Drawn-out sex crimes case rattles Israel-Australia ties

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FILE - This Feb. 27, 2018 file photo, Australian Malka Leifer, center, is brought to a courtroom in Jerusalem. Leifer is wanted in Australia for 74 charges of sexual assault and the country's request for her extradition has been delayed for years. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean, File)

JERUSALEM – Nicole Meyer endured years of sexual abuse allegedly at the hands of her former school principal. She’s had to watch as her alleged abuser fled her residence in Australia for Israel, evaded justice for years and is now undergoing a protracted extradition process that critics have deemed a farce.

The lengthy, Kafkaesque legal saga over the sex crimes suspect’s fate has not only agonized Meyer but is testing the relationship between Israel and one of its closest allies, Australia. Malka Leifer’s case is still far from resolved and even Australia’s pro-Israel Jewish community is losing patience.

"When time and time and time again the process is just not moving forward, it's increasingly more difficult," said Meyer, 34, who lives in Melbourne. "Israel has an obligation to do the right thing."

Meyer and two of her sisters allege Leifer abused them while they were students at an ultra-Orthodox school in Melbourne, and there are said to be other victims. In 2008, as the allegations surfaced, the Israeli-born Leifer, a trusted teacher and school principal in an insular religious community, left her position at the school suddenly and returned to Israel, where she has lived since.

The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Meyer has done.

In Australia, Leifer now faces 74 charges of sexual assault related to accusations brought forward by the three sisters. A judge in a civil suit against Leifer, 53, and the Adass Israel school where she taught, awarded Meyer's sister more than $700,000 in damages. Meyer and another sister settled out of court.

But in Israel, justice has been slow. Critics say the legal proceedings have been marred by needless delays and laughable hiccups and have even roped in a government minister in what has embarrassed the country in front of its stalwart ally.

The legal quagmire has driven a wedge between Israel and Australia, a country the Jewish state relies upon for diplomatic support against what it views as anti-Israel sentiment in international organizations. The Leifer case repeatedly comes up in discussions between the countries’ leaders as well as in debates in Australia’s parliament. Its twists and turns have exasperated some lawmakers.