Malka Leifer's appeal to halt extradition to Australia denied
The extradition appeal of former Melbourne school principal Malka Leifer has been denied, placing her one step closer to being charged on Australian soil.
Judge Nitzan Silman dismissed the appeal in the Haifa District Court in Israel.
Dassi Erlich, one of Leifer's alleged victims, said it was a "staggering conclusion to 74 court hearings".
Ms Erlich, and two of her sisters — Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper — have accused Leifer of abusing them while they were students at a Melbourne ultra-Orthodox school. There are said to be other victims.
Leifer maintains her innocence and the six-year legal battle surrounding her extradition has strained relations between Israel and Australia.
Israeli Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn now needs to sign the extradition order to fly Leifer to Australia.
He said on Twitter he intends to sign the order "without delay".
"After long and tormenting years, the time has come to do justice with Leifer's victims," he wrote.
Leifer is accused of 74 charges of rape and child sex abuse — acts allegedly committed against her students at the Adass Israel School in Melbourne's inner southeast more than a decade ago.
Critics, including Leifer's alleged victims, have accused Israeli authorities of dragging out the legal process for far too long.
In September, a Jerusalem court approved Leifer's extradition to Australia after the country's highest court had upheld a ruling that she was mentally fit to stand trial.
Earlier this year an Israeli psychiatric panel determined that Leifer lied about suffering a mental condition that allegedly made her unfit to stand trial. As a result of the findings, Israel's Justice Ministry said it would move to expedite her extradition to face her charges.
Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter said the decision of the Israel Supreme Court was "welcome news, particularly for alleged victims in Australia".
"The allegations against Ms Leifer are very serious and the Australian Government remains strongly committed to ensuring that justice is served in this case, so that Ms Leifer is extradited to Australia in order to stand trial on the 74 counts of child sexual abuse against her," Mr Porter said in a statement tonight.
He last year travelled to Israel to "make that case" to Israeli authorities, who he thanked for their work.
"Although this latest development is a significant step forward — possibly the most positive steps thus far — in what has been a long process, there are still steps to be undertaken in Israel.
"Nevertheless this is a significant milestone which should provide alleged victims some hope that this part of the process to bring Ms Leifer to justice in Australia is edging closer to a conclusion."
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia welcomes the decision.
"We look forward to the legal system continuing to serve the best interests of a just & fair outcome," she wrote on Twitter, tagging Israeli foreign affairs minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
"The fight for justice has been long and painful," Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews wrote on Twitter.
"But it's now one step closer for these brave young women and their families."
As accusations began surfacing in 2008, Israeli-born Leifer left the school and returned to Israel, where she has lived since.
Her attorney, Nick Kaufman, appeared to acknowledge his client has exhausted her legal options in fighting the extradition but expressed hope that, should she be convicted, she might be able to serve her prison sentence in Israel.
Kaufman said the court noted Leifer's "unique nature of her religious way of life" as an ultra-Orthodox Jew and acknowledged it would "present considerable difficulties for her in an Australian prison."
"Should Malka Leifer be convicted and sentenced to a custodial sentence, we hope that the relevant authorities will accede to a future request that she serve such a sentence in Israel," he said.
– Reported with Associated Press