Accused sex teacher Malka Leifer to be extradited
Fugitive Melbourne teacher Malka Leifer will be extradited to Australia, more than a decade after she fled sexual abuse allegations.
Judge Miriam Lomp handed down the decision in Jerusalem's District Court on Monday, giving hope that she will face 74 sexual abuse charges in Australia.
Leifer hung her head during the brief court hearing, which was socially distanced under Israel's new lockdown.
She wore a large, bright red mask, which only revealed her eyes, but kept her head down for parts of the hearing.
The former principal at Melbourne's ultraorthodox Adass Israel School in Elsternwick appeared via video link for the most important hearing in the saga which has dragged on for more than a decade.
Israel's Supreme Court has already dismissed an appeal against the extradition on the grounds that Leifer, 53, was mentally unfit to be returned to Australia.
Nicole Meyer, one of Leifer's alleged victims, said on behalf of her sisters Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper.
"This is a victory for justice! A victory not just for us, but for all survivors," she said.
"Exhaling years of holding our breath. We truly value every single one of you standing with us in our refusal to remain silent. Today our hearts are smiling."
Ms Meyer, Ms Erlich and Ms Sapper have accused Leifer of sexual abuse while she was a teacher at the Elsternwick school.
Leifer, who fled Australia in 2008 when the girls alerted the school they intended to make a police report, is facing 74 charges of sexual abuse if she was extradited to Australia.
Manny Waks, chief executive of Israeli sexual abuse victims' charity K'ol v'Oz, said this would be the 71st hearing in the international legal drama.
"This is expected to be a brief hearing where Judge Lomp will announce her verdict regarding the extradition of Leifer to Australia," he said.
"The decision relates to the evidence in the case against the three courageous sisters, Nicole, Dassi and Elly - it does not relate to Leifer's mental fitness, which has already been resolved by the Supreme Court of Israel."
He added: "There is simply no grounds to deny this very basic request from Australia."
Leifer's family have been present in many of the hearings in the case, with her brother and sometimes her son in attendance in the tiny courtroom.
Her lawyers have been expressive in her defence, often shouting in the courtroom and pledging to fight every step of the way.
One of her lawyers said after a hearing in January: "It's not over until it's over."
They were expected to appeal if the decision was to extradite Leifer to Australia, while Israel's Minister of Justice ultimately has to sign off on the decision.
The case went ahead despite Israel's second national lockdown, which started on Friday last week ahead of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year's holiday.
The event is typically a time for large family get-togethers which were stopped to prevent the spread of the virus.
However, courts have remained open, paving the way for Leifer's case to take an important step towards its conclusion.
Originally published as Accused sex teacher Malka Leifer to be extradited