MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The former principal of a Jewish girls’ school in Australia was convicted Monday of sexually abusing two students, ending a nine-year legal battle that strained relations between the Australian and Israeli governments while angering Australia’s Jewish community.
Malka Leifer, 56, a Tel Aviv mother of eight, was convicted on 18 counts, including kidnapping, and nine other charges, including five related to the student’s first child, Nicole Meyer. Three former students: Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper are all sisters.
Trial judge Mark Gamble issued a gag order to prevent the media from reporting on the trial as Leifer fought against her extradition to Australia following her return to Israel in 2008 as the allegations against her first emerged. The legal battle that he fought in the Jerusalem market in 2014 ended in 2021, when he boarded a flight towards Melbourne at Ben Gurion Airport, his ankles and hands were blocked.
The news of Leifer’s extradition was welcomed by lawyers and leaders of the Jewish community in Australia.
Leifer sat with a pleasant head, watching the judges, and did not act as the judgments were read. Two former students convicted of abuse, Erlich and Sapper, were on trial for the trials. Leifer was previously not guilty to all counts 27
Press associates do not usually identify victims and victims of sexual abuse, but the sisters wanted to identify themselves in the media.
Prosecutors alleged that Leifer abused students between 2003 and 2007 at Israel Adass School, an ultra-Orthodox school in Melbourne, where he was head of religion and later principal, as well as at his Melbourne home and at a country school camp.
Prosecutor Justin Lewis told jurors that Leifer sexually assaulted the girls when they were teenage students at the school, and when the same girls were student teachers. Louis Leifer said he engaged in sexual activities with them and exploited their vulnerability, their ignorance in the matter of love, and their place of preference.
Defense lawyer Ian Hill argued there were long delays between the alleged offenses and the trial, which began in Februarywhich was a disadvantage to the defense and to the jurors. He attacks the sisters’ credibility, even accusing one of telling “lies” in her testimony.
The sisters had an isolated upbringing in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and received no sex education, the court heard. They were about 12, 14 and 16 when Leifer arrived at the school from Israel in 2001.
Lewis told the sisters that they did not know the sexual nature of what Leifer was doing to them.
Leifer allegedly abused his older sister, Meyer, while she shared a bed in the middle of the German camp at school, pretending to sleep in the same room as Erlich. Jurors were told that the younger brother, Sapper, walked into the room while Meyer was abusing Leifer.
“Mrs. Leifer was one of the most honest people in the community. If Mrs. Leifer was doing something then it must be good,” Sapper testified about his reaction to what he saw happen to his sister.
Erlich told jurors that she tried to contact another teacher to ask what Leifer was doing, but Leifer talked her out of it. Leifer “told me that it was not OK for me to have a relationship with another teacher, to have more than one mentor,” Erlich testified.
The sisters testified for two weeks behind closed doors, barring the public and the media in accordance with Victoria’s sexual assault rules.
Other witnesses included those to whom the sisters disclosed their allegations.
Erlich first spoke to social worker Chana Rabinowitz in early 2008 in Israel. Rabinowitz said the sister who hurt her and the girl said, “It was Mrs. Leifer.”
Psychologist Vicki Gordon testified that she heard Sapper being abused by Leifer screaming. Gordon told the court Leifer’s sister claimed the abuse was an attempt to overcome a lack of warmth and affection in the girls’ family life.
Hill told the jurors the sisters revered Leifer and showed them notes from their high school years thanking them for being supportive. Hill said Erlich has changed his story several times since the allegations were made in 2008.
“Truth and faith have been lost in false accounts,” said Hill. “Perhaps even sometimes he is hardened to false imaginations and false memories of things.”
Sapper’s criticism of the alleged crimes led to a change of location from the girls’ hometown of Melbourne to Israel.
“It’s the wrong memory associated with the details that show you how dangerous it can be to tell some witnesses with you,” Hill said.
Manny Waks, head of the advocacy group Voice Against Child Sex Abuse and a supporter of the three sisters, said the event was tinged with sadness because the allegations against Meyer were not proven.
“The day … is tinged with great sadness because the fight that (Meyer) has endured for many years and now that he is going to the courts without being found guilty is completely devastating and certainly my thoughts. especially her,” Waks told Network 10 television.
“It’s been a long time and there have been many challenges along the way, most people didn’t believe it would happen today and it has come and it’s a great day of justice,” said Waks.
Meyer told reporters outside court that the guilty verdict was “all we wanted.”
“When we started this fight, when we gave our verdicts to the police in 2011, the word ‘guilty’ to hear is not what he fought for so many years, and what we fought for so many years to prove.” he said.
Waks said the legal process for the sisters was challenging until the sentences were handed down.
“The process that the sisters went through is unique and arduous. I attended 75 judge hearings in Israel just to get her extradited,” said Waks.
Leifer will return to court on April 26 for a sentencing hearing.