Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Malka Leifer seen on a screen via a video link during a hearing at the Jerusalem District Court, July 20, 2020.

Melbourne Magistrates Court on Monday began hearing the case against former Haredi school principal Malka Leifer who is facing 74 charges including rape and indecent assault the prosecution alleges she committed between 2003 and 2008 when she ran Melbourne’s Adass Israel School. At least eight victims have come forward in the case. Three of them will be testifying this week.

Sisters Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer, and Elly Sapper are among ten witnesses who were scheduled to give evidence during the committal hearing, which will run until next Monday. The siblings had asked to testify in person but under coronavirus restrictions, the hearing has to be conducted online.

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Leifer is also appearing by videolink, from Melbourne’s women’s prison, the Dame Phyllis Frost Center.

Shana Aaronson, Executive Director at Magen for Jewish Communities that accompanied the young women in their struggle in recent years in Israel, said about Monday’s court session: “It was a difficult day. It’s a process that focuses only on victims and evidence. They were obviously very determined to get there.”

“I think of all these years the girls were fighting, it was for Leifer to stand trial and they would get a fair trial,” Aaronson said. “But we must remember that while the story in Israel may be over, the real thing is just beginning. They still have to go through the whole difficult process of the trial. This is what they wanted, for her to stand trial on the charges against her, not just for her extradition to Australia.”

Leifer, a dual Israeli-Australian citizen, fled Australia before a warrant could be issued against her, and found shelter in Judea and Samaria from 2008 to January 2021, under some police and court supervision, pending the resolution of her extradition case. There were allegations in June 2018 that Leifer molested new victims in the settlement where she was staying.

In January 2021, after more than 13 years as a fugitive from justice, Leifer was extradited to Australia and appeared before a Melbourne judge on video in April 2021.

Aaronson told Makor Rishon that the Haredi community in Melbourne is afraid of the consequences of the Leifer trial.

Another Haredi person facing some consequences related to this case is former health minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism). Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit announced on May 27 that Litzman would be prosecuted for fraud and breach of trust, and obstruction of justice—subject to a hearing, for his role in circumventing Leifer’s legal extradition to Australia.

This is Case 1452 which was investigated by the Police National Fraud Investigation Unit of Lahav 433. It includes two sub-cases of suspicion that Litzman allegedly exploited his position and authority in the Health Ministry when he served as Deputy Health Minister, and his governmental power to improperly influence the discretion of several health professionals to advance the interests of private individuals: the extradition of Malka Leifer and a kosher restaurant that was ordered to close down over health issues.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.