JERUSALEM — Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal challenging the extradition of a former teacher wanted in Australia on charges of child sex abuse, clearing the way for her to stand trial after a six-year legal saga.
Malka Leifer, a former educator accused of sexually abusing several former students at a Jewish school in Melbourne, has been fighting extradition from Israel since 2014. Leifer maintains her innocence and the six-year legal battle surrounding her extradition has strained relations between Israel and Australia.
The Supreme Court justices said that the ruling finalizes “the decision of the appellant as extraditable” to stand trial in Australia.
The Justice Ministry said in a statement that the ruling “brings us one significant step closer to Malka Leifer’s extradition to Australia” and that the ministry “will continue to make every effort to expedite Malka Leifer’s extradition to Australia so that she may stand trial for the crimes she is accused of committing.”
Israeli Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn praised the court’s decision and said he would be signing the extradition order immediately.
“After long and tormenting years, the time has come to do justice with Leifer’s victims,” he wrote on Twitter.
Critics, including Leifer’s alleged victims, have accused Israeli authorities of dragging out the legal process for far too long.
In September, a Jerusalem court approved Leifer’s extradition to Australia after the country’s highest court had upheld a ruling that she was mentally fit to stand trial.
Earlier this year an Israeli psychiatric panel determined that Leifer lied about suffering a mental condition that allegedly made her unfit to stand trial. As a result of the findings, Israel’s Justice Ministry said it would move to expedite her extradition to face 74 charges of child sex abuse.
Three sisters — Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper — have accused Leifer of abusing them while they were students at a Melbourne ultra-Orthodox school. There are said to be other victims.
“We have a very long journey ahead of us, a journey that truthfully should have begun nine years ago," Meyer said. “If I could give a message to all survivors, it’s reach out, find support, share your story and let’s get these abusers off the street.”
The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual abuse, but the sisters have spoken publicly about their allegations against Leifer.
Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter welcomed the court decision and Nissenkorn's commitment to extradite Leifer.
“The allegations against Ms. Leifer are very serious and the Australian government remains strongly committed to ensuring that justice is served in this case, so that Ms. Leifer is extradited to Australia in order to stand trial on the 74 counts of child sexual abuse against her,” Porters said in a statement
Porter said he
“Although this latest development is a significant step forward –- possibly the most positive steps thus far in what has been a long process —- there are still steps to be undertaken in Israel,” Porter said.
As accusations began surfacing in 2008, Israeli-born Leifer left the school and returned to Israel, where she has lived since.
Her attorney, Nick Kaufman, appeared to acknowledge his client has exhausted her legal options in fighting the extradition but expressed hope that, should she be convicted, she might be able to serve her prison sentence in Israel.
Kaufman said the court noted Leifer's “unique nature of her religious way of life” as an ultra-Orthodox Jew and acknowledged it would “present considerable difficulties for her in an Australian prison.”
"Should Malka Leifer be convicted and sentenced to a custodial sentence, we hope that the relevant authorities will accede to a future request that she serve such a sentence in Israel,” he said.
Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.
Ilan Ben Zion, The Associated Press