Napthine defends Clark’s welcome to anti-abortion, anti-gay hardliners

Josh Gordon

Robert Clark’s welcome to Melbourne address to a conference organised by a hard-right, anti-gay, anti-abortion group is consistent with the state government’s tourism agenda to attract people to Melbourne, Premier Denis Napthine says.

The Attorney-General will late next month deliver an opening address to the World Congress of Families conference, a controversial group that strongly backs Russian president Vladimir Putin’s laws against “homosexual propaganda”.

The conference, with a speaker list including a who’s who of the conservative hard right, has fuelled fresh controversy for the Napthine government after a report in The Age outlining the group’s global agenda.

Dr Napthine on Wednesday [16 July] played down Mr Clark’s decision to address the event, saying it was “quite common” for the government to have a representative at a variety of events in Melbourne and [it] was partly about promoting the city as a destination for international conferences.


Activist contests his dismissal from army

Noel Towell

One of Australia’s highest-profile anti-gay activists has recruited one of the nation’s busiest anti-Islam campaigners to help him get his job back as an Army Reserve officer.

Bernard Gaynor, sacked by the army over his online comments about gays, Muslims and women, has hired Sydney lawyer Robert Balzola to represent him
in a Federal Court challenge to his sacking, which came into effect on Friday [11 July].

Mr Balzola has been involved in the groups “Concerned Citizens of Canberra” and “Concerned Citizens of Bendigo”, which have campaigned against mosques being opened in the Australian Capital Territory and the Victorian regional city.

The Sydney lawyer and Liberal Party member has also taken part in similar campaigns in Sydney, including the opposition to an Islamic school in Camden, while Mr Gaynor has lent his support to the latest “Concerned Citizens” campaign in Bendigo.

But the team has lost its first legal gambit against Mr Gaynor’s sacking by failing to secure a last-minute injunction on the dismissal.

Federal Court Judge Robert Buchanan has found no need for an emergency injunction and told Mr Gaynor and Mr Balzola to lodge their application to challenge the army’s decision in the usual way.

The former intelligence officer, father of five, and Iraq veteran said he was keen to pursue the case but would make a final decision after more talks with his legal team.

“The Chief of the Defence Force acted to terminate my commission in a biased manner,” Mr Gaynor said. “There’s a whole bunch of reasons why this decision is wrong; what you’ve got is a black-and white case of political discrimination in the Australian Defence Force.”

Mr Gaynor declined to discuss how he teamed up with Mr Balzola.

Mr Gaynor’s dismissal from his Army Reserve position came after Defence Force Chief General David Hurley questioned his ability to up-hold the values of the Australian Army.

“Your public comments demonstrate attitudes that are demeaning and demonstrate intolerance of homosexual persons, transgender persons and women, and are contrary to the . . . cultural change currently being undertaken within the army,” General Hurley wrote in a minute.

Mr Gaynor’s sacking was set in train in December last year, despite the former officer claiming he had been cleared of wrongdoing by two military investigations, and became final at midnight, 11 July.


Attorney-General to speak at hard-line pro-life event

Liberal politicians are headliners at an anti-abortion, anti-gay conference, where an alleged link between abortion and breast cancer is one topic and the crackdown of Russia’s Vladimir Putin on homosexuals will be lauded.

Josh Gordon [and] Heath Aston

State [Victorian] Attorney-General Robert Clark is set to address a hard-line pro-life event in Melbourne organised by a controversial United States-based group dedicated to preventing abortion and the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Mr Clark will deliver a “welcome to Victoria” speech to the World Congress of Families, an event that also features an American doctor promoting a discredited link between abortion and breast cancer, a promoter of Russia’s “crusade” against homosexuality, and representatives from the hard-right Rise Up Australia Party.

The conference, which will take place late next month [August], will be opened and closed by federal Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews, who, according to the flyer for the event, is an international ambassador for the congress.

Mr Andrews will be joined by the congress’s managing director, Larry Jacobs. Dr Jacobs has been a strong supporter of Russian laws banning gay pride demonstrations and “homosexual propaganda”.

In a 2013 interview, he hailed the ban as a “great idea” that was “preventing [gays] from corrupting children”, and praised Russia as the “Christian saviours to the world”.

Angela Lanfranchi, founder of the New Jersey-based Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, will give a talk on “The link between abortion and breast cancer”.

Mr Andrews defended his decision to appear at the event, saying it was related to his portfolio responsibilities. His spokesman said: “The minister accepted an invitation to open this conference because it relates to his portfolio. The choice of speakers is a matter for conference organisers.”

A spokesman for Mr Clark said the Attorney-General was “welcoming an international conference to Melbourne on behalf of the government. Delivering a welcome address does not necessarily imply support for particular speakers or their topics.”

But doctors have expressed concern that a government minister would associate with an event that could add fuel to a debunked theory.

The World Health Organisation, the US National Cancer Institute, Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and health authorities in Victoria and New South Wales all say there is no link between women who choose to terminate pregnancies and those who contract breast cancer. A study of 1.5 million Danish women showed no increased risk of breast cancer as a result of abortion.

The Coalition’s leader in the Senate, Eric Abetz, and Liberal senator Cory Bernardi are listed as supporters of the World Congress of Families event, which will also be addressed by controversial anti-abortion campaigner and Victorian upper house MP Bernie Finn. Mr Finn recently ran into controversy after claiming abortion should not be acceptable in any circumstances, including cases of rape.

Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to decide whether it was appropriate for Mr Andrews to attend at all:
“Tony Abbott . . . should not be letting these backward views cloud good, evidence-based policy.”


The tale of the try-hard jihadist

Caroline Zielinski [and] Lindsay Murdoch

It is difficult to believe that one of Australia’s most wanted religious extremists, Musa Cerantonio, grew up in a big, Catholic Italian family of six in a suburb in Melbourne’s west.

It is equally surprising that the man who supports jihadists once dreamt of becoming a professional football star.

Mr Cerantonio, 29, or, as he was known then, Robert Cerantonio, was a typical teenager who did what adolescents are wont to do: he attended what was then known as Footscray Technical College, he partied, drank alcohol, went on dates with girls and played footy with his mates.

So what happened to turn this otherwise regular teen, who was arrested in the Philippines on Friday [11 July] and faces deportation to Australia, into one of Australia’s most radical preachers?

A family friend, who declined to be named, told The Sunday Age that Mr Cerantonio’s rising infamy as an Islamic preacher was a shock to the family. “I knew that he’d become a Muslim, but not to this extreme,” he said. “To be one of these radicals . . . he’s just off his head,”

The friend, who knew Mr Cerantonio when as a child, said he was a “real fantastic kid” who “could have played professional AFL”.

“The Western Jets wanted him to try out for them when he was about 15 or 16. He was a good looking boy, just a normal kid. I don’t know what

The friend said that once in high school, Mr Cerantonio would “hang out with Muslims”, but that he could not recall him acting unusually. “He was a regular kid who liked girls and going out with friends,”

While Mr Cerantonio’s Italian father and Irish mother have declined to comment on their son’s predicament, the friend told The Sunday Age that all they wished for was to see their son safe and home after years of separation.

A father to at least two young daughters, Mr Cerantonio has been estranged from his family for nearly a decade, the friend said.

The radical preacher, regarded as one of the top propagandists for jihad, recently had his Facebook page shut down for urging Muslims to kill Western leaders and for encouraging young Australians to risk their lives in Syria and Iraq.

He was arrested on the island of Cebu, in the Philippines, early on Friday morning after being pursued by the Australian Federal Police for possible charges under Australia’s Foreign Incursions Act, which prohibits fighting with foreign para-military organisations, including recruiting others.

During a conference detailing his conversion to Islam five years after the event, Mr Cerantonio spoke of his journey from an increasingly faithless Catholic to faithful Muslim, referring to his upbringing as “Catholic by name only”.

“We weren’t very practising, and whilst we were Catholic by name, we didn’t go to church except on Christmas or Easter, or when someone died or was getting married,” he said. “And while I loved all the [Bible] stories, I didn’t have the access to turn that love into religious action.”

Mr Cerantonio, who attended a small Catholic primary school in Footscray before enrolling in the former Footscray Technical College, described his high school as “a very liberal school”, influenced by the politics of socialism. In what Mr Cerantonio described as a “socialist and atheist” atmosphere, the teenager soon began seeking solace in religion.

When Mr Cerantonio was 15, he visited the Vatican to strengthen his faith in Christianity, but was disappointed by what he saw.

“I began to question the role of the Pope in the Catholic Church . . . and saw people praying to a dead body [embalmed body of a Pope].

There was idol worship at the home of my faith . . . and I felt in my heart that this was not right.”

When he returned home, Mr Cerantonio began reading about other religions. With encouragement from his Muslim friends, the teenager’s interest in Islam grew, eventually leading him to convert in 2002, at age 17.

Since then, it is understood, Mr Cerantonio has studied history and communications, as well as being the president of the Islamic Society at Victoria University.


The cults are out there

The cults are out there

They are looked upon as crazy by some, but are their ideas any stranger than established religions? Andrew Masterson reports

Given the evident ideological agreement between Tony Abbott and his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper, it is safe to predict Canberra won’t be rolling out the red carpet anytime soon for a delegation from beyond the solar system.

Harper and his colleagues had to formally consider such a possibility in June. The Canadian government was presented with a request from a group called the International Raelian Movement for a modest plot of land to be set aside for a very special purpose.

The Raelians, founded in 1974 and with chapters in many countries including Australia, wanted the land to be the site of an embassy, a diplomatically immune structure at which a visiting delegation of aliens could safely dock and thence commence negotiations concerning the fate of all humanity.

Harper’s mob knocked them back, possibly following the lead of the Israelis, who nixed a similar proposal a while back.

Not surprisingly, the Australian branch of the Raelians isn’t holding its breath over the prospect of a chunk of Australian Capital Territory real estate.

“I’d say we’d definitely consider an embassy in Australia, but we’ ve only got a reasonably small team here,” said the group’s spokesman, Roy Tyrell.

“The Raelians take their name from their founder, a French gent named Rael who [is] convinced he was a prophet sired by an alien race called the

“The movement is looking all over the planet for a suitable site, and has been in contact with a number of governments. But we have to go back to Israel and give them one more opportunity first. We see the embassy as the Biblical Third Temple.”

The Raelians take their name from their founder, a French gent named Rael who, before he became convinced that he was a prophet sired by an alien race called the Elohim, was a motoring journalist called Claude Vorilhon.

Tyrell estimates there are about 400 Raelians in Australia. They are one of several religious groups which - theological differences notwithstanding - hold that humanity’s salvation will be determined by extraterrestrial beings.

Some of these groups, notably the Scientologists, tend to get a bit cranky when this aspect of their beliefs is pointed out. At least one other ended in tragedy. In 1997, some 38 members of the United States-based Heaven’s Gate cult committed suicide in order to reach the salvation-bringing aliens they held to be waiting for them in a spaceship hidden in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet.

Most, however, including those in Australia, conduct themselves with harmless eccentricity.

A few exist within the broad milieu of New Age belief systems, peddling influence and trinkets at hippy festivals. At least one reflects the more conservative values of mid-century British dottiness.

And then there are the Raelians, who are actively involved in fund-raising and facilitating much-needed medical aid in parts of Africa. For non-Raelians, this activity raises an awkward question. Is humanitarian effort in some way devalued when it is catalysed by a belief system that is, prima facie, absurd?

The oldest of the operating UFO-cults in Australia is the august-sounding Aetherius Society, which was founded in Britain in the opening years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign by a Shropshire gentleman, now deceased, called George King.

King claimed to be in regular receipt of telepathic messages from an entity called Aetherius, who lived on Venus. The alien told him that most of the world’s great religious leaders - Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha and so on - were in fact from outer space, a realm to which they returned upon their earthly deaths.

To this group of well-known leaders, dubbed Cosmic Masters, King and his followers added another, a being known as Mars Sector 6. While notably absent from the world’s holy books, the alien is highly influential in contemporary world affairs. Mars Sector 6 pilots a craft known as Satellite Number 3, which orbits Earth and from time to time instigates a “magnetic period” that, according to the group’s web site, makes “all spiritual actions 3000 times more potent in terms of their benefit to the world as a whole”.

July, by the way, is one of the main magnetic periods on the Aetherian calendar. The Aetherius Society shrank considerably following the death of George King in 1997 and his notable failure to get back in touch thereafter. The group now boasts a single Australian branch, in Brisbane.

The idea of Jesus-as-alien is common to most UFO cults. In the one known as the Ashtar Command, however, he is portrayed less as, say, a benevolent redeemer, and more as a Rebel Alliance commander in Star Wars.

“The Ashtar Command,” explains the group’s website, “is the airborne division of the Great Brother/Sisterhood of Light, under the administrative direction of Commander Ashtar and the spiritual guidance of Lord Sananda, our Commander-in-Chief, known to Earth as Jesus the Christ. Composed of millions of starships and personnel from many civilisations, we are here to assist Earth and humanity through the current cycle of planetary cleansing and polar realignment.”

One might have thought that a massed star fleet that size would have been noticed by someone by now, but perhaps they have really nifty cloaking devices. The most senior Earth-bound member of Ashtar Command is a man called Soltec, who seems to live near Cardiff in New South Wales. As well as being a senior-ranking officer, he is also the captain of the Starship Phoenix. Jesus pilots the Starship Rainbow.

The Ashtar Command, like many UFO cults, derives ultimately from the spiritualist ideology of Theosophy, which isn’t in itself particularly concerned with space craft. Neither is it the only wellspring of the idea that humans owe their existence to aliens.

In Australia, we are fortunate not to have a branch of the German UFO-cult Tempelhofgesellschaft, which teaches that Nazis are holy aliens who will soon rise up in a cloud of flying saucers currently hidden in Antarctica. Sadly, however, we also don’t have a branch of the gloriously named Californian group, the Universal Industrial Church of The New World Comforter, which holds that aliens want us to be vegans and operates a chain of restaurants to facilitate that wish.

We do, however, have the Raelians, who, while back-burnering any plans for a space-port-cum-consulate in Australia, are very busy raising funds for surgical teams and staff to fill a hospital the organisation has just built in the African nation of Burkina Faso. The facility, known as the Pleasure Hospital, was built to offer free reconstructive surgery to women who have suffered genital mutilation through cultural or religious ritual.

The Raelians’ fund-raising arm for the project is called Clitoraid.

The hospital has received strong endorsement from several non-Raelian medical practitioners, especially in the United States. The Catholic Church in Burkina Faso tried to stop the hospital from opening, reportedly due to fears that patients might convert; but, according to Tyrell, the sect defeated the church’s injunction just last week. It is due to start providing operations later in July.

“Sexuality is a fundamental thing that makes us human,” Tyrell said. “And it is violently taken away from these women. Clitoraid was Rael’s idea. He is our spiritual leader and gives us guidance in these matters. He wants us to focus where there is need for something to be done, but where nothing is being done.”

The idea of assisting the charitable efforts of a group who believe that their leader is part-alien and is thus a half-sibling to Jesus (who was also spawned by space folk) is at first blush discomfiting. One might ask, however, whether Raelian theology is really any weirder than its Catholic equivalent, with its stories about God-fathered sons and the mysterious role of biscuits.

Tyrell, who lives on the Gold Coast and has been a card-carrying Raelian for 22 years, is happy in his faith and likes helping others. His mindset may be odd, but is that really so bad?

“Essentially Rael was chosen by one of the Elohim, who revealed himself as Yahweh, the biological father of Rael and Jesus,” he said.

“I’ve asked hundreds of questions about Raelism over the years and I’ve never found an answer that didn’t satisfy me”

? The Australian Raelian Movement:

? Ashtar Command:

? Aetherius Society:

? Clitoraid:


Vatican rebuff for Canberra

Heath Gilmore

The Vatican’s refusal to hand over documents about child sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests in Australia is poised to become a headache for the federal government.

The head of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Justice Peter McClellan, disclosed in a speech on Saturday [5 July] to a victims’ group he had personally written to the Vatican, seeking copies of all documents relating to complaints about abuse involving priests in Australia.

The Vatican has provided documents relating to two cases, but Justice McClellan wanted more information to find out how the church hierarchy in Australia, under the guidance or direction of the Vatican, responded to the allegations of abuse.

In a written response, the Vatican said the Holy See maintained the confidentiality of internal church deliberations, adding that it would be inappropriate to provide such documents.

Liberal MP Steve Irons, who attended Justice McClellan’s speech to the 14th anniversary of the Care Leavers Australia Network at the Bankstown Sports Club in south-west Sydney, said he would ask the government to become involved.


Schools Jewish group seeks to ensure continued religious instruction

Jews fight religion policy

Benjamin Preiss - Education Reporter

The Jewish instruction provider for state schools is seeking legal advice to ensure its lessons remain available amid concerns that new conditions will undermine cultural diversity.

The United Jewish Education Board has told parents it is exploring “all avenues, including legal options” so Jewish children can continue to receive special religious instruction.

The letter to parents comes after the Education Department issued a new ministerial directive in May that said schools could withdraw from religious instruction programs if there were insufficient resources. The directive also said religious instruction sessions must be “clearly opt-in” for parents.

“We are monitoring these developments very closely as we are concerned that some schools may not be in a position to deliver special religious instruction under the new framework,” the United Jewish Education Board letter said.

Principals must offer religious instruction to parents if their school is approached by accredited instructors who indicate they are available to run the sessions.

The board’s president, Yossi Goldfarb, said he was seeking legal advice about whether the new conditions would contravene the Multicultural Victoria Act.

Mr Goldfarb said cultural and religious diversity in schools would be threatened if principals began withdrawing religious instruction for Jewish children. “We see it as a cornerstone of multicultural Victoria,” he said.

Mr Goldfarb said the number of Jewish state school students joining religious instruction had in-creased by about 30 per cent during the past five years.

The United Jewish Education Board operates in 37 state schools, attracting about 1300 students. It offers instruction to schools with as few as three Jewish students.

Mr Goldfarb estimated more than 90 per cent of Jewish families in state schools receive religious instruction. He said the instructors had no interest in proselytising but sought to convey the “cultural, historical and national” aspects of Judaism.

Students who participate in religious instruction must now also be supervised by a teacher from the school. But Mr Goldfarb said many Jewish instructors were already qualified teachers so it made little sense to have them supervised by another teacher.

Bentleigh East mother Michelle Morgan said she supported Jewish instruction for her six-year-old daughter, Kayla, because it ensured there was a base level of education in Judaism for Jewish children. “They’re getting something out of it,” she said.

Religions for Peace Australia chairman Des Cahill said he was concerned that children from faiths with small numbers at schools could miss out on instruction in their religion because of the new directive. His organisation co-ordinates instruction in the Buddhist, Baha’i, Greek Orthodox, Hindu and Sikh traditions.

Professor Cahill, an RMIT ex-pert in intercultural studies, said education about the world’s religions should be included in the general school curriculum.

An Education Department spokesman said the rules for special religious instruction (SRI) were the same for all providers.

Fairness in Religions in School campaign member Scott Hedges said he had not received any complaints from Jewish families about the content of the Jewish Education Board’s sessions. However, he said a small number of Jewish families had expressed their opposition to religious instruction in state schools.

For more education stories visit


Fears as online firebrand joins ISIL cause

David Wroe [and] James Massola

A firebrand Australian Muslim preacher says he is joining the “caliphate” established by ultraviolent jihadists in the Middle East, a move that could prove a
powerful magnet to would-be extremist fighters.

Melbourne-born Musa Cerantonio, re­garded internationally as an influential cheer­leader for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, appeared on Twitter
early Wednes­day morning [2 July] to heap praise on the group and its announcement of a new Islamic state.

The former Catholic is believed to have been hiding out in the Philippines for months and is reportedly wanted by the Australian Federal Police.

Mr Cerantonio’s announcement came as Attorney-General George Brandis confirmed the government was looking at ways to make sure Australians returning from fighting with extremists in the Middle East would not pose a danger at home.

“The government is looking carefully at all existing legislation that bears upon this issue, in particular the terrorism provisions of the criminal code, to ensure there are no gaps in our capacity to keep Australia safe,” he said.

The case of Mr Cerantonio is particularly troubling because of his large online following and the risk that his presence in the Middle East would encourage
other Australians to travel to the region. On Twitter early on Wed­nesday morning, he gave enthusiastic support to the announcement by ISIL that it was
creat­ing a caliphate, or Muslim state, in the territ­ory it has seized straddling parts of Syria and Iraq. “Insha’Allah (God-willing) I will be arriv­ing in Ash-Sham (the Levant) very shortly, keep us in your du’a (prayers), getting ready to travel,” he wrote. “May Allah bless and protect our Imam, our Amir, our Khalifah, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”

Al-Baghdadi is the leader of ISIL, an ultra-violent al-Qaeda splinter group believed to have executed thousands of civilians in Iraq, and has declared himself the caliph of the new territory. Mr Cerantonio was described in a recent report, by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College, London, as one of the three most influential preachers online.

One in four foreign fighters in the Middle East followed his Twitter account, while his Facebook page was the third most “liked” page among jihadists, the
study found.

Senator Brandis said he would introduce new laws to the Senate in two weeks that would reform security agencies’ powers and ensure there were no legal
loopholes in the fight against terrorism.


Strengthening the non-religious voice

Rosslyn Ives

Humanists need to act in ways that will strengthen the voice of non-religious people. Currently we belong to a growing cohort of “non-religious” Australians - over 4 million on the 2011 census - yet our public voice is weak and dispersed.

With our growing numbers, and the signs that Australia is becoming increasingly secular (with falling church attendances and growth in civil celebrant marriages and funerals), we need to back these trends with a stronger advocacy for our views. We want a society that values secular education, social justice and science as a source of information for policy decisions. And one that allows individuals the freedom to make decisions over life-and-death matters, such as voluntary assisted dying (a newly preferred term for voluntary euthanasia) and abortion.

If we want to be able to alter public policies we need much more effective ways of influencing governments and the wider society. We need able spokespersons and professional secretariats that can articulate the non-religious point of view.

Sadly, the history of the freethought groups across the world reveals two problems when such people try to organise themselves for effective action. First, most non-religious people prefer just to get on with their lives. Few have a strong urge to form social groups based on their world-view. Second, atheist, humanist, rationalist etc. groups can readily become dominated by strong-minded individuals. This can lead to some members becoming less willing to stay involved, along with others hiving off to form alternate groups. For these and other reasons non-religious organisations have small memberships and little public profile.

An obvious way round these problems is to work cooperatively in loose alliances with other non-religious groups (and even religious groups on issues of shared concern). In recent years HSV and the Rationalist Society of Australia have jointly sponsored several successful events involving interstate and overseas speakers. HSV also collaborates with like-minded groups on issues that matter to Humanists.

After the first Global Atheist Congress was held in Melbourne in 2010, an attempt was made to form an Australia-wide alliance of non-religious groups, under the name Reason Australia. After a lot of ground work via e-mail, skype and telephone hook-ups, this attempt floundered. The participants are likely to offer a range of reasons for the failure of this idealistic undertaking.

More recently HSV has associated itself with a loose alliance called the Secular Coalition of Australia (SECOA). The June VH included a strong statement from SECOA opposing the federal government’s National School Chaplaincy Program.

While the arguments for the different freethought groups to work together to strengthen the non-religious voice are overwhelming, how we go about this requires considerable good will and time. We need urgently to engage with others NOW! Progress is likely to be two steps forward and one step back, but the greater goal of increasing our influence in a growing secular Australia will make the effort worthwhile.

From the Victorian Humanist (Melbourne), 53 (6), July 2014: 6.


Alleged sex abuse victim sues school

Patrick Hatch

A former student at an ultra-orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne is suing the school and its former principal, who fled the country days after molestation claims surfaced against her.

Malka Leifer fled to Israel in 2008, days after being sacked as principal of Adass Israel Girls School in Elsternwick following complaints of inappropriate conduct with students.

Parents told The Age at the time that Mrs Leifer molested students aged 15 and 16 at her home and probably at school camps, and that one victim tried to commit suicide.

Two former students filed civil claims in the Melbourne Supreme Court in March last year against Mrs Leifer and the school for breach of duty.

Solicitor Nick Mazzeo, of law firm Lennon Mazzeo, has acted on behalf of several former students at the school who claim to have been sexually abused by Mrs Leifer.

He confirmed that one of his clients, whose case is listed for trial in May 2015, is seeking damages for pain, suffering and economic loss. It is understood a second case has been withdrawn, “There’s a whole host of damages they allege have been sustained, including psychological injury,” he said.

Mrs Leifer lives in Immanuel, a settlement town in the West Bank, where her husband is a rabbi at a local synagogue.

A town resident, who did not wish to be named, said Mrs Leifer often took children from the synagogue to her house for tutoring and to study the Torah, sparking alarm among residents who know of the accusations against her.

Victoria Police launched an investigation into claims of abuse at the school in 2011, and a police spokesman confirmed on Friday that the Moorabbin sexual offences and child abuse investigation team was still investigating the case.

“It is believed the person of interest . . . is currently overseas,” Sergeant Kris Hamilton said, adding that investigators had therefore not yet spoken to her.

Adass Israel School principal Israel Herszberg said the school would not comment on any matter that was before the courts.

Parents of students at the school alleged to The Age in 2008 that Mrs Leifer, a mother of eight, shared her bed with different students when her husband was away.

One parent said problems emerged when their 16-year-old daughter stopped eating and became unsociable. The girl told a psychologist she had been molested but was too embarrassed to tell her parents.

The Adass community is a small, ultra-orthodox group of families based in Elsternwick and Ripponlea who have little contact with the wider Jewish and non-Jewish communities.


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