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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 victim blasts WA Deputy Premier for meeting Israeli politician linked to Melbourne child sex accused
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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Developments in Malka Leifer case
28 May 2019
The ongoing significant delay in extraditing accused pedophile, Malka Leifer, from Israel to Australia to face 74 charges involving allegations that she sexually abused at least eight pupils during her time as principal of the Adass Israel school in Melbourne between 2003 and 2008, is causing growing dismay across the Australian Jewish community.
Malka Leifer left Melbourne to return to Israel in 2008 within hours of the allegations against her coming to light, and before a warrant could be issued for her arrest in Australia.
Since her arrest by the authorities in Israel in August 2014 following Australia making a formal request for her extradition, the extradition proceedings have come before the courts in Israel on more than 50 occasions. However, no order for her extradition to Australia has been made, as her lawyers continue to argue that she is unfit to stand trial due to her alleged mental state. Those seeking her extradition have produced evidence suggesting that she has been malingering.
The consternation about the delays in the case have been heightened by the fact that Israel’s Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman was interrogated by Israeli police in February 2019 over allegations that he met with Jerusalem’s district psychiatrist, Dr Jacob Charnes, to pressure him into issuing a false assessment for Leifer in support of her claim that she should not be extradited to Australia because she is mentally unfit to stand trial. Mr Litzman and Ms Leifer are both members of the Gur chasidic sect.
In recent weeks Israeli media have reported on further allegations that Litzman and his ministry intervened on behalf of at least 10 convicted sex offenders, including pressuring psychiatrists in at least one other case. Litzman has denied all wrong-doing.
These allegations of executive interference in the judicial process raise grave questions about the integrity of the handling of the Leifer case in Israel while Mr Litzman remains in any government position. We call upon acting Prime Minister Netanyahu to announce an official inquiry into the allegations, and to confirm that Mr Litzman will not be appointed to any executive office pending the outcome of the inquiry.
Litzman’s political party, United Torah Judaism, which won 8 seats in the recent general election in Israel, may be a coalition partner in Israel’s next government. We maintain that political considerations must have no bearing whatsoever on the Leifer case, and that Israel’s judiciary must operate with complete independence and impartiality. Justice must not only be done but also be seen to be done.
This is not a matter that concerns Israel exclusively. Ms Leifer’s accusers in Australia, the Australian government and citizens of Australia, especially the Jewish community, have a deep and direct interest in the case. We will not rest until Malka Leifer is extradited to Australia and put on trial.
We continue to stand with the survivors who have persevered these long years to bring Malka Leifer to justice. Their dignity in the face of delays in the extradition trial and allegations of impropriety by various officials are to their great credit.