MELBOURNE (JTA) – A Jewish woman who said she had been molested repeatedly by her former principal called on Israel to extradite the woman back to their native Australia.
Dassi Erlich, a 29-year-old mother of one who said that her alleged molestation by Malka Leifer had left her emotionally scarred, made the plea Sunday during a speech before approximately 200 participants of Melbourne’s Limmud conference of Jewish learning.
Leifer, who left Australia for Israel in 2008 shortly after molestation accusations against her surfaced, has skipped several extradition hearings in Israel because she had committed herself to psychiatric institutions for short periods, coinciding with her court dates. Leifer is wanted for questioning in Australia in connection with 74 charges of molestation, including rape, of several teenage girls, the ABC broadcaster reported.
In 2015, Erlich received one of the largest sexual abuse damage payouts in Australia’s history with the Victorian Supreme Court ordering the Adass Israel School pay her more than $750,000 for its failure to prevent the systemic abuse suffered by Erlich since she was 15. During her speech, Erlich said she had witnessed Leifer molest another girl, but “said nothing.”
If Leifer “is mentally ill, then she should get treated until she is well enough to be put on trial in Australia,” Erlich said. “It is unfathomable that, in 2017, the justice system of a Western country is being manipulated in such a way,” Erlich added about Israel.
Earlier this month, the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand expressed similar concerns, saying in a statement that it is “deeply concerned with the outcome of the court hearings in Israel regarding Mrs. Leifer’s extradition proceedings and will be voicing its concerns to the Israeli Minister of Justice.”
Leifer, who is living in Israel with no restrictions on her freedom, in May was photographed participating in a Lag B’Omer religious celebration in Israel’s north, in what Erlich said was proof that any psychiatric complications affecting Leifer are not preventing her from leading what appears to be a normal life.
Leifer’s lawyers, who have denied any wrongdoing by their client, downplayed the significance of the photos, claiming they prove little about her mental health.
Approached by ABC last month, Israeli justice officials said they were looking into the case.
The Leifer affair comes on the heels of similar scandals in two other haredi Orthodox Jewish schools or boys in Australia, one in Sydney and another in Melbourne.
A government committee of inquiry in 2016 found evidence of reluctance to address the problem in both institutions, and issued a set of directives for the prevention of such cases.
“As the Royal Commission has made clear, child sexual abuse was allowed to continue because of actions and inaction by some rabbis and community leaders. Victims were not always believed or supported, adding to the trauma,” the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand said about those cases.