israel late last year to take up the matter and urged Israel to now work through the extradition process as quickly as possible.
“I can say on behalf of those people in Australia who were the victims of the alleged offending that everyone wants to see this matter resolved as soon as possible,” he said.
Adass Israel Girls School was ordered to pay more than $1.1 million in damages for negligence to Ms Leifer’s alleged victims in 2015. That case was brought against the school and involved vastly different legal tests to what Ms Leifer’s criminal trial would involve should she be extradited.
In 2016, an Israeli judge found Ms Leifer mentally unfit to face extradition to Australia and she was set free.
But she was arrested in February last year after an undercover police investigation revealed she was leading a “normal life” and going about normal daily activities in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Emmanuel.
Australia has been trying to extradite the former principal for about six years on 74 charges of sexual assault, but her lawyers have argued that she was mentally ill and unable to stand trial.
According to The New York Times, Jerusalem District Court Judge Chana Lomp said in her ruling on Tuesday that Ms Leifer had been “impersonating someone with mental illness”.
“My conclusion is that the respondent is able to stand trial and the extradition proceedings should be resumed in her case,” Judge Lomp reportedly said.
Former Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu, who has been advocating on the case for 10 years, called the decision a sign “the Israeli justice system has got itself back on track”.
“If we think about where we’ve come from in this issue in the last 12 years, it’s quite extraordinary. Such a huge decision but we need to all be sober about it. There’s a long, long way to go,” Mr Baillieu said.
Michael is a reporter for The Age.
Rachel is a breaking news reporter for The Age.
Max is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.