Ayelet Shaked
Ayelet Shaked Flash 90

Associates of Malka Leifer, the principal of a haredi girls’ school in Australia who fled to Israel after she was charged with sexual abuse of dozens of students, hired a media consultant to prepare a campaign to prevent her extradition, the Yediot Aharonot newspaper reports in its Wednesday edition.

According to the report, the campaign is aimed at slandering Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who would be the official in charge signing the extradition request.

Leifer fled to Israel in 2008 amid allegations that she had sexually abused students. She is wanted on 74 charges of child sexual abuse in Melbourne.

Last July she lost an appeal for release to house arrest during extradition proceedings. She had previously missed several court appearances by saying she was feeling unwell. She was arrested in February after an undercover investigation found that she lived a normal life and was mentally fit to face extradition proceedings.

Last August, Jerusalem’s District Psychiatrist submitted two reports asserting that Leifer is fit to face a hearing despite her longstanding claim that she suffers from crippling anxiety issues that would prevent her from being tried.

According to Yediot Aharonot, as the legal process against Leifer has been going on, various parties, including wealthy individuals, have come together in order to thwart the extradition process. Among other things, they hired public relations man Ronen Tzur, who was supposed to promote the Leifer family’s campaign against what they call "the extradition of the 51-year-old grandmother to the Australian authorities.”

Organizers of the campaign, the newspaper said, held several discussions on the course of action until deciding on several steps. One of those steps, according to the report, was a campaign directed at Shaked. In the presentation detailing the plan, which was called "the Rotten Almond" (Shaked is the Hebrew word for almond -ed.) it was written, among other things, "Since she took office, the justice minister has a clear agenda - every suspect suspected of committing an offense is innocent until proven guilty... provided you are close to her."

The presentation also included “instructions” on how to act against Shaked: "We will expose the despicable conduct of Minister Shaked in the Leifer case, the strange connection between the minister and wealthy people and the government in Australia, and the shattering failures of the judicial system."

The creators of the campaign also intended to claim that the justice minister is close to the judges discussing the Leifer case. One of the planned actions was to submit a petition to the Supreme Court through a senior criminal lawyer and to claim that Shaked was blatantly interfering in the legal process.

In the meantime, according to Yediot Aharonot, the campaign has not been implemented, and it is unclear whether it was decided to postpone it to a later date or cancel it altogether.

Rosenbaum Communications, a subsidiary of Ronen Tzur, said in response to the report, "As part of our work, various ideas are raised on how to deal with the client, and naturally, not all of them pass the brainstorming stage. Beyond that, we do not usually talk about our customers, and we will act that way in this case as well."

The office of Minister Shaked said, “The Minister of Justice will not be deterred by any tendentious and false campaign against her. Shaked will exercise her authority if necessary and does not intend to give in to threats. Should the court rule that Malka Leifer is to be extradited to Australia, Shaked will not hesitate to act to extradite her in order to exhaust the full extent of the law."

The Leifer family said in response, "As we look into the affair, there are more and more question marks about these and other factors that should bother the general public in Israel. As Malka's family, we are obligated to ask the difficult questions and we ask how is it possible that a grandmother has been in jail for nine months, with her health deteriorating from day to day, without being interrogated even once. This is an inconceivable story that is not happening in Turkey or Iran, but in Israel in 2018."