Former school principal handed 15-year sentence in Australia

Malka Leifer was sentenced for sexually abusing two sisters at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne from 2004 to 2007.

malka leifer
Israeli-born Australian Malka Leifer, right, is brought to a courtroom in Jerusalem as she fought extradition to Australia [File: Mahmoud Illean/AP]

A former principal who sexually abused two sisters at an Australian ultra-Orthodox Jewish school and spent years fighting extradition from Israel has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Malka Leifer, 56, must serve at least 11 years and six months of the sentence before she can be considered for early release. As soon as she is released from a Victoria state prison, she will likely be deported to her native Israel.

Handing down the sentence on Thursday, Melbourne Judge Mark Gamble denounced Leifer for abusing her position within the city’s ultra-Orthodox community and said her “insidious offending” had scarred the sisters for life.

Gamble described her as a “serious sexual offender” who had shown a “callous indifference” to the suffering of her victims.

The sentence came after Leifer was found guilty of 18 charges of sexual assault against sisters Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper and ends the sisters’ decade-long quest for justice.

A jury acquitted Leifer of sexually assaulting a third sister, Nicole Meyer.

The offences spanned from 2004 to 2007 when Leifer was in charge of the Addass Israel School in Melbourne and the two sisters were teenagers.

The mother of eight fled to Israel when rumours of her crimes started swirling in 2008. She fought to halt her extradition over more than 70 hearings.

She settled in the ultra-Orthodox Emmanuel settlement in the occupied West Bank.

The dual Israeli-Australian citizen was eventually hauled back to Australia in 2021 and was found guilty in April on the 18 charges.

Australian police filed charges against her in 2012 and requested her extradition from Israel two years later.

Leifer’s defence argued that crippling depression had left her catatonic and she was mentally incapable of standing trial.

The extradition process was suspended until a private investigator secretly filmed Leifer going about her daily chores, apparently unafflicted by the mental illnesses she claimed.

Defence lawyer Ian Hill previously said Leifer denied “all of the criminal conduct alleged by each of the complainants” and described her interactions with the students as “professional and proper”.

‘Break the walls of silence’

The sisters hailed the sentence as recognition of their suffering and a vindication of the decision to “break the walls of silence” of Melbourne’s ultra-Orthodox community.

“We are here today because we did not give up,” Erlich said outside court.

“This fight was never just for us. We are showing that the voices of survivors will not and cannot be silenced, no matter what the obstacles,” she said.

“To any other survivors in this nightmare, you are never alone. We are all behind you.”

The three sisters accused Leifer of sexually abusing them on the grounds of the school, in locked staff offices, on school camps and at Leifer’s home.

The court found Leifer guilty of offences against two of them.

Wearing a light blue prison jumpsuit, Leifer was mostly impassive as she watched the proceedings via video link from a nearby maximum security prison.

The Addass Israel School is part of a reclusive Jewish sect on the outskirts of the city.

Source: News Agencies