News Corp Australia Network
By Ellen Whinnett
SCHOOLTEACHER Malka Leifer, accused of sexually abusing students in Australia, was arrested by Israeli police after they infiltrated her secretive religious community and
planted an undercover officer in her synagogue.
Ms Leifer’s 10 years of freedom ended on February 12 when she was dragged screaming from her home in Emmanuel, a remote ultra-orthodox Jewish settlement in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.
Police finally swooped after Jewish community activists handed them secret video recordings of Ms Leifer shopping, catching the bus, chatting on the phone and going to the post office.
The material gathered in the surveillance appears to contrast with Ms Leifer’s claims that she could not be extradited to Australia because her mental illness was so severe she was virtually housebound and non-communicative.
Sexual abuse advocacy group Jewish Community Watch funded a team of private investigators who photographed Ms Leifer apparently living a normal life with her husband and several of her five children in Emmanuel.
She was attending synagogue, hosting Shabbat dinners and taking part in community life.
Confronted with this evidence, the Israeli police Special Investigations Unit went undercover and infiltrated the notoriously-closed community.
One policeman dressed in the distinctive suit, large black hat and white shirt worn by ultraorthodox men and attended synagogue at Emmanuel to observe Ms Leifer’s interactions on the Shabbat.
He cast aside strict religious rules by phoning the results of his investigations through to superiors from the bathroom of the synagogue on the Shabbat, Judaism’s rest day.
The presence of a female officer also infiltrated the community during the month-long investigation in December and January.
Police have now accused Ms Leifer of faking the mental illness which for 10 years has allowed her to dodge extradition to Australia to face 74 accusations of sexually abusing female students at the Adass Israel School in Elsternwick in suburban Melbourne, where she had been principal between 2003 and 2008.
Ms Leifer fled to Israel in 2008, the day the accusations were made. Israeli courts have consistently agreed with the findings of psychiatrists that she was too mentally unwell to be extradited.
In her court appearance this week she shook visibly and clawed at her face and head as the court decided to detain her until next Wednesday in a secure mental health facility to determine whether she was well enough to face extradition to Australia and to decide whether she was actually mentally ill.
A spokesman for Jewish Community Watch told News Corp they had been inspired by the courage of Melbourne woman Dassi Erlich, one of Ms Leifer’s alleged victims, and admired her years-long campaign for justice.
After meeting Ms Erlich, they decided to fund a covert operation into Ms Leifer’s life in Emmanuel.
“We put together a team that surveilled Malka Leifer for a period of time,” the spokesman said.
“She has a very normal, typical social life, very active, travelling long distances, socially meeting with people.
Ms Leifer has also been charged with domestic offences in Israel of interfering with a court process, obstruction of justice and interfering with evidence.
Pictures by Franck Bessiere, additional reporting Shakked Auerbach
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