Ex-Principal of Australian Girls’ School Sentenced to 15 Years for Abuse

The former principal of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls’ school in Australia was sentenced Thursday to 15 years in jail for sexually abusing two students more than a decade ago.

The sentencing, in a Melbourne court, concluded a yearslong fight for justice for her accusers and a case whose protracted extradition battle strained relations between Australia and Israel and caused an Israeli lawmaker to resign.

In April, a jury found the principal, Malka Leifer, guilty of 18 counts of sexual abuse, including rape, and sexual penetration and indecent assault of a 16- or 17-year-old. She was acquitted on nine charges, including rape and indecent assault.

The charges, to which Ms. Leifer pleaded not guilty, spanned from 2003 to 2007, when she was principal of the Adass Israel School in Melbourne. Prosecutors said that the sexual abuse, which occurred at the school, on school camping trips and at Ms. Leifer’s house, began when the girls were students and continued when they became student teachers.

The accusations were brought by three sisters. The guilty verdicts related to two of the sisters, Dassi Erlich, 35, and Elly Sapper, 34. The not guilty verdicts related to Ms. Erlich and the third sister, Nicole Meyer, 37.

In handing down the sentence, Judge Mark Gamble said that Ms. Leifer had engaged in “predatory behavior” against Ms. Erlich and Ms. Sapper and used her position of authority and influence in the local Jewish community to enable her abuse. She had shown “no remorse,” he said.

From left, Dassi Erlich, Elly Sapper and Nicole Meyer in Melbourne, on Thursday.Credit…Joel Carrett/EPA, via Shutterstock

The sentence, for which Ms. Leifer would be eligible for parole after 11 ½ years, would count the five years or so she has already spent in custody in Israel and Australia as time served, he said. That makes Ms. Leifer eligible for parole in June 2029.

Ms. Leifer, 56, fled to Israel when allegations against her first came to light in 2008. She was arrested there in 2014 at Australia’s request. The three sisters campaigned for her to be extradited to Australia, but the process was delayed several times after she claimed to have mental health difficulties, and was found by Israeli psychiatrists to be unfit to stand trial.

An investigation by Israeli police concluded that she was faking her mental distress, and in 2020 an Israeli court ruled that she was eligible for extradition. She was returned to Australia the following year and stood trial in 2022.

Last year, an Israeli lawmaker, Yaakov Litzman, resigned from Parliament and was sentenced to an eight-month suspended jail sentence over accusations that he had used his position to pressure psychiatrists to deem Ms. Leifer unfit to stand trial.

On Thursday, local news media reported that Ms. Leifer, who watched the sentencing virtually from a Melbourne women’s prison, shed a tear as the sentence was read out.

Outside court, the three sisters celebrated the sentence, which Ms. Sapper said “recognizes the harm and pain that Malka Leifer caused each one of us to suffer over so many years.”

“This has been one of the most traumatizing, destabilizing and awful, painful paths to justice,” Ms. Erlich said, “but today really marks the end of this chapter of our lives and opens the chapter to us healing.”

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