An Israeli court has ruled that an ultra-conservative Jewish former school principal suspected of sexually abusing her female pupils in Australia can be extradited, paving the way for her to stand trial after a six-year legal battle.
The Jerusalem district court, which in May had determined Malka Leifer mentally fit to stand trial, said in its ruling on Monday “the defendant can be extradited to Australia for the crimes attributed to her in the extradition request”.
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The court gave the former educator 30 days to lodge an appeal with Israel’s Supreme Court, and Leifer’s lawyers said a challenge against extradition would be mounted there.
If returned to Australia, Leifer will stand trial for 74 counts of sexually abusing children.
Leifer maintains her innocence and the battle surrounding her extradition has strained relations between Israel and Australia.
“Those who think that this process is now a closed chapter – I’m afraid will be disappointed,” Nick Kaufman, one of Leifer’s lawyers, told reporters.
“There is a long way to go until Mrs Leifer will be surrendered to Australia, if at all.”
Earlier this year, an Israeli psychiatric panel determined Leifer had lied about suffering a mental condition that made her unfit to stand trial.
As a result of the findings, Israel’s Justice Ministry said it would move to expedite her extradition.
‘Victory for justice’
Critics, including Leifer’s alleged victims, have accused the Israeli authorities of dragging out the case for far too long.
One of Leifer’s former pupils and alleged victims, Dassi Erlich, called the ruling “a victory for justice” for “all survivors”.
“Today our hearts are smiling!” she wrote on her Twitter account.
Three of Leifer’s former students, who are also sisters, have accused her of abusing them while they were students at a Melbourne ultra-Orthodox school.
As accusations surfaced in 2008, Israeli-born Leifer left the school and returned to an illegal Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, where she has lived since.
Manny Waks, the head of Kol v’Oz, a Jewish group that combats sexual abuse of children and that has been representing the three sisters, said Monday’s ruling marked “a great day for justice”.
“It is a day which at times seemed like it would never arrive, but we are thrilled that it is finally here,” Waks said. “It has taken 71 court hearings to get to this point. It has been Israel’s shame.”