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FEDTalk:Israel features attorney who bankrupts terrorists through ‘lawfare’

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner

No, it’s not a typo. The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey has introduced FEDTalks, featuring speakers who are experts in their fields. And if the more well-known TEDTalks cover a wider range of topics, the JFNNJ series targets issues of vital importance to the Jewish community.

FedTalks:Israel is even more specific, and self-explanatory, though the possibilities for topics and points of view are vast. On October 29, Israeli attorney and human rights activist Nitsana Darshan-Leitner will offer one approach to combating terrorism. In a talk called “Bankrupting Terrorism…One Lawsuit at a Time,” Ms. Darshan-Leitner — the founder of the Tel-Aviv based Shurat HaDin, the Israel Law Center — will describe the work of her group, which has fought terrorist groups successfully in court.

Indeed, says the group’s website, Shurat HaDin is using court systems around the world to go on the legal offensive against Israel’s enemies. The organization works with Western intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and a network of volunteer lawyers across the globe to file legal actions on behalf of terror victims.

According to Ariella Noveck, the chair of the federation’s community relations committee, who is organizing the coming FEDTalk, Ms. Darshan-Leitner “has been leading the legal fight against terror financing, the anti-Israel boycott campaigns (BDS), and combating the multitude of lawfare tactics utilized against the Jewish State by its enemies.”

In a telephone interview, Ms. Darshan-Leitner said she created Shurat HaDin in 2002. “After two years, we started winning cases,” she said. Her firm assisted in blocking the Gaza flotilla and terminated efforts to indict IDF soldiers for war crimes. Not surprisingly, its founder has been named by Israeli Forbes magazine as one of the 50 most influential Israeli women.

At the upcoming FEDTalk, Ms. Darshan-Leitner — the mother of six children, including two pairs of twins — will speak about her book “Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters,” co-written with Samuel M. Katz.

The book details the efforts of a Mossad task force to follow the money, stopping the flow of cash that nourishes terror networks. Ms. Darshan-Leitner said she was recruited by Mossad to participate in “lawfare,” in which private law firms sue banks, individuals, and organizations on behalf of victims of terror. So far, her firm — she has six attorneys — has won more than $2 billion in judgments on behalf of these victims. Collecting the money is another matter, she said, although she has been able to distribute some $300 million to terror victims.

Her work with these victims is a natural outgrowth of her previous legal efforts. “I always wanted to help people,” she said, citing several past cases — for example, she represented a belly dancer raped by an Egyptian ambassador, and she has taken on a medical forensic institution for misconduct. “I was always involved with cases on behalf of all sorts of victims. When the intifada broke out, I couldn’t sit idly by, so I tried to represent victims of terror. No one sued the PLO at that time. We took a chance and went to court.”

In the beginning, “Everyone thought it was insane. How can you sue? What’s the point? Where can you locate them? How can you collect?

“We believed we could win, but to do that was quite amazing. We knew we could prove it in court” — but they needed the court to buy into it. The “trick,” she said, was in depicting her opponents not as a company but as a partnership. “You can serve any one of the partners,” she said; there is a legal difference between suing a company and suing a partnership, she explained. When you sue a partnership, you can serve papers to any partner. You just need one. And because it’s not secret where the terrorist leaders are — either in Gaza or sitting in a jail — it’s possible to serve at least one of them.

Of course, she added, “Not everybody shows up in court. Hamas, Hezbollah don’t show up. The PLO does show up. In any case, when you can convince the court that they have the authority to hear the case, then even if they don’t show up, you can collect.” She pointed to laws in the United States enabling American victims to file suit if a family member is killed or injured abroad as long as the defendant is either present in the United States or has done something here — “if you can establish some connection,” Ms. Darshan-Leitner said.

She also can sue on behalf of her own organization, which is an NGO and has the right to go to the International Criminal Court to demand that a trial be opened for war crimes. For example, she has undertaken a lawsuit against the Hamas leadership, representing Israeli farmers whose fields have been burned by Gazan rioters. The lawsuit specifically targets Hamas military wing leader Yahya Sinwar and political leader Ismail Haniyeh.


Who: Israeli attorney and human rights activist Nitsana Darshan-Leitner

What: Will deliver a FEDTalk on “Bankrupting Terrorists… One Lawsuit at a Time”

When: On Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, 50 Eisenhower Drive, Paramus

Reservations: jfnnj.org/fedtalks

Cost: $10

For more information: Email Ariella Noveck at AriellaN@jfnnj.org or call her at (201) 820-3946.

And also: Shurat HaDin’s Rachel Weiser will talk about the organization’s work on Wednesday, October 31, at 8 p.m., at Congregation Ahavath Torah, 240 Broad Ave., Englewood. Call (201) 568-1315 for information.

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