Israeli police: ‘Charge Litzman’

Yaakov Litzman in November 2017. Photo: EPA/GALI TIBBON

ISRAEL’S health chief should face charges for allegedly interfering with the Malka Leifer case, Israeli police concluded this week.

For years, alleged victims of Leifer have suspected that foul play at the top of the Israeli establishment was working in her favour, preventing her extradition to Australia, where she faces 74 charges of child sexual abuse. 

Rumours and investigative reporting pointed the finger at Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman as the suspected protector of the former Adass Israel school principal, who has been accused of faking a mental illness to avoid justice.

With this week’s dramatic police announcement, it became clear that officers don’t only share the suspicions, but also believe that there is enough evidence to indict him on fraud and breach of trust.

Dassi Erlich, one of Leifer’s alleged victims, hailed the announcement as “one more step to achieving justice”, adding she was “excited, relieved and encouraged going forward”.

Child abuse advocate Manny Waks said it was “a much welcome development in this prolonged, sordid case. Those of us who have been following this case closely over the years have always wondered how it reached this level of farce – there have been over 50 court hearings, with no end in sight”.

Reiterating the Zionist Federation of Australia’s (ZFA) call for Litzman to step down while investigations are underway, ZFA president Jeremy Leibler said, “This is a very welcome step forward in a frustratingly long and drawn out process.”

Echoing the sentiment, Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) executive director Colin Rubenstein said, “AIJAC welcomes this latest development and trusts it will lead to Leifer’s swift extradition back to Australia to face justice.”  

Litzman’s office, meanwhile, sent a statement to The AJN claiming that the Deputy Minister has always worked “with absolute transparency and according to the law”. It said that his innocence will be proved. 

The police statement said that, in the Leifer case, there are concerns that Litzman tried to “improperly influence the opinion of a number of Health Ministry psychiatrists”. Their opinions are all-important in the case, for if they conclude that she is too unwell to face trial and the judge accepts this, proceedings can be put on hold – as they were on one occasion – or halted altogether. 

Since the police announcement, the Walla news site has given what it says is a glimpse into the case. It reported that a state psychiatrist who concluded in 2015 that Leifer was fit to stand trial, was then contacted by Litzman, and within a few months made a U-turn. Walla reported that one state psychiatrist told police: “What do you want from me? I’m a clerk. A senior minister sits in front of me, I know exactly what my place is and what his place is, and what’s required of me.” 

As well as focusing on the Leifer case, police also concluded that Litzman could face charges for intervening to prevent the food business of an associate closing down for hygiene violations, and intervening to help prisoners, some of them convicted sex offenders.

United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni said he has “no doubt” that the allegations are false, and the other Charedi party, Shas, said that the “faithful” public figure is sure to be proved innocent. 

Now that police have completed their investigation, legal authorities will start considering whether to recommend indictment, which could take anything from weeks to years. 

Meanwhile, a question mark hangs over Litzman’s future. While ministers can stay in office through indictment, according to News 13 the Attorney-General’s office is already considering whether Litzman can stay in his job if people working under him at the Health Ministry become important witnesses for the prosecution.

NATHAN JEFFAY