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Australia, Israel Leaders Hold Talks   02/26 06:11

   CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Australia's prime minister and Israel's 
president on Wednesday discussed an extradition request for a former school 
principal whose alleged abuse of dozens of Australian schoolgirls has cast a 
shadow over the Israeli leader's visit.

   Prime Minister Scott Morrison and President Reuven Rivlin discussed their 
"strong commitment to seeing justice" in the case of the former principal, 
Malka Leifer, during a meeting at Parliament House, officials said.

   An opposition lawmaker said Rivlin had offered to personally intervene in 
the case if progress is not made in court this week.

   Leifer has been fighting extradition from Israel for six years and the legal 
wrangle to bring her before an Australian court has caused a diplomatic strain 
between the allies.

   Rivlin has been criticized for declining an invitation to meet three of the 
alleged victims during his visit this week to the Australian city of Melbourne, 
where Leifer was the principal of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school until 2008.

   Lawmaker Josh Burns, who represents an electorate where the three alleged 
victims --- sisters Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper --- live, said 
he raised their plight when Rivlin held a meeting with senior opposition 
lawmakers.

   The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual 
abuse, but the siblings have spoken publicly about their allegations.

   "I was pleased that President Rivlin advised me that if hearings scheduled 
this week do not see this matter progress towards Malka Leifer being extradited 
to Australia, he will personally meet with the Chief Justice of Israel to 
discuss how this matter can be expedited," Burns said in a statement, referring 
to President of the Supreme Court of Israel Esther Hayut, who is also known 
colloquially as the chief justice.

   "This matter has dragged on far too long. These victims deserve justice and 
I will continue to fight until Malka Leifer is back in Australia facing trial," 
Burns added.

   Rivlin's office did not immediately respond to a request for details of any 
undertakings regarding the case he had given during his visit to Australia.

   Erlich wrote in a letter to Rivlin through the Israeli Embassy in Australia 
after the president declined to meet the siblings, "We did not wish to ask you 
to interfere with the judicial process, only that you use your authority to 
ensure this case ends in a timely manner." 

   "Sadly, the president has underestimated the importance of this case to the 
Jewish and wider Australian community and the supportive encouragement that 
such a meeting would produce," she added.

   Manny Waks, Melbourne-based chief executive of Kol v'Oz, a Jewish 
organization that combats child sex abuse, said it was "regrettable" that the 
president could not find time to meet the sisters while in Melbourne.

   "It seems President Rivlin has his priorities wrong on this trip," Waks told 
The Australian newspaper.

   Neither Morrison nor Rivlin mentioned the case during brief public comments 
they made in Canberra, Australia's capital, before their bilateral meeting.

   Morrison praised the "stridency of the judiciary" in Israel as one of the 
"great principles and values that underpin freedom" for which Israel stands.

   Rivlin described Australia as a "beacon" that helped the world understand 
Israel's position. He praised Australia's decision in December to oppose an 
International Criminal Court investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes 
against Palestinians.

   Dozens of pro-Palestinians demonstrators rallied outside Parliament House 
before the meeting, carrying signs including, "Israel is not above the law." 

   On Leifer, Rivlin told Australian Jewish News in a recent interview that he 
was "confident that Israel does not allow those who have committed crimes to 
avoid justice."

   "I understand how painful and difficult the case of Malka Leifer is for the 
Australian Jewish community and for Australians generally," he said.

   "The professional opinion of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry 
of Justice and the State Prosecutor's Office is that the extradition should be 
carried out as soon as possible and are doing everything possible to expedite 
it," Rivlin added.

   Australia requested Leifer's extradition in 2014 on 74 charges of child sex 
abuse and more than 60 Israeli court hearings have followed.

   The Jerusalem District Court last month granted Leifer's attorneys' request 
to review a psychiatrists' ruling that she is fit to stand trial for 
extradition.

   Burns, the opposition lawmaker, and government lawmaker Dave Sharma, a 
former Australian ambassador to Israel, introduced a motion in Parliament 
earlier this month demanding Israel immediately extradite Leifer.

   A date for a vote on the motion has yet to be set, but it is expected to be 
carried with the major parties' support.


(KR)

 
 
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