JERUSALEM (AP) – The Supreme Court of Israel on Tuesday dismissed an appeal challenging the extradition of a former teacher wanted in Australia for child sexual abuse, paving 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 Israel’s extradition since 2014. Leifer maintains her innocence and the six-year legal battle surrounding her extradition has strained relations between Israel and Australia.
Supreme Court justices said the ruling finalizes “the appellant’s extraditable decision” to stand trial in Australia.
The Justice Department said in a statement that the decision “brings us one step closer to the extradition of Malka Leifer to Australia” and that the department “will continue to make every effort to expedite the extradition of Malka Leifer to Australia so that she can be tried for the crimes she is accused of committing.
Israeli Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn praised the court’s decision and said he would immediately sign the extradition decision.
“After long and trying years, the time has come to bring justice to the victims of Leifer,” he wrote on Twitter.
Critics, including Leifer’s alleged victims, have accused Israeli authorities of delaying the legal process for too long.
In September, a Jerusalem court approved Leifer’s extradition to Australia after the country’s highest court upheld a ruling that she was mentally fit to stand trial.
Earlier this year, an Israeli psychiatric panel determined that Leifer had lied about a mental illness that would have rendered her unfit to stand trial. Following the findings, Israel’s justice ministry said it would speed up his extradition to face 74 child sexual abuse charges.
Three sisters – Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper – accused Leifer of abusing them while they were students at an ultra-Orthodox school in Melbourne. They say there are other victims.
“We have a very long journey ahead of us, a journey that, frankly, should have started nine years ago,” Meyer said. “If I could send one message to all survivors, it’s to reach out, find support, share your story and get these abusers off the streets.”
The Associated Press generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse, but the sisters have spoken publicly about their allegations against Leifer.
As the charges began to surface in 2008, Israel-born Leifer dropped out of school and returned to Israel, where she has lived ever since.
Her lawyer, Nick Kaufman, appeared to acknowledge that her client had exhausted her legal options to fight the extradition, but expressed hope that, if convicted, she could serve her prison term in Israel.
Kaufman said the court noted Leifer’s “unique nature of her religious way of life” as an ultra-Orthodox Jew and recognized that it “would present considerable hardship for her in an Australian prison.”
“If Malka Leifer were to be found guilty and sentenced to a custodial sentence, we hope that the competent authorities will accede to a future request to serve such a sentence in Israel,” he said.