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Do not sit idly by

Israeli activist attorney leads fight against terrorists worldwide

Israeli activist attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner recently told a New Jersey audience about her 12 years battling Arab and Islamist terrorist organizations in Israeli, American, Canadian, and European courtrooms.

As director of the Israel-based civil rights nonprofit group, Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center (www.israellawcenter.org) – she has brought hundreds of legal actions against bodies such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, Egypt, North Korea, the Arab Bank, and the Bank of China.

Shurat HaDin has succeeded in winning more than $1 billion in judgments, freezing more than $600 million in terrorist assets, and collecting $120 million in payments to victims and their families.

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Attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Israel Law Center is on a speaking tour of the United States. Shurat HaDin/Israel Law Center

“My message is that terror victims can be major players in the war against state-sponsored terror and the banks that support them, by bringing lawsuits against those entities to bring them into bankruptcy and block their pipeline of money,” she said in an interview from her office in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan.

“We must understand that governments often cannot take the initiative because of political considerations. But we at Shurat HaDin don’t have to be politically correct.”

One relevant example is the organization’s billion-dollar lawsuit against the Bank of China for providing services to Hamas and other terrorist organizations through its New York City branch between 2003 and 2008. The lawsuit, filed in the New York State Supreme Court in October 2012, represents five American families who lost loved ones in a 2008 terrorist shooting in Jerusalem.

“The banking giant knowingly assisted the Islamic group to carry out this Jerusalem attack with the full approval of the Chinese government,” Ms. Darshan-Leitner charged. Some 22 victims’ families are now involved in the suit.

The case has gotten complex, as the Israeli government – initially a partner in the lawsuit – is now trying to block the testimony of an agent expected to have affirmed that Israel notified the bank in 2005 that specific client accounts were being used to launder funds for terror operations. Concern for national security is the official reason given for the change of heart, but it is widely believed that Israel backed off for fear of jeopardizing its burgeoning ties with China.

“The Israeli government has the freedom to stop cooperating in the case because they’re under Chinese pressure, but we can see it through to the end,” said Ms. Darshan-Leitner, 39, who earned her law degree from Bar-Ilan University and her MBA from Manchester University, and in 2012 won the Lion of Zion Prize and was named one of the 50 most influential women in Israel.

Her audience of more than 150 people was gathered in the Bnei Tikvah Synagogue of North Brunswick for a January 26 fundraiser for Yashar Lachayal, a charity that donates basic items to needy Israeli soldiers.

At the synagogue, she also spoke about Shurat HaDin’s success in grounding Freedom Flotilla 2, a convoy of about 10 ships intending to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Her staff worked through legal channels to persuade maritime insurance companies not to insure the vessels because they would be aiding and abetting terrorism. They also pressed the Greek Port Authority to question the ships’ recorded destination of Alexandria, Egypt, and stop them from illegally running the Israeli blockade.

“In the end, the anarchists planning the flotilla held a press conference in Greece stating that because of this ‘lawfare’ organization in Tel Aviv, they had to cancel the flotilla,” Ms. Darshan-Leitner reported. “We don’t wait until something happens, because the best defense is offense, and we will not work with our hands tied behind our backs.”

She said non-governmental organizations can take a critical role against terrorism as well as anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and sanctions couched in the legal framework of freedom of speech. As the battlefield moves from armed conflict to the courtroom, “you have to find much more creative ways to fight them back,” she said.

“For instance, we’re thinking of filing a lawsuit against the American Studies Association’s proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions. If we have the information we need, we can act against Israel’s enemies. And whoever wants to be a partner is welcome. We need lawyers and medical, financial, psychology and terror experts to prove our cases. Give us information, so we can step in and lead these fights.”

Shurat HaDin has 50 or 60 open cases in Israel, the United States, and other countries. Ms. Darshan-Leitner employs five lawyers and four support staff; law firms in several countries act as co-counsel pro bono, or on contingency if a case goes on for many years.

She modeled her organization on the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, a civil-rights organization that tracks the activities of hate groups and domestic terrorists across America, launching lawsuits meant to cripple them financially.

“We are a nonprofit, so we also welcome desperately needed financial support and partnerships with individuals and organizations,” she said.

Ms. Darshan-Leitner said she will come to speak with any group in the United States that wants to learn more about how to aid the work of her organization. The mother of six children said she never loses her drive to see terrorism thwarted.

“There is nobody else to do it, so you get up every morning and know you have to keep going,” she said. “As a lawyer, you get so irritated by the wrongdoings happening to our people. But there are ways to defeat them, so you must take action.

“There is an obligation not to sit idly by your brother’s blood, and we will not,” she said.

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