JERUSALEM — An Israeli court on Monday approved the extradition of a former teacher wanted in Australia on charges of child sex abuse, potentially paving the way for her to stand trial after a six-year legal battle.
Malka Leifer, a former educator who is accused of sexually abusing several former students, has been fighting extradition from Israel since 2014. Leifer maintains her innocence and the battle surrounding her extradition has strained relations between Israel and Australia.
Earlier this month, Israel's Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Leifer's attorney over a Jerusalem court's ruling that she was mentally fit to stand trial, saying it was "putting an end to the saga that has been drawn out for many years."
On Monday, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that Leifer could be extradited to Australia to stand trial for 74 charges of child sex abuse. The formal extradition now requires an order by Israel's justice minister.
Leifer’s attorneys said they would appeal an extradition order to Israel’s Supreme Court, saying it would be a "political decision."
"For those who think that this chapter is now closed, I’m sorry, the process will still last quite a few months more," said Nick Kaufman, one of Leifer’s defence lawyers.
Critics, including Leifer’s alleged victims, have accused Israeli authorities of dragging out the case for far too long.
State prosecutor Avital Ribner Oron said Leifer had made "every effort to avoid and delay the extradition proceedings" but that "today the court put an end to those efforts and declared her extraditable to Australia."
The ruling "was an important decision for the rule of law, for international co-operation, and most importantly, to the victims of Malka Leifer’s crimes," Oron said.
In Australia, parliament member Josh Burns praised the court ruling.
"Justice has taken far too long. But finally, justice has won the day," Burn said. "And while we await further appeals, we call on the Israeli judicial system to deal with them as quickly as possible and for the justice minister to give the extradition the final sign off without any further delays."
Earlier this year an Israeli psychiatric panel determined Leifer had lied about suffering a mental condition that made her unfit to stand trial. As a result of the findings, Israel's Justice Ministry said it would move to expedite her extradition.
Three sisters — Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper — have accused Leifer of abusing them while they were students at a Melbourne ultra-Orthodox school. There are said to be other victims.
"This is a victory for justice! A victory not just for us, but for all survivors. Exhaling years of holding our breath!" Erlich wrote on Facebook following the court's decision.
The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual abuse, but the sisters have spoken publicly about their allegations against Leifer.
As accusations surfaced in 2008, Israeli-born Leifer left the school and returned to Israel, where she has lived since.
Manny Waks, the head of Kol v’Oz, a Jewish group that combats child sex abuse and that has been representing the three sisters, said Monday's ruling marked "a great day for justice."
"It is a day which at times seemed like it would never arrive, but we are thrilled that it is finally here," Waks said. "It has taken 71 court hearings to get to this point. It has been Israel’s shame."
Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.