Malka Leifer
Malka Leifer, a former Australian school principal who is wanted in Australia on suspicion of sexually abusing students, walks in the corridor of the Jerusalem District Court accompanied by Israeli Prison Service guards, in Jerusalem February 14, 2018. Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

A senior Israeli rabbi has withdrawn his support for Malka Leifer, a former Melbourne school principal accused of multiple child sexual abuse, following public outrage. Rabbi Yitzchak Grossman previously offered to take care of Leifer if she was released from custody and granted house arrest.

Leifer, the former principal of the ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel school in Victoria, had been re-arrested in her native Israel earlier this year after she allegedly faked mental illness to avoid extradition to Australia. She is being accused of 74 rape and child sexual abuse charges.

She fled to Israel in 2008 after multiple female students accused her of sexual abuse. Australia filed an extradition request for her, and in 2014, she was arrested. However, she avoided extradition after court-appointed psychiatrists claimed she was too mentally ill to attend hearings. But last year, she was photographed attending a religious festival in Meron. Police then concluded that she faked mental illness. She was arrested again in February and is now trying to avoid extradition.

Last week, the Jerusalem district court said Leifer could be released from police custody after Grossman suggested that she should be released into home detention instead. He offered to look after her if the court granted her house arrest. He told the court that prison was “humiliating” for Leifer.

Alleged victim Dassi Erlich, who is in Melbourne, said it was a betrayal that Grossman thought Leifer’s humiliation can beat the feelings of the students she allegedly abused. “As a religious person myself, I find it quite a betrayal,” she was quoted by the ABC as saying.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said that Leifer should be brought back to the country to face the law. “Anything less than that is a betrayal of every single victim who alleges that she’s behaved in an abhorrent way,” he said.

Following the outcry, Grossman has decided to withdraw his support for Leifer, realising that his interference had been interpreted as supporting Leifer to avoid trial. “Last night, I notified the courts that I am completely withdrawing my involvement in the case of Malka Leifer, and my recommendation that she be placed under house arrest with my supervision,” he said in a statement on Monday.

Leifer was granted home detention last week but she remains in custody after the prosecution has appealed.