I can only advise, as a friend, that this case is indeed causing harm to our relations and it is doing damage to Israel’s reputation as a country governed by the rule of law. It is very important that Israel knows at all levels that this is an important case for Australia. It is one that is increasingly having an impact on bilateral relations and how Israel is viewed and perceived in Australia.
Mr SHARMA (Wentworth) (16:33): I wish to address the House about an important issue of justice. Malka Leifer, who was the principal of Adass Israel School in Elsternwick, Melbourne, left Australia in 2008, two days after she was sacked by the school board amid allegations surrounding her relationship with some of the pupils at her school. In 2013, 74 charges of sexual assault were filed against Ms Leifer in connection with her time at Adass Israel School.
In 2014, Australia made a formal request for extradition of Ms Leifer in order to face these 74 charges. In the same year, 2014, this extradition request was filed in the Jerusalem District Court. I recall this well. I was representing Australia in Israel at the time as our ambassador. I distinctly recall receiving and formally conveying our extradition request. I expected it would be a straightforward case, that the wheels of justice would turn and that within the space of 12 to 18 months we would see Ms Leifer extradited to Australia in order to face justice for these most grave and serious charges levelled against her. But I regret to report that, in the five years that have since elapsed, we seem to be no closer to seeing this extradition request fulfilled. There have been upwards of 60 court hearings in this case in Israel and, yet, we are no closer to having Ms Leifer extradited. This is not only an affront to justice but deeply traumatic for the victims of this abuse, many of whom, I know, live in the seat of the member for Macnamara. It is damaging to Israel’s reputation, and it is increasingly becoming a point of contention and friction in our otherwise positive and productive relationship with Israel.
In the latest hearing on this case, on 10 October, Israel’s Supreme Court overturned an almost inexplicable decision made by a lower court the week before to release Ms Leifer to house arrest. The Supreme Court ordered that she remain behind bars for the remainder of the legal proceedings against her. Ms Leifer has continually used claims about her mental state to frustrate and delay attempts to extradite her. The willingness of the Israeli legal system to entertain these claims seems to take no consideration of the fragile mental state of Ms Leifer’s alleged victims and their legitimate desire to see justice served in this case. I note that Israeli Supreme Court Justice Anat Baron said at last week’s hearing:
The doubt itself regarding the credibility of the defendant in everything relating to her mental status creates the concern that this is an attempt by her to escape justice and to disrupt the legal proceedings.
I endorse those comments.
Members of the House would be aware that, in a further twist in this case, the Israeli police have recommended the indictment of deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman for allegedly pressuring officials in his office to prevent the extradition. This is an exceptionally serious allegation. If true, this would be a gross interference in the course of justice. I hope it is fully and fearlessly investigated.
I do not doubt the independence and the integrity of the Israeli legal system, nor do I doubt the commitment of the Israeli Ministry of Justice to pursuing this case. But enough is enough. This case has gone on for far too long. I endorse the comments of the Israeli Ambassador to Australia, Mark Sofer, last week when he said:
… this case has gone on for far too long and nothing short of full justice can be acceptable.
I also endorse the comments of an unnamed Israeli diplomatic official who was quoted in Haaretz last week as saying, ‘This story is shocking to the Australian public,’ and that this case is causing ‘harm to Israel-Australia relations’. I can only advise, as a friend, that this case is indeed causing harm to our relations and it is doing damage to Israel’s reputation as a country governed by the rule of law. It is very important that Israel knows at all levels that this is an important case for Australia. It is one that is increasingly having an impact on bilateral relations and how Israel is viewed and perceived in Australia. It is one that we will not let rest until we see Ms Leifer extradited to face justice in Australia. We will keep faith with the victims of this awful abuse, and we will be relentless in ensuring that justice is done in this case.