By Kate Shuttleworth (The Age)
July 8, 2016
The former principal of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls' school in Melbourne, who fled the country after allegedly sexually abusing her students, has returned to a conservative, religious settlement in Israel a free woman, much to the outrage of her new neighbours.
Malka Leifer, who is Israeli, was released from two years' house arrest in the ultra-Orthodox Israeli city of Bnei Brak in early June this year and has since moved back to a 3700-strong Jewish community in the West Bank settlement of Immanuel, south-west of Nablus.
Ms Leifer, the former principal of the Adass Israel School in Elsternwick, is wanted by Victoria Police on 74 counts of sexual assault and rape involving 10 girls at the school from 2003.
She fled to Israel with her family in the middle of the night, allegedly with the help of senior members of Melbourne's secretive Adass community, after accusations of sexual abuse were first raised against her in 2008.
In 2014, Ms Leifer was arrested by Israeli police at the request of Australian authorities. However, she has successfully managed to evade 10 extradition proceedings, with her lawyers consistently arguing she is unwell and unfit to face court.
Her freedom came as a member of the Adass community in Melbourne spoke for the first time about the woman considered to be a "master manipulator".
On the condition of anonymity, he denied Adass members were continuing to help Ms Leifer, saying there had been painful lessons for the community.
"She's considered the scum of the earth in this community - it's a shock to everyone," he said.
"They brought her out from Israel for a few years to teach, a lot of people didn't like her. I didn't have a lot to do with her, but I have relatives who hate her guts.
"When she came here, she'd never been to Australia, had no connection with the place.
"She had a very conservative Orthodox outer appearance, but inside she was rotten to the core, and the sad part of this is she was putting on a whole show. It was devastating to the community, we felt cheated and all felt like victims, we felt betrayed."
A member of the conservative Immanuel settlement in Israel also spoke to Fairfax Media on the condition of anonymity.
She first met Ms Leifer in 2013, a year before the principal's arrest.
"I sell food out of the yishuv [settlement] and my return address says Immanuel, so my customers would ask me if I was aware that Leifer lived in my city. I said no, tell me more and that's how I found out," the woman said.
"I got really weird vibes from her when I first met her, I didn't know why. I knew I had to stay away from her for some reason, and then I found out what her background was."
She was not sure when Leifer first moved to Immanuel, but said it was before 2012.
Most of the residents in Immanuel are ultra-orthodox, very conservative, survive on low incomes and rent their homes. Many Israeli banks will not allow mortgages for properties in settlements that sit on the contested land of the West Bank and are deemed illegal under international law.
A neighbour living in the same building as Ms Leifer noticed she had returned to Immanuel about three weeks ago. The woman said the community also had concerns for the former principal's own children.
She said Ms Leifer's children were often left at home alone.
"She's been taking the bus most days this week with her teenage daughter, who is in ninth or 10th grade. They seem to have a very unhealthy, dependency [sic] relationship, which is not very surprising if you know the back story," the neighbour said.
According to members of the Immanuel community, Ms Leifer's husband - a rabbi - and their children had been living in the house while Ms Leifer was under house arrest in Beni Brak.
"Her husband is known for being mentally unstable and they are both known for being abusive," the neighbour said.
"The kids have been there the entire time Leifer has been [under house arrest], but the husband's presence has been sketchy. I don't know if it means he was here every few days, or just at night. Everyone here also knows that he's also very verbally abusive.
"I don't want her here, others don't want her here, I want her out of here."
In Immanuel, few have access to the internet and Ms Leifer's neighbour said many do not know the full extent of the allegations against her.
"It's terrible. The problem is a lot of the people in the yishuv don't have internet so they don't know," she said.
"Everyone knows that they have to be careful, but with someone with such a strong history they shouldn't be living here. They shouldn't be living in a building filled with kids. Here everyone lets their kids roam free range - that's how it is."
The woman said she planned to flag it with the head rabbi and place notices around Immanuel informing people.
"I don't know how the community can legally not let her stay," she added.
Manny Waks, an Australian-Israeli victim advocate who came out about his own abuse in a Melbourne Jewish school, said he hoped members of Immanuel were properly briefed on Ms Leifer's background.
"In this case, there are genuine concerns for the safety of the children in the community and for her own children. The local community needs to be aware of the allegations so that measures can be put in place to protect their children."
A committee is due to assess Ms Leifer's fitness to stand trial in five months' time. Last month the Jerusalem District Court ruled Ms Leifer's treatment could go on for up to 10 years, if the psychiatrist kept deeming her unfit to stand trial.
In the meantime, the former principal will continue to live freely inside the Immanuel settlement.