Top pro-Israel group in Australia lauds police recommendation to indict Litzman

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Top pro-Israel group in Australia lauds police recommendation to indict Litzman

Zionist Federation of Australia calls on Israeli deputy health minister to step down over suspected efforts to prevent extradition to Melbourne of alleged sex abuser Malka Leifer

Protesters demonstrate on March 13, 2019, outside the Jeursalem District Court during extradition hearings for Malka Leifer, a former girls school principal wanted for sexual abuse in Australia. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Protesters demonstrate on March 13, 2019, outside the Jeursalem District Court during extradition hearings for Malka Leifer, a former girls school principal wanted for sexual abuse in Australia. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A prominent Australian Jewish organization on Wednesday welcomed news that police had recommended the indictment of Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman for allegedly pressuring officials in his office to prevent the extradition of suspected sex predator Malka Leifer to Melbourne.

“This is a very welcome step forward in a frustratingly long and drawn out process to achieve justice for Leifer’s victims,” the Zionist Federation of Australia, an umbrella organization of pro-Israel groups, said in a statement.

The ZFA also called for Litzman to step down from his post while the legal proceedings against him continue.

Developments in the Leifer case have been closely followed by the Jewish community in Australia and Tuesday’s police recommendation made national headlines down under.

“These are extremely serious allegations and it is simply untenable for anyone in a position of public trust and responsibility to continue in their position while under
investigation for fraud and breach of trust. There should be zero tolerance for an elected official who sabotages the rule of law – a democratic principle which is foundational to the State of Israel,” the ZFA added.

The Australian umbrella group went on to express solidarity with Leifer’s alleged victims, specifically Dassi Erlich, Elly Sapper and Nicole Meyer, who have led a campaign to push Israel to extradite their former high school principal.

(R) Deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman seen during a press conference after meeting with president Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90); (L) A private investigator tagged Malka Leifer as she spoke on the phone, while sitting on a bench in Bnei Brak, on December 14, 2017. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Police on Tuesday recommended that Litzman be charged with fraud and breach of trust for the case involving Leifer, a former ultra-Orthodox girls’ school principal charged in Australia with 74 counts of child sex abuse. Since February, authorities have been investigating the deputy health minister on suspicion that he had pressured employees in his office to alter the conclusions of psychiatric evaluations that had deemed Leifer fit for extradition.

In addition, police also recommended that Litzman, who is also chairman of the United Torah Judaism party, be charged with bribery for attempts to influence officials in the Health Ministry to prevent the closure of a Jerusalem deli that he frequented — a closure that had been ordered due to “serious sanitary findings found that led to the sickness of a number of people who ate from its products.”

Litzman, who possesses many authorities of a full minister despite serving as a deputy, denied any wrongdoing, maintaining in a response to the police recommendation that his office has a “clear open-door policy for assisting members of the public. This is without discrimination between populations and without clarifying the status of those who call for assistance. The deputy minister expressed confidence that no charges would ultimately be filed.”

In the wake of the police recommendation, it will be up to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to determine whether to indict the deputy health minister.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Tuesday that the State Prosecutor’s Office is slated to hand down its recommendation to Mandelblit by the September 17 elections and said the attorney general may even reach a decision to indict — pending a hearing — before the vote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, speaks with Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, left, in the Knesset, on March 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Leifer is known to have links to the Gur community, of which Litzman is a member, having once taught at a school in Israel affiliated with the Hasidic 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.

In 2000, Leifer was recruited from Israel to work at the Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls school in Melbourne. When allegations of sexual abuse against the mother of eight began to surface eight years later, members of the school board purchased a red-eye plane ticket back to Israel for Leifer, allowing her to avoid being charged.

After authorities in Melbourne filed charges against her, Australia officially filed an extradition request in 2012. Leifer was arrested in Israel two years later, but released to house arrest shortly thereafter. Judges deemed her mentally unfit to stand trial and eventually removed all restrictions against her, concluding that she was too ill to even leave her bed.

Jerusalem District Psychiatrist Jacob Charnes in 2016. (Facebook photo)

She was rearrested in February 2018 following a police undercover operation that cast doubts on her claims regarding her mental state, and has remained in custody since. The operation was launched after the Jewish Community Watch NGO hired private investigators who placed hidden cameras in the Emmanuel settlement, a Haredi community in the northern West Bank, where Leifer had been living, which showed the alleged sex abuser roaming around the town without any apparent difficulty.

Despite the seemingly damning footage, the trial has dragged on for an additional year, as the court continues to debate her mental fitness. The Jerusalem district psychiatrist responsible for evaluating Leifer, Dr. Jacob Charnes, has changed his mind three times regarding whether Leifer was fit for extradition, ultimately signing off on a legal opinion in which state psychiatrists found her fit for extradition.

However, when the psychiatrist was cross-examined by the defense on the evaluation late last year, he told the court that he recommended an additional evaluation of Leifer be carried out — a proposal that both sides have rejected.

A legal official told The Times of Israel that police suspected Charnes changed his medical conclusion after being contacted by officials in Litzman’s office. Though Charnes has been interrogated under caution in the case against the deputy health minister, police on Tuesday said they did not recommend he be tried.

The Jerusalem District Court will hand down a final decision regarding Leifer’s mental fitness for an extradition hearing on September 23. The Times of Israel learned last month that a separate court-appointed medical board is slated to officially conclude that Leifer has been feigning mental illness, in a ruling that would likely impact the Jerusalem District Court’s decision.

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Letter From Jerusalem

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE JERUSALEM TELEGRAPH)

 

Letter From Jerusalem 

Confronting cover ups

By Raf Sanchez Jerusalem Correspondent

Ultra-Orthodox

(Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / AFP)

Israeli police are recommending criminal charges against Yaakov Litzman, an Israeli minister and a leader in one of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties which Netanyahu depends on for his majority.

For those keeping track: four Israeli ministers, including Netanyahu, are now facing potential charges for an assortment of alleged crimes.

But the allegations against Litzman’s case are particularly bleak.

He is accused of misusing his office to try to protect a former headmistress who allegedly sexually abused children at an ultra-Orthodox school in Australia.

The story begins in Melbourne in the early 2000s at a school for the deeply insular Jewish community known as Adass Israel.

The school’s headmistress, Malka Leifer, is alleged to have abused at least eight young girls. When the allegations against Leifer surfaced in 2008, senior members of the community did not turn her in to the police. Instead, they helped her flee Australia and escape to Israel.

Australia has been seeking Leifer’s extradition since 2014 on 74 counts of sexual abuse. But Israeli courts have engaged in a seemingly-endless cycle of hearings about whether to send her back.

Litzman, the deputy health minister, is accused of pressuring health officials into saying Leifer was not mentally fit to be extradited. He denies the charge.

The case casts a harsh spotlight on a sensitive issue: the cover up of child abuse within some ultra-Orthodox communities.

There is no evidence to suggest that Haredi children are abused at a higher rate than children in other religious groups. And cover ups are certainly not unique to the ultra-Orthodox: look at the decades of hidden abuse in the Catholic church.

But there are elements of Haredi culture that seem to give rise to shielding abusers. The most important is a strong cultural taboo against turning a fellow Jew over to secular authorities.

That seems to have been the instinct at work in the Leifer case and in many others both in Israel and abroad.

A recent study found that people who left the Haredi community were more likely to have been abused than the general population – suggesting that abuse may be driving people out of the faith.

The good news is that in recent years there has been a proliferation of Jewish groups trying to combat abuse in Orthodox communities.

Among them is Amudim, a New York group that recently put out an ad challenging the cover up culture. “Abuse thrives on denial and secrecy,” the ad reads.

The Litzman case will be a chance to see if that culture can be challenged when it allegedly exists at the top of the Israeli government.

I welcome your feedback at [email protected] and @rafsanchez.

Israel: Police recommend Litzman stand trial for bribery, aiding alleged pedophile

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL NEWSPAPER)

 

Police recommend Litzman stand trial for bribery, aiding alleged pedophile

Deputy health minister and UTJ party head could be charged over pressuring employees to prevent extradition of Malka Leifer to face 74 counts of child sex abuse in Australia

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at the ceremony for the opening of a new branch of his Agudath Israel party, ahead of the upcoming elections, in the northern city of Safed, July 4, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at the ceremony for the opening of a new branch of his Agudath Israel party, ahead of the upcoming elections, in the northern city of Safed, July 4, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Police recommended on Tuesday that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman be indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust for using his office to illicitly provide assistance to an alleged serial sex abuser, as well as on a separate bribery charge for helping to prevent the closure of a food business that his own ministry had deemed unsanitary.

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 had pressured employees in his office to alter the conclusions of psychiatric evaluations that had deemed Leifer fit for extradition.

In their statement, police said that the investigation, conducted by the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit and the National Fraud Investigation Unit, had found enough evidence to put Litzman on trial over his involvement in the Leifer case, as well as for intervening to help several other sex offenders obtain improved conditions, including prison furloughs and other benefits, by pressuring state psychiatrists and prisons service officials.

In the second case, police said that Litzman attempted to influence officials in the Health Ministry in order to prevent the closure of a food business whose owner “he is close to” — a closure that had been ordered due to “serious sanitary findings found that led to the sickness of a number of people who ate from its products.”

In this February 27, 2018, file photo, Malka Leifer, center, is brought to a courtroom in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Kan reported that breakthroughs in the police’s case came from the testimonies of various state psychiatrists. One of them told investigators, “I’m just a bureaucrat. A senior minister is sitting in front of me [making requests]. I know my place and I know his place and what is expected of me.”

Several psychiatrists told police that they feared they’d be fired if they didn’t follow Litzman’s orders.

Litzman, who possesses many authorities of a full minister despite serving as a deputy, denied any wrongdoing, maintaining in a response to the police recommendation that his office has a “clear open-door policy for assisting members of the public. This is without discrimination between populations and without clarifying the status of those who call for assistance. The deputy minister expressed confidence that no charges would ultimately be filed.”

In the wake of the police recommendation, it will be up to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to determine whether or not to indict.

Dassi Erlich, a Leifer accuser who launched a campaign to extradite her former principal back to Australia, said in a statement Tuesday, “We are feeling so grateful that the questions we continually raised through the #BringLeiferBack campaign resulted in one more step to achieving justice.”

In May, 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.

Earlier in the year, the TV channel had 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 of Hasidim was placed in a rehabilitation program. Participation in the program can lead to furloughs and early release from prison.

Police said Tuesday that they had not found sufficient evidence to prosecute Litzman on his suspected assistance to other alleged pedophiles.

Leifer, a former school principal who is wanted for alleged sex crimes in Australia, is known to have links to the Gur community, having once taught at a school in Israel affiliated with the branch.

Protesters demonstrate on March 13, 2019, outside the Jerusalem District Court during extradition hearings for Malka Leifer, a former girls school principal wanted for sexual abuse in Australia. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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.

In 2000, Leifer was recruited from Israel to work at the Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls school in Melbourne. When allegations of sexual abuse against her began to surface eight years later, members of the school board purchased the mother of eight a red-eye plane ticket back to Israel, allowing her to avoid being charged.

After authorities in Melbourne filed charges against her, Australia officially filed an extradition request in 2012. Leifer was arrested in Israel two years later, but released to house arrest shortly thereafter. Judges deemed her mentally unfit to stand trial and eventually removed all restrictions against her, concluding that she was too ill to even leave her bed.

Jerusalem District Psychiatrist Jacob Charnes in 2016. (Facebook photo)

She was rearrested in February 2018 following a police undercover operation that cast doubts on her claims regarding her mental state, and has remained in custody since. The operation was launched after the Jewish Community Watch NGO hired private investigators who placed hidden cameras in the Emmanuel settlement, a Haredi community in the northern West Bank, where Leifer had been living, which showed the alleged sex abuser roaming around the town without any apparent difficulty.

Despite the seemingly damning footage, the trial has dragged on for an additional year, as the court continues to debate her mental fitness. The Jerusalem district psychiatrist responsible for evaluating Leifer, Dr. Jacob Charnes, has changed his mind three times regarding whether Leifer was fit for extradition, ultimately signing off an a legal opinion in which state psychiatrists found her fit for extradition.

However, when the psychiatrist was cross-examined by the defense on the evaluation late last year, he told the court that he recommended an additional evaluation of Leifer be carried out — a proposal that both sides have rejected.

A legal official told The Times of Israel that police suspected Charnes changed his medical conclusion after being contacted by officials in Litzman’s office. Though Charnes has been interrogated under caution in the case against the deputy health minister, police on Tuesday said they did not recommend he be tried.

The Jerusalem District Court will hand down a final decision regarding Leifer’s mental fitness for an extradition hearing on September 23. The Times of Israel learned last month that a separate court appointed medical board is slated to officially concluce that Leifer has been feigning mental illness, in a ruling that would likely impact the Jerusalem District Court’s decision.

Jewish Community Watch founder of director Meyer Seewald said in a Tuesday statement, “Our private investigation in 2017 only clarified what was obvious to so many: that Malka Leifer was feigning mental illness to avoid extradition. Considering she was doing very little to hide her ruse, it was apparent that Leifer was being protected by very influential people. The police recommendation clarifies that it was allegedly Litzman and his office that were diligently working to make sure Malka Leifer’s victims never received justice.”

Seewald called on senior lawmakers to ensure that Litzman is not made a member of the next cabinet after the elections on September 17.

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