Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Thursday that he has decided to indict Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party for obstruction of justice and breach of trust, pending a hearing.
The pending charges relate to suspicions that Litzman used his former position as deputy health minister to prevent the extradition to Australia of Malka Leifer, a former principal of an Orthodox girls school in Melbourne accused of sexually assaulting minors (Leifer was recently extradited after a yearslong saga); and to prevent the closure of a deli cited for health violations.
Mandelblit won’t indict Litzman for bribery, a charge police had also recommended.
Mandelblit said in a statement that Litzman, in both cases, “allegedly used his status and power to promote the interests of private individuals, allegedly using his government power for improper reasons and against the interests of those for whom he was responsible as deputy minister of health.”
Litzman, like all public officials facing indictment, will be given the chance to persuade the Attorney General not to press charges in a hearing likely to take place within the coming months.
Responding to the announcement, Litzman’s office issued a statement saying, “We believe in Minister Litzman’s full innocence,” and welcoming Mandelblit’s decision not to include a bribery charge.
The statement said Litzman was readying for the hearing and expressed hope that “with God’s help” he won’t ultimately be charged.
In the Leifer case, Litzman is accused of pressuring employees in the Health Ministry to alter the conclusions of psychiatric evaluations that had deemed Leifer fit for extradition.
Leifer was eventually extradited to Australia in January, nearly 13 years after she fled Melbourne as allegations against her were coming to light and after a six-year legal process, during which a court determined that she had feigned mental illness in order to avoid facing justice.
The prolonged nature of Leifer’s extradition shook Australia’s Jewish community, which rarely criticizes the Israeli government, but found itself doing just that as leadership became increasingly taken aback by the repeated nature of delays in the case.
The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council issued a statement Friday welcoming Mandelblit’s decision.
“The alleged conduct could have denied justice to victims of an alleged very serious and debilitating crime, so it’s important that, at the very least, it is thoroughly scrutinized through the Israeli court system, so justice is done and is seen to be done,” said AIJAC executive director Colin Rubenstein.
In a second case, Litzman is suspected of influencing officials in the Health Ministry to prevent the closure of a food business whose owner he is close to — a closure that had been ordered due to “serious sanitary issues that led to the sickness of a number of people who ate from its products,” police said in 2019, recommending a bribery charge in the case.
Elected to the Knesset in 1999, Litzman, who currently serves as housing and construction minister, was the de facto head of the health ministry for over a decade, serving as either deputy or full health minister from 2009 until mid-2020.
In January, Litzman stepped down as chair of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party after 18 years at the helm, with Moshe Gafni taking the lead. Litzman is now the party’s No. 2.
Header: Health minister Yaakov Litzman at a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Prime Ministers office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020.