The director of a supposedly independent group of Israeli lawyers privately admitted to a US embassy official it acted as a proxy for the Israeli government, a leaked US embassy cable shows.
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner confided in 2007 that her Shurat HaDin group in the past “took direction … on which cases to pursue” and still “receives evidence” from the Mossad and from Israel’s National Security Council.
This is in direct contradiction to public claims, such as on its website which states it is a “fully independent” organization “unaffiliated with any political party or governmental body.”
The group has fought several high-profile “lawfare” cases against Palestine solidarity activists around the world in recent years.
The leaked cable was unearthed by lobbying transparency outfit SpinWatch in an article earlier this month. It was one of the US embassy cables leaked by former US soldier Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning in 2010 and published by WikiLeaks in 2011.
The cable’s author quotes Darshan-Leitner as explaining the government’s rationale for using a proxy rather than going to local courts directly: “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.”
“Among her contacts, Leitner listed Udi Levy at the NSC and Uzi Beshaya at the Mossad, both key [US] Embassy contacts on anti-terrorist finance cooperation,” wrote the unnamed official who apparently authored the cable after meeting with Leitner in 2007.
The NSC is an Israeli military planning body led by generals and other senior military figures — including top Mossad figures.
At the time of the cable was written, the NSC’s head was Ilan Mizrahi, a former deputy chief of Mossad.
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Shurat HaDin did not reply to an email sent yesterday seeking comment on the issues raised in this article.
Who are Shurat HaDin?
Shurat HaDin, also known as The Israel Law Center, paints itself as a “civil rights” group. It also claims to be a “world leader in combating the terrorist organizations and the regimes that support them through lawsuits litigated in courtrooms around the world.”
But more recently a primary focus has been lawsuits against Palestine solidarity activists.
A main section of its website is dedicated to regular “BDS Updates” on the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign — which it describes as “having a perilous impact on Israel’s security and diplomatic capabilities.”
Sensationally dubbed “The Ultimate Mission to Israel,” it also runs an annual tour of Israeli military bases, courts, prisons, settlements and “the controversial Security Fence.” This year’s “mission” happens to be taking place this week.
At a cost of about $3,000 per person, it promises the chance to meet Israeli soldiers and officers, undercover collaborators, cabinet ministers and to “observe a trial of Hamas terrorists in an IDF military court.”
Unsurprisingly this promised rogues gallery also includes “briefings by Mossad officials and commanders of the Shin Bet.”
In 2011, Max Blumenthal discovered that a major funder for Shurat HaDin was John Hagee, the anti-Semitic Christian Zionist mega-pastor.
Palestine solidarity activists are not exactly flush with cash, so civil litigation against them can hardly be a profitable affair. Therefore, the revelation that Shurat HaDin is a proxy for Israeli government agencies fits perfectly with its mode of operation.
It has been involved in several high profile cases of legal harassment against activists around the world.
In Australia, Shurat HaDin is threatening to sue two academics at the University of Sydney’s Center for Peace and Conflict Studies who dared to support the academic boycott of Israel.
Shurat HaDin filed a complaint against Jake Lynch and Stuart Rees with the Human Rights Commission, but it was terminated in September. However, the Mossad-linked group is now threatening to take the case to federal court before a deadline on Monday.
Antony Loewenstein, Sydney-based independent journalist and author, told me in an email:
There is growing realization amongst hardline Zionist groups that critics of Israel and its brutal occupation are winning over the public across the world … [so] groups such as Shurat HaDin dare to pursue legitimate advocates of Palestinian justice. In Australia, with barely any public support … the tiny organization is attempting to shut down the few outspoken backers of BDS through tribunals and the courts. Public opinion polls now show in Australia that a majority of the population supports Palestine so Shurat HaDin are fighting a losing battle.
“No basis for any action”
In the US, Shurat HaDin tried to pursue a very similar case against a California State University, Northridge mathematics professor.
As reported by The Electronic Intifada last year, a Shurat HaDin front group asked California’s Attorney General to investigate and prosecute David Klein for the supposed crime of hosting a pro-boycott web page on university servers.
The Attorney General’s office found there was “no basis for any action,” but a second anti-Palestinian group renewed this harassment of Klein last month.
In 2011, activists planning a siege-busting flotilla to Gaza were foiled by anonymous legal harassment filed against the boats while docked in Greece. It was discovered that Shuarat HaDin had been behind this complaint.
“Israel needs to invade the Hague”
Director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, a winner of the 2012 Moskowitz Prize for Zionism, likes to portray herself as a “civil rights” activist, but this is a pretty thin veneer.
In 2009, Darshan-Leitner wrote an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post entitled “Israel needs to invade The Hague” — a headline intended quite literally.
The article lamented that Israeli officers are increasingly fearful of being arrested in war crimes cases while traveling the world. She argued for aggressive military action to be taken against the International Criminal Court should it ever hold any suspected Israeli war criminal.
She demanded a law allowing Israel “to utilize all necessary force to resist any effort to arrest IDF [sic - Israeli military] officers accused of war crimes anywhere in the world. Foreign countries should be made to understand we mean business.”
This hawkish attitude is no surprise considering her group’s strong links to Israeli spooks.
In a Washington, DC panel last year, she spoke about her group’s rationale in a very similar way as in the leaked cable. She explained Israel’s need for an arms-length approach: “The Israeli government has some constraints, has some problems: they have to be politically correct. They have foreign relationships, they have international treaties they are signed of [sic] and they cannot do what private lawyers can do.”
In her 2012 speech, she also boasted that thanks to what she claimed as one of Shurat HaDin’s successes that “there is no banking system in Gaza” now. She also denigrated the entire Gaza Strip, of more than 1.6 million people, as a “terror zone.”
The Mossad is Israel’s secret international terrorism wing, notorious for car bombings, assassinations and kidnappings — especially of Palestinian and Arab activists and fighters.
In a 2011 interview, Mizrahi (who was head of the NSC at the same time Darshan-Leitner admitted to working closely with the body) all but admitted that Mossad had assassinated scientists in Iran: “the Mossad has a heritage of being ruthless, an ability to penetrate deep — yes. I think that the Mossad has it all over the Middle East and beyond.”
What kind of “civil rights” group takes its lead from a deadly state intelligence apparatus?
Shurat HaDin is quoted in the international press as if it were a civil rights group or just blandly as “an Israel law center,” as one Guardian article put it in May, stating that Stephen Hawking was “accused of hypocrisy” (by Shurat HaDin).
These revelations should make journalists such Harriet Sherwood far more sceptical about taking Shurat HaDin’s claims to be “independent” at face value.
This article was first published at Electronic Intifada.