Federation Chamber – 10/2/2020 – PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS – Leifer, Ms Malka
Mr BURNS (Macnamara) (18:55): I am pleased to second the motion put forward by the member for Wentworth. This motion has not only brought the member for Wentworth and me together but united members and senators in a rare but significant display of bipartisanship in this place. I want to thank the member for Wentworth for the collaborative and productive way in which he has approached this motion as well as all of the representations in this case. He has acted in good faith, and I really appreciate all of his efforts in this as well. I also want to acknowledge Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper. Dassi and Nicole visited Canberra recently and, on a suggestion made by the both the Leader of the Opposition and the Speaker of the parliament, a motion was put forward to continue the representation and to continue the pressure being put on Israel in this case.
In a free, democratic society such as Australia or Israel, everyone who is accused of a crime is entitled to a fair trial, to representation and to be able to defend themselves. But this case has gone far beyond any course of natural justice. It has been 12 years since Malka Leifer, the former principal of the Adass Israel girls school in my electorate, fled Australia for Israel in the dead of night. She fled as questions were beginning to surface around her conduct as the principal.
It has been nine long years since the first brave victim, Dassi Erlich, gave her statement to Victoria Police. It has been six long years since Australia filed a formal extradition request to Israel so that Malka Leifer could be returned to Australia to face the 74 charges laid by Victoria Police relating to cases of child sex abuse. It has been four long years since Dassi Erlich began her public campaign to bring Leifer back, joining forces with her sisters, Nicole and Elly, to tell their story and to enlist the support of the Australian Jewish community, the wider public, our parliament and our government. In that time, the case of Malka Leifer’s extradition has had 63 court hearings, and not one of them has been about the extradition. The actual extradition process hasn’t yet begun. They’ve been about her fitness to appear before an extradition process.
It is known that sexual assault victims face a significant dilemma when they are forced to decide whether to come forward. It’s a very hard thing to go public. It’s a very hard thing to tell your story. If you are a victim, having other people know what you’ve been through is probably the last thing that you would want. It is to be forced to relive your trauma under the glare of the public, of your family and of your friends, and yet that is what these sisters did. They spoke out not just for themselves but so that the culture that had infected our institutions would be confronted.
The shocking secrets of the past were exposed by our Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, courageously set up by Julia Gillard. The results were horrifying and overdue. It was found that, in the Yeshiva schools in Melbourne and in Sydney’s Orthodox Jewish communities, rabbis had been forbidding the reporting of child sexual abuse to the authorities. It was revealed that victims and those who stood by them were ignored. It is important to acknowledge the work that one such victim, Manny Waks, did in going public at this stage. Just like for Dassi, Nicole and Elly, the choice of coming out publicly meant choosing to leave behind everything that these young people had known. Drastic change was necessary.
The bravery and courage Dassi, Nicole and Elly have shown is remarkable. They’ve spoken out for not just themselves but all other victims at the Adass Israel girls school and for all child sexual abuse victims. Their campaign has not just enlisted the member for Wentworth and I; they have met with former Prime Minister Turnbull, Prime Minister Morrison, former opposition leader Mr Shorten, opposition leader Mr Albanese, the Treasurer, the deputy opposition leader, the Premier of Victoria and several members of the Israeli parliament. I also pay tribute to former Premier of Victoria Ted Baillieu. Ted has been an enormous support for the sisters and has helped elevate their case from the very beginning.
They, our sisters, have made immense progress in alerting not just Australia’s attention but Israel’s. Only a few short years ago, this matter was virtually unheard of in Israel. Today, this story is a headline not just in the Australian and the Israeli press; it makes international headlines on a regular basis. Make no mistake: if justice is allowed to run its course, it will be because of the inspiring pursuit by three brave women. But, despite all that progress, we are here today because the wheels of justice are turning too slowly. In fact, the wheels of justice have been corrupted. That is not just our opinion here in Australia; that is the opinion of the Israeli police.
Israeli police have rearrested Malka Leifer, accusing her of faking mental illness. Israeli police are accusing Yaakov Litzman, formerly the deputy health minister in the Israeli government, of corruptly abusing his position to protect Malka Leifer. Israeli police are arguing that Litzman pressured Jerusalem’s district psychiatrist, Jacob Charnes, whom he appointed, to declare Leifer unfit to stand trial. Under scrutiny from police, Charnes backflipped and then backflipped again. Charnes has now been stood aside from the case, and a new psychiatric panel has come to the unsurprising conclusion that Malka Leifer is fit to stand trial. Yet still the delays continue.
We still have no idea if or when Malka Leifer will ever board a plane to Melbourne. And Yaakov Litzman is no longer the deputy health minister; he is now the health minister of Israel, promoted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There is an ancient concept in Judaism called mesira. It is said that a Jewish person shouldn’t hand over another Jew to authorities. It is the warped justification of many of Leifer’s supporters. But I say to anyone here in Australia or in Israel: anyone who is assisting further delays is choosing to help an adult evade consequences after they robbed children of innocence and dignity. Anyone who is helping Leifer should be held to account as well.
This motion is a reminder to Prime Minister Netanyahu that Australia demands and will continue to demand justice. Australia and Israel are close friends. We share a bond that predates the existence of the modern Jewish state. Australia was the first nation to vote in favour of the establishment of Israel at the United Nations. Former Labor foreign minister Doc Evatt was instrumental in arguing the case for the United Nations to resolve for its establishment. Today our nations enjoy warm ties and great friendship. But on this issue our friends have let us down.
Two years ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu visited Australia. It was a historic visit: for the first time, a sitting Israeli Prime Minister had come to this country. Prime Minister Netanyahu said: ‘Israel has no better friend than Australia and Australia has no better friend than Israel.’ But to quote my friend Jeremy Leibler, President of the Zionist Federation of Australia, in an open letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, ‘Friendship must go both ways.’ And right now our friends are not doing right by us. Australia does stand up for Israel, and right now we need Israel to stand up for us. This is not merely about what is right for us or for Israel; this is about what’s right for three sisters and countless others who deserve justice. This is about what’s right for every victim of abuse in Australia and Israel and all over the world. The Australian Jewish community is united. The Australian parliament is united. The Australian public is united. We are asking our friends a very simple request: do what is right; do what is just; end this farce, and bring Leifer back.