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UTJ head Yaakov Litzman accused of attempting to prevent the extradition of teacher wanted over child molestation charges in Australia
Police in Israel have recommended indicting the country’s deputy health minister for bribery, fraud, witness tampering and breach of trust, with the politician accused of using his influence in the government to prevent the extradition of a child molester.
Yaakov Litzman, who is also chair of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party, is suspected of – among other accusations – standing in the way of former Jewish religious school headteacher Malka Leifer being sent to Australia.
Leifer is wanted on charges of 74 accounts of rape and sexual assault in Melbourne. However, despite being arrested in 2014, attempts to extradite her have been blocked and delayed for multiple reasons.
In a statement, the police said the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit and the National Fraud Investigation Unit said they had gathered enough evidence to put Litzman on trial over his involvement with Leifer, as well as for intervening to improve the conditions for a number of other imprisoned sex offenders.
Litzman was originally questioned by police in February over allegations that he had intervened in a medical assessment over whether Leifer was mentally fit to be deported.
Both Leifer and Litzman belong to the same ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious denomination.
Litzman’s office has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Since the scandal first erupted, the Jewish school that hired Leifer has been ordered to pay more than $1.1m in compensatory damages to the alleged victims.
Leifer fled to Israel in 2008 shortly after the allegations against her were first reported – prior to her arrest she lived in a settlement in the occupied West Bank. She is currently being held in Neve Tirza prison.
Jerusalem District Court is set to hand down a final decision on Leifer’s mental fitness for an extradition hearing on 23 September, according to the Times of Israel.
A report on Israel’s Channel 13 news in May reported that Litzman had helped at least 10 serious sex offenders improve their prison conditions – including securing home visits and other benefits- and applying pressure on state psychiatrists and prisons service officials.
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JERUSALEM (JTA) — In April, Israeli police announced the arrest of a 22-year-old man in Beit Shemesh accused of multiple counts of child sexual assault.
Short of celebrating the arrest of an abuser, local victims’ rights advocates took the authorities to task.
Shana Aaronson, head of the Israeli branch of the New York-based Jewish Community Watch organization, took to social media, describing in a Facebook post how authorities and the Beit Shemesh community ignored a disturbing pattern of behavior by the predator in question, who had previously served time for abuse.
“Shortly after he was released” — three years ago, after his first detention — “I started getting The Phone Calls,” she wrote.
“Numerous community members calling to share that he’s hanging out with kids, a lot, and they are very concerned. I encouraged them strongly to warn the parents. But, you know, it’s awkward. No one ever wants to be the killjoy calling up a neighbor to share the lashon hara [prohibited gossip] that the kindly young man who’s taken their kid under his wing is a convicted child molester. Then the next wave of phone calls started. He’s volunteering at local organizations, and using his status there to pick up kids.”
According to Aaronson’s telling, the young man even called her to volunteer at Jewish Community Watch, asking to “mentor children who had been sexually abused.”
The police, she explained to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, knew he was dangerous but were restrained from acting because nobody with firsthand knowledge of the abuse had been willing to come forward. Israel, unlike the United States, does not keep a registry of sex offenders.
As a result, Aaronson wrote, for two years “it seems a community’s worth of people has been watching while a child molester strategically groom[ed] and prey[ed] on his victims.”
“But after all, nobody likes to be a killjoy.”
Israel has see an overall increase in reporting of incidents dating back to the beginning of the decade. But several recent incidents here have highlighted what advocates like Aaronson describe as a systemic failure of both the government and civil society to adequately deal with the issue of child sexual abuse.
In May, the state comptroller’s annual report revealed that 60 percent of Israelis jailed for sexual crimes ended up being released without undergoing any sort of therapeutic treatment to prevent recidivism.
The report also found that there was increased monitoring by police of offenders after their release. And while there were more investigations into incidents of pedophilia than in previous years, seven out of 10 cases ended up being shut down without an indictment.
Some advocates believe that part of the problem may be ingrained in Israel’s political culture. Tough slander laws here make it hard for victims to accuse their abusers publicly. Meanwhile, advocates have said that sentencing guidelines are inadequate. There has also been a strong taboo against reporting abuse among members of haredi Orthodox communities.
According to a recent investigation by Israel’s Channel 13, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman was alleged to have improperly intervened to aid at least 10 sex offenders from Israel’s haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, community. This comes after earlier reports that Litzman, who himself is haredi, had been questioned by police over suspicions that he had attempted to prevent the extradition of accused child molester Malka Leifer to Australia.
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The Israel Police are gearing up to recommend that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman be indicted for using his office to illicitly provide assistance to alleged sex offenders, according to a report released Friday by the Kan public broadcaster.
Israeli law enforcement intends to indict the United Torah Judaism party chairman in two cases, the report said.
The first case involves Malka Leifer, a former ultra-Orthodox girls’ school principal charged in Australia with 74 counts of child sex abuse. The police announced in February that they were investigating Litzman on suspicion that he pressured employees in his office to change the conclusions of their psychiatric evaluations to deem Leifer unfit for extradition.
In the second one, Litzman is accused of aiding other alleged sexual predators in a manner that was against the law, Kan reported.
Litzman has denied any wrongdoing, maintaining that he responds without prejudice to all pleas for assistance his office receives.
The deputy minister is also being probed in a third case, but the likelihood of him being charged appears slim, according to the public broadcaster. It gave no details on the case.
The police are slate to hand down their decision ahead of the September elections, but their recommendation to indict is expected to be pending a hearing, which would be held after Israelis head to the polls.
Last month, Channel 13 news reported that Litzman helped at least 10 serious sex offenders obtain improved conditions, including home visits and other benefits, by pressuring state psychiatrists and prisons service officials.
In March, Channel 13 news reported that police were investigating suspicions that Litzman and his chief of staff pressured a psychiatrist, Moshe Birger, to ensure that another imprisoned sex offender close to Litzman’s Gur sect was placed in a rehabilitation program. Participation in the program can lead to home visit rights and early release from prison.
Leifer is known to have links to the Gur community, having once taught at a school in Israel affiliated with the branch.
A Justice Ministry official told The Times of Israel in February that police had recordings of Litzman and officials in his office speaking to Health Ministry employees and pressing them to act on Leifer’s behalf.
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Alleged victims of accused child sex abuser Malka Leifer have described a meeting between WA Deputy Premier Roger Cook and an Israeli politician under investigation for allegedly hindering her extradition to Australia as deeply hurtful and a “slap in the face”.
Mr Cook met Israeli Deputy Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman while leading a delegation from WA in discussions on digital medicine, medical cannabis and vaccination policy, according to an Israeli government media statement.
Rabbi Litzman has been accused of pressuring health officials and psychiatrists into declaring Ms Leifer unfit for extradition from Israel, allegations which are under investigation by the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office.
He told Israeli media in February his intervention in the case was “all for the good of the public, everything was legal”.
Ms Leifer is the former principal of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne charged with 74 counts of child sexual abuse allegedly committed against three sisters between 2001-2008.
An alleged victim of Ms Leifer, Dassi Erlich, said she was “more than infuriated” when she read Israeli news reports of Mr Cook’s meeting with Rabbi Litzman.
“I woke up to news of that meeting early this morning [Monday], and it kind of felt a bit like a slap in the face,” Ms Erlich said.
“We have Australia consistently telling us, ‘what can we do to help, we want justice in this case,’ and then we see all these reports coming from Israel saying that Litzman is alleged to have helped not just Malka Leifer, but a lot of other paedophiles escape justice.
“And here is an Australian delegation legitimising who he is and his position, given what they know about him.
“It absolutely hurt a lot.”
Ms Erlich, who first reported allegations against against Ms Leifer to police in 2011, said the allegations against Rabbi Litzman were all over the news in Israel and she couldn’t understand how an Australian politician could not have known about them.
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A Channel 13 investigation reports that United Torah Judaism Chairman Yaakov Litzman pressured mental health officials into granting furloughs, lightening risk assessments for convicted ultra-Orthodox sex criminals
Deputy Health Minister and United Torah Judaism Chairman Yaakov Litzman worked directly and through his government post in order to help ultra-Orthodox sex offenders, among them pedophiles and serial rapists, a Channel 13 investigation reported.
Litzman’s efforts included methodically pressuring mental health professionals into lightening their risk assessments for ultra-Orthodox prisoners, and approving or lengthening prisoners’ furloughs – even for sex offenders who have not yet been rehabilitated, the investigation reported. Mental health professionals told Haaretz that Litzman’s requests on the subject were not uncommon, and that there are more even cases than were presented in the report.
The investigation followed earlier publications on the subject, including reports from Haaretz. It presented ten previously unreported cases in which Litzman and his personnel (including his chief of staff Haim Justman, now an MK for United Torah Judaism) were involved. Nine of the cases deal with convicted sex offenders who were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, most of whom are ultra-Orthodox.
The remaining case touches upon Litzman’s alleged involvement in preventing the extradition of Malka Leifer to Australia. An Australian indictment charged Leifer, a former principal of an ultra-Orthodox school who is now incarcerated, with 72 counts of various types of sexual assault, including 11 counts of rape. These include the rape and sexual assault of three sisters who were students of hers in her Melbourne ultra-Orthodox community. Leifer’s extradition process, and the question of her ability to stand trial, is still under debate in the Israeli court system – more than 50 conversations have been held on the subject.
Litzman’s office released a statement in response to the report, saying that he helps anyone who turns to him, regardless of their affiliation. Litzman’s staff also disseminated this message in an ad campaign costing tens of thousands of shekels on the Channel 13 website, to accompany the broadcast. The statement called the claims in the report “an ongoing and planned hunting campaign” and a “blood libel” against Litzman, intended to damage his image and prevent him from returning to a Health Ministry post.
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