CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian state leader on Tuesday described an Israeli court decision to extradite a former teacher wanted in Australia on charges of molesting children as a victory for abuse victims.
Daniel Andrews is premier of Victoria state where Malka Leifer is accused of molesting three sisters — Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper — while they were students at a Melbourne ultra-Orthodox school.
Andrews welcomed a Jerusalem District Court ruling on Monday that Leifer could be extradited to Australia to stand trial for 74 charges of child sex abuse, potentially paving the way for the Israeli citizen to stand trial in Victoria after a six-year legal battle.
“This is a very, a very significant day for victims of child sexual abuse across our entire state, and to come, as it does, so close to Jewish New Year, can I say Shanah Tovah to Dassi Erlich and her sisters,” Andrews said, using a Hebrew New Year greeting.
“They’re heroes. The courage, the grace, and the dignity of those Victorians is quite amazing. Quite amazing,” Andrews said.
“This is a really, really good outcome for victims of child sexual abuse. And to Dassi and her family, to her sisters and extended family, they have our praise. We admire them, their strength is an inspiration,” he added.
Andrews could not say if a trial would be expedited if Leifer returned to Melbourne, where the court system has been disrupted by a pandemic lockdown.
Erlick described the Israeli court decision as a “huge, huge moment.”
“Nine years (have passed) since we gave our police statement,” Erlick told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “We never imagined at the time how long it would take and how big this moment would be, but we are finally here,” she added.
Leifer, a former educator, has been fighting extradition from Israel since 2014. Leifer maintains her innocence and the battle surrounding her extradition has strained relations between Israel and Australia.
Earlier this month, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Leifer’s attorney over a Jerusalem court’s ruling that she was mentally fit to stand trial, saying it was “putting an end to the saga that has been drawn out for many years.”
On Monday, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that Leifer could be extradited. The formal extradition now requires an order by Israel’s justice minister.
Leifer’s attorneys said they would appeal an extradition order to Israel’s Supreme Court, saying it would be a “political decision.”
Critics, including Leifer’s alleged victims, have accused Israeli authorities of dragging out the case for far too long.
There are said to be victims other than the three sisters.
The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual abuse, but the sisters have spoken publicly about their allegations against Leifer.
As accusations surfaced in 2008, Israeli-born Leifer left the school and returned to Israel, where she has lived since.