Council for the National Interest

Suing the Israeli Settlers: Lawfare might work in two directions

Jan 6 2016 / 2:15 pm

An Israeli NGO has been winning millions of dollars in U.S. courts in order to stifle criticism of Israel. Now a pro-Palestinian group is suing 100 pro-Israel organizations in an attempt to recoup a trillion dollars for the U.S. treasury that it says was improperly exempted from taxation…

By Philip Giraldi

Shurat HaDin, the Israeli government funded Lawfare center, has been busy filing lawsuits to take away the assets from groups, individuals and even governments that it considers to be “terrorist” connected. That includes anyone opposed to Israel’s existence but it also extends to groups that are critical of Israel for some of its actions as an occupying power as well as for its reported war crimes in dealing with its neighbors. Shurat HaDin has also been using similar tactics to attack supporters of peaceful protest, to include the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has been seeking to put economic pressure on Israel to comply with United Nations resolutions relating to Palestine, as well as against groups on campus seeking to criticize Israel and its policies, claiming that such activity creates a threatening environment for Jewish students.

Sometimes the lawsuits are frivolous. In the past year Shurat HaDin has, for example, “challenged the tax exempt status of the Presbyterian Church that declared its intent to divest from the Jewish State.” But sometimes they are more serious. On May 15, 2012 a Washington D.C. court awarded $332 million in damages to an American family whose sixteen year-old son had been killed in a 2006 suicide bombing in Israel.

The court determined that Syria was guilty even though it had directed no terrorist activity and would have to pay the judgment due to its allowing various Palestinian resistance groups to have offices in Damascus. The point of law involved, that supporters of militant groups, no matter how far removed, can be held legally responsible for the consequences of that support is a fundamental principle exploited by Lawfare.

On its website Shurat HaDin boasts of other more recent courtroom victories and the large payoffs that it has been responsible for, including “a historic $655 million judgment in federal court in New York this past February in the case of Sokolow v. Palestine Liberation Organization, holding the PLO and the Palestinian Authority liable for a number of suicide bombings perpetrated during the Second Intifada. We are currently pursuing Palestinian assets to execute on the judgment.” It was, in fact, a “victory” that was not welcomed by the Israeli government. The full judgment would bankrupt the Palestinian Authority, requiring Israel to take full administrative responsibility for the areas currently run by the PLO.

Shurat HaDin was in the forefront of opposition to the Gaza aid flotilla of 2011. It successfully pressured the Greek government and international insurers to physically stop the sailing and deny insurance for the vessels involved. It sent warning letters to the UK and US based global satellite company INMARSAT, stating that it might be liable for massive damages and criminal prosecution if it provided communication services. The legal warning asserted that under US law, INMARSAT and its officers “will be open to charges of aiding and abetting terrorism if it provides satellite services to the Gaza-bound ships.” It should be noted that the ships were completely and scrupulously legal, were breaking no laws and were carrying humanitarian supplies that had been inspected. All passengers and crews had signed pledges of non-violence.

Shurat HaDin is no friend of free speech. Its threats of litigation on American university campuses is described on the website as: “Monitoring the rampant anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in academic institutions by informing the school of its potential civil and criminal liability for tolerating an environment of intimidation and hostility that fails to protect Jewish and Israeli students from anti-Semitic harassment.”

Shurat HaDin, though ostensibly an Israeli non-government organization, is particularly active in the United States, exploiting the fact that American courts have proven willing to hear lawsuits directed against any terrorist group anywhere in the world even if no U.S. citizens are involved based on the principle that terror is an international crime. Existing terrorism legislation in the U.S. making it illegal to provide “material support” to any group designated as terrorist is itself Lawfare, using deliberately vague language to justify nearly anything if a terrorist group is in any way involved or can plausibly be implicated. The law itself provides an elastic framework for litigation. Shurat HaDin’s intention is to silence any and all criticism of Israel, and, to do so, it works assiduously to connect governments and organizations to proscribed terrorist entities so they can be sued for damages. The intention is to use the legal weapon to tie up opponents, wasting time and resources defending themselves, which is precisely what is intended.

The essential hypocrisy of the Lawfare remedy has been noted. Hosting an office of an organization labeled terrorist by the U.S. government or Israel hardly equates to Israel’s actual assassination of Iranian scientists or its recruitment of Jundullah or Kurdish terrorists to carry out attacks inside Iran, not to mention the terror attacks by heavily armed West Bank settlers on unarmed Palestinian civilians. One sometimes wonders what would happen if the family of a slain Iranian scientist were to sue the Israeli government for multi-million dollar damages in a New York City or Washington D.C. federal court. The scrambling by the Justice Department to avoid any involvement in such an action and make it go away would be quite entertaining to watch and one can be sure that the case would be expeditiously dismissed by the presiding judge as “frivolous” or “without merit” or “lacking jurisdiction.” Even though the Israeli actions constitute actual terrorist attacks that kill people, as Israel is not on Washington’s state sponsor of terror list it has up until now avoided becoming the target for litigation.

But now, it seems, the double standard regarding supporting terrorism might just be changing at least as related to some recent outrages committed by armed settlers, to include the burning to death of a Palestinian toddler as well as his mother and father. Armed harassment of Palestinians and destruction of their livelihoods by settlers has become more frequent, particularly as the Israeli authorities hardly ever punish the perpetrators. So-called “price tag” attacks intended to cause fear, sometimes directed against identifiable Christian and Muslim religious targets, have also been increasing.

A lawsuit filed in Washington last month claims that a number of I.R.S. tax exempt 501(c)3 “charitable” entities have been funding both the settlers and their violence, in violation of both U.S. and international law. The suit, filed by the firm of Martin McMahon and Associates, is on behalf of a number of Palestinian plaintiffs who claim to have suffered materially from the activities of the settlers aided and abetted by the Israeli government. More than 100 organizations are cited as part of the illegal activity, which includes financing terrorism, support for war crimes, mail fraud and money laundering in aid of illegal activity. The suit claims that “The entities have engaged in (a) promoting religiously- and racially- discriminatory practices, i.e. funding ‘Jewish only’ settlements; (b) violated numerous other 501(c)3 regulations; (c) funded the violent expulsion of non-Jews living near the settlements, i.e. classic ‘ethnic cleansing’; and (d) violated at least eight federal criminal statutes, including conspiring to commit income tax fraud and the federal perjury statute.”

Previous suits directed against pro-Israel organizations in the U.S. have generally been dismissed by unsympathetic judges or brushed off by the I.R.S. but this suit is different in that it asks instead for a Treasury Department review of the procedures involved relating to funding that winds up illegally in the settlements. The suit alleges, perhaps hyperbolically, that as much as $1 trillion dollars might be recouped by the Treasury from money that was illegally exempted from American taxation through false claims of charitable activity over the course of forty-eight years, which provides some suggestion of the scale of the activity. By one conservative estimate hundreds of millions of dollars from U.S. sources have been illegally funding the settlements in recent years.

There is considerable evidence that U.S. dollars fund the settlers, so much so that even the mainstream media has begun to report on the phenomenon. Some of the money is earmarked for “security” which translates into weapons and other infrastructure while other funding goes to support the mechanisms used to evict Palestinians and illegally appropriate their land. When an Israeli settler kills a Palestinian he rarely is charged, but if he is there are American funded groups that will pay for his lawyers. One group cited, the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces, allegedly engages in war crimes to protect and support the settlers in their aggression against the Palestinians.

The Treasury Department has sixty days to respond to the Palestinian suit. It is likely that it will ask that the claim be rejected for some nonsensical reason but then it will be up to the presiding judge to determine if the case should go forward. On its merits, it would seem that the case against American funders of illegal settlers and settlement should be allowed to proceed but the U.S. criminal justice system has certainly produced any number of unpleasant surprises over the past fifteen years.

Ultimately it will be up to the White House and the attorney general to decide if a potentially embarrassing case should be squashed and there are plenty of tools lying around to do just that, to include invocation of the State Secrets Privilege, which the Obamas have used more than all preceding administrations combined. Nevertheless, it is important for those of us seeking a U.S. foreign policy that is not morally and practically repugnant as well as those desiring a modicum of justice for the Palestinians to follow this case closely as it unfolds and to make their opinions known both in the media and to potentially sympathetic congressmen. Allowing the Palestinians to plead their case in a U.S. court as the Israelis have been doing unhindered for years would be a major breakthrough and should be welcomed by everyone who believes that law is, or at least should be, blind and that justice will eventually prevail.

Posted by on Jan 6 2016 . Filed under Commentary & Analysis, Costs to the U.S., Featured articles, Israel Lobby, Philip Giraldi, The latest from CNI . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 . Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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