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November 10, 2013 – Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, head of Shurat Hadin-Israel Law Center, has come a long way in her personal battle against terrorism and against BDS activities since her first appearance, as a law student, before the High Court of Justice nearly 20 years ago.
Recalling her first experience as a legal activist, Leitner said that she and a few other Bar- Ilan students had filed a petition to the High Court to block a man who had been involved in a kidnapping operation from entering Gaza to vote on the Oslo Accords. Chuckling, Leitner said that she got to make the argument before the court because the others said that since she was a woman, the court would “not yell at her” or “make us pay court costs” on a petition that stood little chance of success.
Following five years performing more “typical” private sector legal work – though she still did some pro bono work with terror victims and battered women – Leitner founded Shurat Hadin in 2002.
The organization is most famous for winning hundredmillion- dollar judgments against countries like Iran, Syria and North Korea, by using laws like the US Antiterrorism Act to go after the assets of organizations and states connected with terror attacks that killed or harmed US citizens in Israel. Leitner said that such action, on the part of Shurat Hadin and others, has proven so successful that terror funding has moved out of the US, France and Germany to new countries like Thailand.
Shurat Hadin’s most recent and high-profile case on that front is representing a group of victims and families of victims in a case against the Bank of China. The case – also being pursued in parallel by the Wultz family – concerns terror attacks perpetrated between 2004 and 2007 in Israel, in which, starting in 2003, the Bank of China is implicated in allegedly executing dozens of wire transfers for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad totaling several million dollars.
Uzi Shaya, a former government agent, is due to respond this month about whether or not he will testify in the case.
Shaya had planned to testify, and even filed an affidavit about a 2005 meeting he had with Bank of China representatives to prove that they were on notice for the terror-related money transfers.
But according to Leitner, the current government pressured Shaya about testifying a couple of months ago, ahead of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s trip to China and amid major business developments between the two countries.
A US court in the Southern District of New York demanded that the Justice Ministry give a final answer about whether it would permit Shaya to testify, and Shaya himself set a late November deadline for the state to decide its position.
Shurat Hadin also recently assisted Sherri Wise in her unprecedented lawsuit against Iran in Canada under its new antiterrorism laws. A lower court denied Wise an opportunity to go after Iran’s Canadian assets, since there were American terror victims who had already won their cases against Iran before she was able to start. However, a Canadian appeals court reversed that decision in mid-October, and now Wise may have a chance to share in dividing up Iran’s Canadian assets.
Leitner told a legal “war story” from 2004, in which she locked down $500 million in Iranian assets in Italy.
Whereas Iran has not shown up to defend lawsuits against it in the US, when such large funds were at stake, dozens of lawyers showed up to fight to free the funds. Although Iran got the funds temporarily freed up long enough to transfer them out of the country, it was another example of Shurat Hadin harming Iran’s freedom of operations in terror financing.
Since its founding, Shurat Hadin has also been involved in fighting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, and took legal actions that prevented some ships from setting sail which were intended to join flotillas trying to break the blockade on Hamas in Gaza.
Leitner said that BDS arose from the “enemies of Israel seeing they cannot beat Israel conventionally, not in wars” and expanding to “lawfare, attacking Israel in public opinion – a more sophisticated and more deadly attack” since they seem to be “acting within civilization, and BDS can be defended by free speech principles and seems legitimate.”
On October 30, Shurat Hadin filed a class action lawsuit with the Federal Court of Australia under the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975, over Sydney University Prof.
Jake Lynch’s participation and public support of boycotts of Israel. The lawsuit cited Lynch’s refusal to submit to the jurisdiction of the Australian Human Rights Commission, with whom Shurat Hadin had filed a complaint in late July.
Shurat Hadin also made headlines in recent months with a Facebook campaign that successfully gathered testimonies for bringing cases at the International Criminal Court against Palestinian Authority leaders should they decide to bring cases against Israelis.
Leitner also takes credit for forcing down a Facebook page with connections to the Iranian government, following a “threat letter” to Facebook to initiate a lawsuit if the page remained. While Facebook did not respond, Leitner confirmed that the page had been taken down.
With its success, Shurat Hadin has also grown from a handful of young lawyers going into credit card debt to stay afloat, to around 10 lawyers and additional administrative staff. Shurat Hadin now runs student internship programs at various times of year, and works with local counsel in several countries.
Somehow in all of this, Leitner said she still finds time, with some hired help, to raise six children, and deals with such matters as “attending parent-teacher conferences, fighting for my children when needed and making sure they do their homework.”