Australian and Israeli leaders discuss extradition wrangle

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s prime minister and Israel’s president on Wednesday discussed an extradition request for a former school principal whose alleged abuse of Australian school girls has cast a shadow over the Israeli leader’s visit.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and President Reuven Rivlin discussed their “strong commitment to seeing justice” in the case of the former principal Malka Leifer during a meeting at Parliament House, officials said.

Leifer has been fighting extradition from Israel for six years and the legal wrangle to bring her before an Australian court has caused a diplomatic strain between the allies.

Rivlin has been criticized for declining an invitation to meet three alleged victims during his visit this week to the Australian city of Melbourne where Leifer was the principal of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school until 2008.

The three siblings who allege they were abused — Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper — have been at the center of public campaign to bring Leifer before an Australian court.

The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual abuse, but the sisters have spoken publicly about their allegations.

“We did not wish to ask you to interfere with the judicial process, only that you use your authority to ensure this case ends in a timely manner,” Dassi wrote in a letter to Rivlin through the Israeli Embassy in Australia after the president declined to meet the siblings.

“Sadly, the president has underestimated the importance of this case to the Jewish and wider Australian community and the supportive encouragement that such a meeting would produce,” she added.

Manny Waks, Melbourne-based chief executive of Kol v’Oz, a Jewish organization that combats child sex abuse, said it was “regrettable” the president could not find time to meet the sisters while in Melbourne.

“It seems President Rivlin has his priorities wrong on this trip,” Waks told The Australian newspaper.

Neither Morrison nor Rivlin mentioned the case during brief public comments they made in Canberra before their bilateral meeting.

Morrison praised the “stridency of the judiciary” in Israel as one of the “great principles and values that underpin freedom” for which Israel stands.

Rivlin described Australia as a “beacon” that helped the world understand Israel’s position. He praised Australia’s decision in December to oppose an International Criminal Court investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.

Dozens of pro-Palestinians demonstrators rallied outside Parliament House before the meeting carrying signs including: “Israel is not above the law.”

On Leifer, Rivlin told Australian Jewish News in a recent interview that he was “confident that Israel does not allow those who have committed crimes to avoid justice.”

“I understand how painful and difficult the case of Malka Leifer is for the Australian Jewish community and for Australians generally,” he said.

“The professional opinion of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice and the State Prosecutor’s Office is that the extradition should be carried out as soon as possible and are doing everything possible to expedite it,” he added.

Australia requested Leifer's extradition in 2014 on 74 charges of child sex abuse and more than 60 Israeli court hearings have followed.

The Jerusalem District Court last month granted Leifer’s attorneys' request to review a psychiatrists' ruling that she is fit to stand trial for extradition.

Opposition lawmaker Josh Burns, who represents the area where the sisters went to school, also used a meeting with Rivlin on Wednesday raise the case, Burns’ office said.

Burns and government lawmaker Dave Sharma introduced a motion to Parliament two weeks ago demanding Israel immediately extradite Leifer.

A date for a vote on the motion has yet to be set, but it is expected to be carried with the major parties’ support.

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