A law firm targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has close links to Israeli intelligence, US government cables leaked by Wikileaks show.
Shurat HaDin—Israel Law Center (ILC) made a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission last month against Jake Lynch, the director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University, over Lynch’s support for BDS.
The ILC, set up in 2003, claims to be ‘a fully independent non-profit organization, unaffiliated with any political party or governmental body.’
However, the organisation’s director, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, has privately admitted to taking direction from the Israeli government over which cases to pursue and relying on Israeli intelligence contacts for witnesses and evidence.
Darshan-Leitner made the comments in 2007 to diplomats from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, who reported the conversation in a cable leaked by Wikileaks four years later. It states:
Leitner said that in many of her cases she receives evidence from GOI officials, and added that in its early years ILC took direction from the GOI [Government of Israel] on which cases to pursue.
‘The National Security Council (NSC) legal office saw the use of civil courts as a way to do things that they are not authorized to do,’ claimed Leitner. Among her contacts, Leitner listed Udi Levy at the NSC and Uzi Beshaya at the Mossad, both key Embassy contacts on anti-terrorist finance cooperation. Leitner offered a case against Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) as example of ILC’s close cooperation with the GOI. After obtaining a judgment against PIJ for NIS 100 million (USD 25 million), ILC requested a lien for that amount against the Abu Akker Trading Company as a third party defendant.
At the time, Abu Akker was one of the largest Palestinian importing companies, and Leitner said the Mossad provided her with the intelligence (similar to information provided to USG officials in a classified briefing) to prove that the company was funneling money to PIJ. According to Leitner, the ILC now decides its cases independently, but continues to receive evidence and witnesses from Israeli intelligence.
The US cable goes on to comment that:
While the ILC’s mission dovetails with GOI objectives of putting financial pressure on Israel’s adversaries, the often uncompromising approach of ILC’s attorneys seems to overreach official GOI policy goals. ILC’s relentless litigation has proven to be an obstacle to the GOI’s releasing of all customs revenues previously withheld from the PA [Palestinian Authority].
ILC has engaged in a wide variety of other actions in the US, Australia, Israel itself and in Egypt as well as targeting Iran, Syria, North Korea and the Palestinian Authority. Amongst its targets have been financial institutions including UBS, American Express Bank and the Lebanese-Canadian Bank, President Jimmy Carter, World Vision Australia (a Christian aid agency) and, most notably, the largely successful attempt to stop the second Free Gaza Flotilla. This involved a blizzard of legal threats against insurance companies port authorities and satellite firms. They were informed that they would open themselves to criminal liability for “aiding and abetting” a “terrorist” organisation or would become”legally liable” for any future attacks by Hamas.
The Bank of China Affair
Further details of the ILC’s links with Israeli intelligence have emerged amid fallout from a case brought by the firm against the Bank of China. According to accounts in the Israeli press, officials from the National Security Council approached Darshan-Leitner, after identifying the bank as a conduit for Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Darshan-Leitner found a suitable plaintiff to bring the case in the family of Daniel Wultz, a 16-year-old American citizen killed in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv in 2006. Yediot Ahronot reported,
In her discussions with the intelligence agents, Darshan Leitner insisted that she receives massive assistance from the government. She demanded convicting information on the bank activities, affidavits from authorized people and a commitment to provide for the trial an authorized witness that will say that the Chinese knew about the nature of the accounts and refused to close them. The consent was given – orally. In 2009, a lawsuit was filed to the NY Federal court.
This arrangement began to collapse in the face of Chinese Government pressure ahead of a visit to Beijing by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this year.
The Wultz family has accused the Israeli Government of sabotaging the case, by failing to provide the documents it promised at the outset. The standoff is particularly embarrassing, because Daniel Wultz’s mother, Sheryl Cantor Wultz, is a cousin of Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader in the US Congress.
Among the key documents at the centre of the case is an affidavit by Uzi Shaya, who may be the same person as ‘Uzi Beshaya’, the Israeli security official named in the 2007 cable as a contact of both Shurat Hadin and the US Embassy.
Another US cable describes Shaya as an officer of Israel’s Shin Bet service, working in the Counter Terror Finance Bureau of the Israeli National Security Council alongside Udi Levi, Darshan-Leitner’s other intelligence contact.
Meir Dagan’s Lawfare programme
The National Security Council appears to be the central node in the Israeli Government’s attempts to use deniable civil actions against alleged terrorist financing. According to veteran Haaretz intelligence correspondent Yossi Melman, this strategy was initiated by Meir Dagan when he headed the NSC in the late 1990s, before becoming chief of the Mossad.
In a 2007 article, Melman went on to suggest that Israeli intelligence was connected to a lawsuit brought against the Arab Bank, one of the largest financial institutions in the Middle East.
The law firm which brought the Arab Bank case, Mann Mairone, moved into terrorism litigation around 2001, having previously specialised in taxation and commercial law. In the process, it acquired a roster of researchers and advisors drawn largely from Shin Bet and Israeli military intelligence.
Wikileaks cables show that the Arab Bank was a frequent subject of discussions between Israeli NSC officials and US diplomats during the case.
At one such meeting with US Treasury officials in 2005, ILC contacts Udi Levi and Uzi Shaya were prominent in defending the litigation, although vague as to the justification for it:
Levi said the bank had stopped all transactions to the territories after it was sued in U.S. court. He cautioned, however, that the bank is ‘playing with evidence, cleaning the records, and deleting accounts’ to cover its tracks. Shaya said that the GOI has unspecified proof that the Arab Bank is still dealing with Hizballah in Lebanon.
Levi went on to suggest further litigation:
Levi called INTERPAL and other European groups that channel funds to Hamas ‘a problem we do not know how to solve,’ but added that lawsuits similar to the ones filed against the Arab Bank might help. He suggested that another option to restrict funding would be to prevent INTERPAL from clearing dollar donations through New York.
Interpal, a British charity focused on Palestine, had been a source of friction between the Israeli and British governments for several years. The Israeli daily Haaretz reported in 2004that Foreign Minister Jack Straw had refused a request from his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom to put an end to Interpal’s activities. Significantly, Haaretz noted that even if the Israeli intelligence on Interpal were made public, it would not necessarily meet the threshold for banning a UK charity and that, ‘it is therefore not at all certain that even if the evidence were to be revealed, it would lead to a curbing of Interpal in Britain’.
In 2007 Interpal had its account closed by Natwest, as the bank sought to avoid potential liability in a civil case. Darshan-Leitner claimed in her 2007 comments that the ILC had been involved in the action, and that Natwest itself now consulted with Israeli intelligence on Islamic charity clients.
Interpal was also targeted in 2007 by a British think tank, the Centre for Social Cohesion, as chronicled in Spinwatch’s pamphlet, The Cold War on British Muslims. In their attack, the CSC cited ‘allegations made by Israel and the USA’, as well as a 2006 BBC Panorama documentary, which had also relied extensively on evidence provided by current and former Israeli security officials.
In 2009, an inquiry by the UK Charity Commission found that there was insufficient evidence to take action over claims that Interpal beneficiaries were supporting terrorism, because it could not verify ‘the provenance or accuracy’ of material provided by the Israeli government.
Udi Levi’s comments suggest that such developments are in line with the wider strategy being pursued by the National Security Council.
If a firm that has received covert support from the Israeli government is now targeting BDS activists, does this mean that the Israeli government has widened its use of lawfare in a bid to silence its critics?
As we have noted firms like the ILC are prepared to take on the Israeli government over issues like the Bank of China case. Yet that case itself illustrates the extent to which they are nevertheless dependent on a government which is prepared to use and then abandon terror victims for cynical political reasons.
The fact that the Israeli Government is prepared to support organisations whose hardline stances are at odds with its own public positions, must also create doubts about how sincerely held those positions are.
The targeting of the Palestinian Authority in particular, in cases largely dependent on official Israeli sources, is surely inconsistent with any commitment to a genuine peace process.