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October 22, 2015
Follow the money.
That’s what Woodward and Bernstein did more than 40 years ago when investigating the Watergate scandal, which eventually brought down the most powerful man in the land, President Richard Nixon.
And that’s what Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and her partners at Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center in Israel are doing now: trying to bring down the terrorists and their sympathizers by going after their bank accounts though the courts. While Hamas, Hezbollah and other extremist groups don’t seem to care about the innocent Jewish lives they indiscriminately take or even their own followers’ lives they’re so willing to sacrifice, they certainly do care about their wallets.
So, then, why not hit them where it really hurts?
“Today, you can’t walk the streets of Jerusalem without being afraid to get attacked,” she told a roomful of lawyers at a Fox Rothschild-sponsored seminar Oct. 16, then later that night addressed the same subject at Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen. “The governments of Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia are pouring in millions and millions of dollars to keep the pot boiling and make sure more Jewish lives are lost.
“We know all these attacks are directed from high ranks. One of the major reasons they’re able to do it is the money. If there is no money, there is no terrorism.”
Since 2003, Darshan-Leitner, as director of Shurat HaDin, has been on this crusade. As a result, terrorist victims or their families have been awarded massive judgments totaling over $1 billion, which is different from saying the money has actually gone into their pockets. In reality, only $120 million of that amount has actually been collected, although $600 million in terrorist assets has been frozen, as she continues to work tirelessly to cut off the head of the “snake” by cutting off its sources of income.
Drawing inspiration from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which successfully sued the Ku Klux Klan and other racist groups on behalf of its victims, she’s become a thorn in terrorists’ sides. Listening to her impassioned speech, clearly this is much more than just a job to her.
“I have kids the age of the teenagers who were killed,” she said, a reference to three teenage boys murdered by Hamas agents who had intended to kidnap an Israeli soldier and trade him for the release of Hamas prisoners, then panicked. “You know, it could’ve happened to anyone.
So she regularly says goodbye to her six children, ages 7 to 16 — the youngest being triplets — to lead the legal battle and to spread the word of what she’s doing. “I speak somewhere almost every month,” said Darshan-Leitner, just a few hours after arriving in Philadelphia from Tel Aviv. “They all know what I do, even the triplets. One of them asked me, ‘Mommy, why can’t you stop those Arabs that kill us? It’s your job.’ I say, ‘We’re trying.’ ”
And succeeding far more than anyone could’ve imagined. This year alone, Shurat HaDin clients were awarded a $655 million judgment after a Palestinian suicide bomber severely injured a 7-year-old boy and his father while blowing himself up. They also got a $330 million judgment for the family of a South Korean priest/social activist, who was kidnapped across the border to North Korea, tortured and killed.
It was through her efforts that the Arab Bank, which was found to be paying families of suicide bombers on behalf of Hamas had to settle with the families of Israeli victims and close those accounts to avoid legal action. That, in turn, set off a chain reaction.
“This lawsuit sent a shockwave throughout the international banking system,” said Darshan-Leitner, named by the Jerusalem Post in 2014 as one of the most influential Jews in the world, along with being a Moskovitz Prize winner for Zionism. “No bank agreed anymore to open bank accounts to a designated terrorist station or to provide accounts for organizations or Islamic charities which raise funds for terrorists.
“So now there is no banking system in Gaza, which is the reason we find them smuggling money through tunnels, because Hamas needs to bring hundreds of millions dollars into Gaza.”
And if you think that’s something, listen to what’s up next. Darshan-Leitner and Shurat HaDin are about to take on Facebook, alleging they’re provoking terrorism by posting Palestinian threats and other actions against Israelis, including a “How to carry out a terrorist attack” post.
“We have lawyers in Israel and in the United States,” said Darshan-Leitner, a graduate of Bar Ilan University Law Faculty, with an MBA from Manchester University. “We asked ourselves, ‘Can we bring this to the U.S.? Is it valid?’ We brainstormed and announced we’re going to sue Facebook and are asking Israelis to join the lawsuit.
“They’re going to become plaintiffs. We got 20,000 in two days. We want to bring it on behalf of as many Israelis as possible.”
Using financial consequences as a weapon has led to a newer, different wave of terrorism, which doesn’t involve suicide vests, bombs or missiles. Instead the BDS — Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement — is much more insidious.
But of equal concern is what she calls “Underground BDS,” such as what prompted American Airlines to recently announce it will stop direct flights to and from Philadelphia and Tel Aviv in January. While the airline indicated it’s been losing money, there’s no evidence to support that claim. In fact, it’s believed by many to be quite the opposite.
“We call it underground BDS, because they are not coming out openly against Israel,” said Darshan-Leitner, whose name comes from an Israeli flower bud. “It’s against those who support and continue to work with Israel.
“It’s like there’s a big supermarket where a group stands there every Sunday screaming ‘Death to the Jews’ and ‘Boycott Israel’ and ‘Why do you sell Israeli products?’ The owner of the store, even though he doesn’t have anything against Israel, doesn’t want the headache. It’s scaring his customers and disrupting traffic.
“So he says, ‘The easiest way for me to deal with it is to take all the Israeli products off the shelves and then it will go away. No harm will happen to me because I’ll continue selling other products.’
“The same thing has happened to the airlines. That’s the danger of BDS. They will not expressly say it and you will never know it.”
While Darshan-Leitner and Shurat HaDin have allies, few of them seem to be in government — including the United States. When the Palestinian Authority appealed the $655 million judgment from the suicide bombing and was asked to post a $655 million bond, it asked the State Department to intervene. The end result was that bond was reduced from $655 million to $10 million, the type of action which has fueled local Jewish anger towards the current administration.
Plus, there are legitimate fears that if all those frozen Iranian assets are released as part of the nuclear agreement with Iran, the administration will intervene and prevent the families of terror victims holding judgments from being paid first. That’s why she recently filed a suit on behalf of 12 families, naming Secretary of State John Kerry among the respondents
“We’ve had this fight with the State Department,” said Darshan-Leitner. “Sometimes they get involved. Sometimes they don’t.
“This administration, unfortunately, decided to get involved.”
But none of that will stop Darshan-Leitner, who says what’s happening in her homeland now is different from anything she experienced as a little girl. “I lived in Israel during the second intifada,” she recalled. “But you could avoid it if you wanted to.
“You could avoid taking the bus or sitting in a restaurant. Today it feels like the terror attacks everyone, everywhere, even on the street. That’s scarier.”
Those fears will keep her going. At the same time she’ll continue to incite fear in those standing in her way, knowing her determination.
Just follow the money. And pray that thanks to people like Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and her colleagues at Shurat Ha-Din, someday it’ s all gone.