AN Australian doctor first raised alarm bells over the conduct of Israel’s Deputy Health Minister and Jerusalem’s district psychiatrist in the Malka Leifer case almost a year ago.
Amid claims this week that Rabbi Yaakov Litzman and Dr Jacob Charnes falsified psychiatric assessments to help the former Adass Israel principal evade extradition, The AJN can reveal that Dr Miriam Kuttner wrote to the Israeli Medical Association in March 2018 to express her concerns.
In her letter, the president of the Australian Jewish Medical Federation wrote that “the intervention of the [Deputy] Health Minister, Rabbi Yaakov Litzman has sinister undertones in this case and has led to unethical behaviour on the part of Dr Yaakov [Jacob] Charnes”.
Kuttner sensed something was amiss when doctors at the Eitanim Hospital found Leifer fit to stand trial, but the assessment was not signed by Charnes in time for the court hearing.
“At the time of writing the letter I had a sense that there was more going on, but I didn’t realise how big this was,” Kuttner told The AJN this week.
“I considered it unethical behaviour for a psychiatrist to interfere in a court case by not signing a report, because we have an ethical duty to speak the truth and not pander to what people want.”
Calling for Charnes to be “brought before the Ethics Committee to explain his action”, Kuttner wrote that she found it “deeply disturbing to observe this distortion of justice in Israel”.
She also noted in the letter that the recent Royal Commission in Australia found that “both religious and secular institutions are more concerned about protecting their reputations than protecting vulnerable children”.
She added, “We hope that the medical community values ethical behaviour over political expediency.”
More than 11 months after the letter was sent, both Rabbi Litzman and Charnes are facing scrutiny from the Israeli National Fraud Investigation Unit for allegedly falsifying medical reports to help Leifer evade extradition to Australia where she faces charges on 74 counts of child sexual abuse.
Telling The AJN this week that Leifer’s extradition should have been straightforward, Kuttner said, “She is playing the system and has co-opted doctors and others to assist her to subvert justice.”
She went further when speaking about Rabbi Litzman, alleging that “he prioritises religion over the safety of children and that’s not my priority, or one that we would expect from Israel”.
“I’m a proud Jew and a proud Zionist,” said Kuttner, “and it’s disheartening when the legal system is protecting someone like her with people in power pulling the strings.”
Australia’s former ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma, who was stationed in Israel when Leifer was first arrested, said that he still thinks Leifer will be extradited.
“It’s taking longer than expected, but I still do believe that it will happen,” Sharma said.
In the latest court hearing on Monday night, Leifer was refused bail by the judge.
There are three further hearings expected in March to determine if she is fit for extradition.