|Born||Petach Tikvah, Israel|
|Occupation||Lawyer, Jewish Rights Advocate|
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner is an Israeli attorney, human rights activist and the founder of Shurat HaDin Israeli Law Center. She is known for her legal activism, especially lawsuits and legal actions brought on behalf of terror victims against terrorist groups, their leaders and financial patrons. In addition, her law office has brought civil actions against numerous banks and financial institutions she accuses of aiding and abetting Islamic and Arab groups engaged in terror attacks. She is also a media personality appearing in the press, on radio and television including Israeli talk show programs, Voice of Israel radio, CNN, the BBC, European television, the Jerusalem Report and many American and Canadian publications. In April 2012, it was announced that Darshan-Leitner was a winner of the Moskowitz Family Foundation "Oz Tzion" Prize. In 2014 she was named one of the 50 most influential Jews by The Jerusalem Post.
Early life, education and family
Darshan-Leitner was born in Petah Tikva, Israel. After completing undergraduate education she received a law degree from Bar Ilan University in the 1990s. She subsequently received an MBA from Manchester University in the United Kingdom. She is a mother of six children and is married to Ariel Leitner, an American-born law lecturer from Miami, Florida. She currently lives in North Tel Aviv, Israel.
In the 1990s Darshan-Leitner helped litigate a case on behalf of victims of the Achille Lauro hijacking of 1985. During work on this case, she appeared before the Israeli Supreme Court in an attempt to prevent one of the hijackers, Muhammed Abbas from being allowed to travel to Israel. On April 15, 2003, Abbas was captured by American forces in Iraq while attempting to flee from Baghdad to Syria. Italy subsequently requested his extradition. The Pentagon reported on March 9, 2004 that Zaidan had died the previous day, of natural causes, while in U.S. custody.
In 2003, Darshan-Leitner founded Shurat HaDin - Israel Law Center in Tel Aviv. Shurat HaDin is an Israeli-based civil rights center which focuses on bringing lawsuits and legal actions on behalf of the victims of terrorism. She has said she was influenced by the activities of the Southern Poverty Law Center which had bankrupted several branches of the KKK and other neo-Nazi groups through civil litigation. In founding Shurat HaDin, she noted her goal was to "go after terrorists in the same way that they (the SPLC) were going after racists."
According to a 2007 US embassy cable released by Wikileaks, Darshan-Leitner explained to a US embassy official that Shurat HaDin received evidence from and had taken direction "on which cases to pursue" from Mossad, Israel's national intelligence agency.
Darshan-Leitner is said to have succeeded in receiving more than $1 billion in judgments, freezing over $600 million in terror assets and securing over $120 million in actual disbursements to the victims and their families. She represents hundreds of terror victims in cases brought against the Islamic Republic of Iran, North Korea, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and the PLO, among others. She successfully represented Puerto Rican family victims of the 1972 Lod terrorist attack in a lawsuit against North Korea. In 2010, a US federal court on the island ruled in their favor, ordering the North Korean government to compensate the victims for the sum of $378 million.
Since 2003 Darshan-Leitner and a team of lawyers have worked with hundreds of terror victims in lawsuits and legal actions against Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Iran, Syria, Islamic Jihad and numerous financial institutions.
In 2012, Darshan-Leitner (Shurat Hadin) sent warning letters to World Vision Australia and AusAID, after the two aid organisations had been accused of funding the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Workers Committee (UAWC) which Darshan-Leitner said was an instrumentality of the terrorist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). UAWC - World Vision activities were resumed in early March 2012 after an investigation by World Vision found no evidence that humanitarian support for UAWC was in any way leaking to terrorists. Darshan-Leitner rejected the finding and demanded, under Australia's Freedom of Information Act that AUS Aid and World Vision turn over details of the investigation. She noted that USAID, the agency that administers foreign aid for the U.S. government, has labeled UAWC a PFLP affiliate, an allegation based on a 1993 report. Darshan-Leitner also alleged that the President, Vice-President, Treasurer and other key members of the AUWC board are senior PFLP officials. On April 2, 2012, the Shurat HaDin Center was asked by the Australian Government to provide it with evidence of a connection between the AUWC and the PFLP.
In September 2006 Darshan-Leitner and New York attorney Robert Tolchin filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the families of 12 missing Jewish-Iranians against the former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. Khatami has refused to answer the complaint and has defaulted the case.
In January 2008 she filed a lawsuit for NIS 260,000,000 ($65,000,000 US) against the Egyptian Government in a court in Beersheba on behalf of ten families of Sderot (Israel) whose relatives were killed or seriously injured by Palestinian Kassam rockets.
Thirty families who were victims of terrorist attacks either because they were injured or because they lost a family member in a wave of terrorist attacks that occurred in Israel between 2001 and 2003. The families sued Credit Lyonnais, a French bank, because the bank provided banking services and maintained accounts for CBSP, a primary fundraiser for Hamas (as designated by the US Treasury Department and by Israel in 1998). CBSP acts in collaboration with more than a dozen humanitarian organizations based in different towns in the West Bank and Gaza and in Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. The group has collected large amounts of money from mosques and Islamic centers, which it then transfers to sub-organizations of Hamas.
From 1997 onward, the bank allegedly knowingly transferred large sums to Hamas controlled organizations in the West Bank and Gaza. This activity occurred until 2003, when the bank finally closed the account following over three years of suspicious fund transfers.
In March 2008 the court denied defendant’s motion, noting in particular that France maintains a particularly strong interest in eradicating terrorism, and the likelihood of criminal or civil challenges against the bank are rather slim.
In May 2008 Shurat HaDin was co-counsel in filing in Manhattan Federal Court against Swiss mega bank UBS GA which is accused by the plaintiffs of financing terror. Included amongst the plaintiffs were three families who were physically and emotionally harmed by the Katyusha rockets launched by Hizbollah into Israeli cities during the 2006 war with Lebanon. Attorneys for UBS have denied the allegations and said they would vigorously defend the lawsuit.
The Federal District Court dismissed the complaint in August 2009 for lack of proximate cause between UBS’ fund transfers and Iranian support of terror organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. The court found that there was no causal link between UBS and the terror organizations supported by Iran. The court stated that a requirement under the Anti-terrorism Act is that UBS not only must have known about the causal link between its funds provided to Iran and Iranian support for terror organizations, but also must have intended that the funds were to be used for that purpose. Such intent was not proven by plaintiffs.
In June 2008 the families of 12 missing Iranian Jews filed a petition in the Israeli High Court of Justice seeking to block the Israeli government from releasing information on the fate of four disappeared Iranian diplomats as part of the prisoner release deal with Hizbollah. The Iranian diplomats were captured by Christian militia forces, the Samir Jaja faction, in South Lebanon in 1982. The families are represented in the court proceeding before the High Court by Darshan-Leitner.
In July 2008 Darshan-Leiter received word from the Israeli High Court of Justice that the petition was being dismissed as the issue was one of "diplomatic concern." The court did however point a harsh finger at Israeli PM at the time, Mr. Ehud Olmert, with an expectation that the "matter not be pushed asunder." Darshan-Leinter then turned to the PM with a request by the families for an urgent meeting before the deal went through. Receiving no response, Darshan-Leiter then turned to all 120 members of the Israeli Parliament, The Knesset, asking that they remember the 12 Missing Jews of Iran in their speeches and activities throughout their term of service.
In July 2008 the Center joined with Montreal-based attorney Jeffrey Boro and Professor Ed Morgan of the University of Toronto's International Law and Counter-Terrorism Project to file a civil action by Canadian victims of Hizbollah. The lawsuit. contends that since 2004, the Lebanese-Canadian Bank (LCB), formerly the Lebanese branch of the Royal Bank of Canada, permitted the Yousser Company for Finance and Investment and the Martyrs Foundation, two Lebanese organizations recognized by the United States as active terrorist groups, to open and maintain accounts at the bank. The suit alleges that LCB allowed the two groups to freely transfer many millions of dollars of Hizbollah funds and to carry out millions of dollars in financial transactions, within and without Lebanon, by means of wire transfers, letters of credit, checks and credit cards provided by LCB. LCB, the suit charged, facilitated Hizbollah's terrorist activities and is liable to the plaintiffs for the harm that has been inflicted upon them and their families in the rockets attacks launched by Hizbollah on civilians in Northern Israel in the year 2006. Darshan-Leitner claimed in filing the suit that LCB knew that both charities are part of Hizbollah's financial arm and that by providing them banking services they were really assisting the Iranian backed terrorists in Lebanon and their rocket attacks against civilians.
On July 14, 2008 Darshan-Leiter and Attorney Robert Tolchin of New York filed a civil action on behalf of victims of the Hizbollah against an American Bank. The action was filed in the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan Representing 85 victims and their family members, the lawsuit alleges that the American Express (AMEX) Bank, Ltd. and the Lebanese-Canadian Bank (LCB) unlawfully executed millions of dollars in wire transfers for Hizbollah between 2004 and 2006. The plaintiffs assert that Hizbollah used the funds transferred by AMEX Bank and LCB to prepare and carry out the rocket attacks which the terrorist organization rained on Israeli cities between July 12 and August 14, 2006.
The plaintiffs rested their claims in part on written findings issued by the New York State Banking Department in 2007, which determined that AMEX Bank had failed to establish adequate procedures to prevent terrorism financing as demanded by state and federal law. This is the first lawsuit brought by terror victims against an U.S. financial institution that serves as a correspondent for a bank in Lebanon. Darshan-Leitner told the Associated Press that "the idea of the lawsuit in part is to warn American correspondent banks that they will be held responsible for attacks by Hezbollah if they transfer money to them," Darshan-Leitner said. "We expect them to follow the law."
On August 21, 2008 over 100 victims of terrorist attacks carried out by the Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad ("PIJ") terror organizations in Israel filed a civil action in Los Angeles Superior Court against China’s largest bank, the Bank of China Ltd. ("BOC"). The suit, Zahavi v. Bank of China, seeks both compensatory and punitive damages. The plaintiffs allege in their complaint that starting in 2003, BOC executed dozens of wire transfers for the Hamas and PIJ totaling several million dollars. In April 2005, Israeli counter-terrorism officers met with officials from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security and China’s Central Bank regarding these Hamas and PIJ wire transfers. The Israelis demanded that the Chinese officials take action to prevent BOC from making any further such transfers. Despite the Israeli warnings, the BOC – with the Chinese government’s approval – continued to wire terrorist funds for the Hamas and PIJ. The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Federico C. Sayre of Los Angeles, Robert Tolchin of New York and Darshan-Leitner.
In February 2011 Darshan-Leitner and David Schoen filed a $5m lawsuit against former US President Jimmy Carter, alleging that his book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid "intentionally misleads and misrepresents about actual historic events", contrary to New York state law against deceptive business practices. In May 2011, three months after the filing, the suit was dropped by the plaintiffs.
In June 2014, Darshan-Leitner filed a writ in the United States District Court in Washington, DC, seeking seizure of the web domains belonging to the Islamic Republic of Iran to compensate victims of Iranian sponsored terrorism. The awarding of this seizure and the assets to the plaintiffs of a 2003 lawsuit where they won a monetary award, but have been unable to collect. This suit,filed against Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), seeks the seizure based on ICANN's position as a United States registered non-profit organization. The debate on whether ICANN should be under the jurisdiction of the U.S. has been going on for some time, and has not been resolved.
In September 2014, Shurat HaDin filed a war crimes complaint against Khaled Mashaal, the top leader of Hamas at the International Criminal Court for executing Palestinians without trial during the Summer 2014 Gaza war.
Sokolow et al v. Palestine Liberation Organization et al - Darshan-Leitner was co-counsel in the civil proceedings against the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, which found both organizations liable for the injuries and deaths of American citizens caused by six terror attacks in Israel between 2001 and 2004. Damages totaling $655.5 million were awarded by the jury.
On May 1, 2008, Darshan-Leitner along with former Soviet Ida Nudel launched a public campaign to save the life of a Palestinian police officer accused of having assisted the Israeli intelligence services in hunting down fugitive terrorists. The policeman, Imad Sa'ad has been sentenced to death by a Palestinian military tribunal in Hebron. Sa'ad, it is alleged, provided the Israel Defense Forces with the whereabouts of four suspected bomb makers whom the Palestinian Authority was unwilling to hand over to the Israelis.
Darshan-Leitner has argued that the Temple Mount is being harmed by work carried out by the Jerusalem Wakf and she organized a campaign to encourage the Israeli government to file charges against the Wakf. "The Temple Mount", one of the holiest sites in the Muslim world and home of the Al-Aqsa mosque, "is the property of Jewish nation and has been for thousands of years," claimed Darshan-Leitner. Darshan-Leitner took the case to court and lost. The High Court (BAGATZ), dismissed the claim.
Australian solicitor, Andrew Hamilton, has recently been retained by Shurat HaDin to assist in Commonwealth Matters. Hamilton, previously rated as one of Australia's most inspirational in-house lawyers has a history of successful litigation against injustice and has twice won cases in the High Court of Australia defending both single mothers and multi-national corporations.
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- Shurat HaDin - Israel Law Center
- Shurat HaDin - Israel Law Center Blog
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