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
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,"
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
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
"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
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.