‘Welcome but overdue’: Ex-ambassador says Leifer decision to heal Israel ties

An Israeli court’s decision that accused paedophile Malka Leifer is fit to face trial is a landmark moment for the relationship between Israel and Australia, according to former ambassador to Israel and Liberal MP Dave Sharma.

The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday rejected the former Melbourne teacher’s claims she was mentally unfit to stand trial and ordered that extradition proceedings should resume.

Ms Leifer, 52, faces 74 charges of sexually assaulting female students during her time at the ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel school in Elsternwick in Melbourne’s south-east.

Mr Sharma, Australia’s ambassador to Israel from 2013 to 2017 and now Liberal MP for Wentworth, said the trial had been a consistent sticking point in the relationship between the two countries since Australia first lodged an extradition request for Ms Leifer in 2014.

Tuesday marked the trial’s 67th hearing, which reached what Mr Sharma called “only the end of the beginning”.

Mr Sharma said in the final years of his ambassadorship he “realised this trial was going off the rails”.

“That’s when we started to raise it at a political level in Australia,” he told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

“I sent embassy staff to every court hearing to show we were watching it, we were speaking out more to the media.

Read the article by Michael Fowler, Rachel Eddie and Max Koslowski in The Age.