Outrage over Leifer psychiatrist

Dassi and Manny Waks among the protesters outside court on Wednesday.

There was fury at Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday, after a psychiatrist who has called campaigners for Malka Leifer’s extradition a “lynch mob” was asked for an expert opinion.

Less than three hours before the court hearing, The AJN broke news that the psychiatrist, Brian Trappler, has already claimed that Leifer is innocent. “We were shocked,” said Dassi Erlich outside the court, speaking for herself and her two sisters, all of whom accuse Leifer of sexual abuse.

“He should not be allowed to come in to court and testify when these are his own personal opinions.” said Erlich, arguing that Trappler’s evidence should be thrown out. 

Anger over the choice of psychiatrist was also felt at a demonstration outside the court. Around 80 people gathered, some with banners, to protest against the way the Leifer case is being conducted. Debbie Sinclair, a lawyer who moved to Jerusalem from Melbourne, said that she attended because she is “ashamed” by Israel’s legal system. The crowd included Yigal Sela, who directs the Zionist Federation of Australia’s Israel office, and Jack Green of the Australian Jewish Medical Federation. 

Some protesters chanted for the resignation of Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who is being investigated by police on suspicions that he interfered with the case. “Litzman go home,” they cried. 

In court, Israeli state lawyer Matan Akiva, who is demanding extradition, grilled Trappler on his Facebook posts about the Leifer case, including one in which he suggested that people calling for extradition are breaking religious law. Trappler said that his comments reflected his assessment that Leifer is mentally unwell. 

Akiva also raised a reference to pidyon shvuim, the mitzvah to free captives, that Trappler mentioned during online discussions about Leifer. Akiva asked if the psychiatrist regarded his involvement in the case as pidyon shvuim. He said no, and throughout the hearing maintained that he is a professional engaged in objective assessment. 

Trappler is one of the Leifer family’s chosen psychiatrists to present medical opinions about the former school principal. Leifer’s lawyer Yehuda Fried insisted that Trappler’s posts are irrelevant to the case because they were written in 2017, while he assessed her in 2015. Fried argued that the posts are also irrelevant because his tests are “objective” not “subjective.”

During the hearing, which lasted for three hours, Trappler spoke about Leifer based on his 2015 examination of her, and said that she is schizophrenic, suffers from chronic mental illness, and can’t understand the accusations against her. Afterwards, when Fried was asked why Trappler had been chosen to give an opinion, he said that the psychiatrist has  high-level expertise and “there aren’t many like him in the world, including Israel.” 

Moments after Trappler finished his testimony, there was violence in the court building. Adam Segal, an Australian-Israeli  campaigner for Leifer’s extradition, went to ask him about his Facebook posts,. An altercation ensued between Segal and two men who were accompanying Trappler. It ended with Segal falling to the ground, and saying he was pushed. 

Before the hearing, Segal had questioned Trappler on his involvement in the case. Trappler told him: “When you’re a professional in the medical profession you’re not invested in the outcome, you’re invested in the truth and what’s best for the patient.”

He then told a journalist, “Maybe if I’d known from the get go what I was getting involved in I wouldn’t be here.”