Israeli “law center” Shurat HaDin admits Mossad ties

Shurat HaDin’s director outside a Manhattan courthouse in 2015.

Brendan McDermid Reuters

An Israeli group which claims to be a “civil rights” organization has admitted to being a front for Mossad, Israel’s deadly spy agency.

Shurat HaDin’s intimate links with Mossad were first exposed in 2013, when a US embassy cable was published by WikiLeaks.

In that classified 2007 document, the group’s director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner told US embassy staff that the group “took direction” from Israeli spy agencies, including Mossad.

In an interview to promote her new book Harpoon, Darshan-Leitner this month laid out just how intimate the organization’s ties with Mossad are.

Soon after the group’s foundation, she told Reuters, “she was invited to Mossad headquarters for a consultation.”

She said that she “explained to them what we do, how and where lawsuits are filed, what evidence and jurisdiction is required … Their response was: What do we have to do to file more lawsuits? What do you need?”

Also known as the Israel Law Center, Shurat HaDin is notorious for attacking Palestine solidarity organizations with frivolous lawsuits.

Although the group portrays itself as “bankrupting terrorism - one lawsuit at a time,” a primary Shurat HaDin target is BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement which aims to hold Israel accountable through non-violent campaign work.

The early Mossad contact “evolved into regular briefings, held in quiet cafes,” Reuters reported. The group would “get tip-offs about suspect finances to focus on during the US courts’ discovery hearings.”

“Lawfare”

These early links seem to have continued until the present day.

In the 2007 cable, it is noted that Shurat HaDin “continues to receive evidence and witnesses from Israeli intelligence.”

Her new book is praised on its cover by Tamir Pardo – Mossad director until last year – something Reuters describes as “the closest that the secretive Mossad can come to a public endorsement.”

Darshan-Leitner and her co-author Samuel Katz willingly submitted the book to Israeli military censors, who then “cut a fifth of the text to suppress some details about intelligence methods and personnel,” according to Reuters.

Shurat HaDin now has a long record of harassment targeting human rights campaigners. It does so using the threat of expensive lawsuits, usually on flimsy grounds. This is a tactic it calls “lawfare.”

Civil rights group Palestine Legal showed in a 2015 report that Shurat HaDin “threatened or initiated legal action against several organizations that have contemplated or passed BDS initiatives, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the ASA [American Studies Association] and the Park Slope Food Coop.”

The report also details how Shurat HaDin in 2011 sued former US President Jimmy Carter for $5 million after he published his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

The group also stopped a 2011 boat of activists headed for Gaza to break the Israeli siege by filing an anonymous legal complaint which alleged the vessel was not seaworthy.

Reporting this at the time, journalist Max Blumenthal described it as “a baseless but startlingly successful exercise in legal harassment.”

BDS a threat

All of this gives a good indication of how much of a threat Mossad considers BDS and the wider Palestine solidarity movement to be.

Reluctant to suffer potential political consequences from using Mossad’s normal methods of assassination, torture and kidnapping against the movement for Palestinian rights, Israel’s spy agencies instead use front organizations and “lawfare” harassment.

In the 2007 cable Darshan-Leitner explained that the Israeli government “saw the use of civil courts as a way to do things that they are not authorized to do.”

In a 2012 talk she said that “The Israeli government has some constraints … they have international treaties they are signed of and they cannot do what private lawyers can do.”

Israel’s strategic affairs ministry is now also involved in this dirty war against Palestine solidarity, having been tasked in 2015 with leading the fight against BDS.

Last year it was revealed by a veteran Israeli journalist that the ministry, led by Gilad Erdan, is involved in “black-ops” against BDS.

This campaign has included death threats against and harassment of Palestinian lawyers who are working to file human rights cases against Israel in the Hague, as well as cyber attacks on pro-BDS websites.

“Sabotage” and “attack”

The ministry has an “intelligence section” run by former spy operative Shai Har-Zvi and receives assistance from “a special unit” within Israeli military intelligence and from the Shin Bet secret police.

As long ago as 2010, the influential Reut Institute urged Israel to “attack” and “sabotage” BDS and the Palestinian rights movement.

But this year it issued a report to some of Israel’s supporters, admitting that this campaign was failing, and that the BDS movement had achieved “impressive growth” and “significant successes.”

This week, the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz quoted Erdan as saying that he had now “set a policy of moving from defense to offense concerning the fight against [BDS],” after he banned a European delegation from entering the country.

The evidence shows, however, that Israel has actually been “on the offense” against BDS for years – and yet the movement only continues to grow.

As long as Israel continues to deny Palestinians freedom, equality and the right of return, it is likely to continue doing so.

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And Yes, the very same law firm (not to friendly) asked my bank to freeze my bank account during our mission 2015 to break the siege of Gaza. Still have a copy of that mail.

Asa Winstanley's picture

Thanks for this Charlie, that is interesting and new information to me. Could you email me a copy? asa AT electronicintifada.net

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Thanks for this report. I'm wondering whether it can be successfully argued before a judge that suits of this type brought by a front group operating at the behest of a foreign intelligence service are inadmissible. Or whether it would be possible to call as witnesses officials of Mossad who are behind the suits. The last thing these people want is exposure in a public trial.

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Tom, there is a requirement under Rule 17(a) of the U.S. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, mirrored in almost all state rules of civil procedure:

"(1) Designation in General. An action must be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest. ...

"(3) Joinder of the Real Party in Interest. The court may not dismiss an action for failure to prosecute in the name of the real party in interest until, after an objection, a reasonable time has been allowed for the real party in interest to ratify, join, or be substituted into the action. After ratification, joinder, or substitution, the action proceeds as if it had been originally commenced by the real party in interest."

https://www.law.cornell.edu/ru...

However, I have not researched whether that rule would apply in this circumstance.

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If the rule does apply, I'd also research whether Mossad/State of Israel can lawfully bring lawsuits of the particular type at issue. There is a statement in the leaked State Department report, expanded in detail in the new Shurat Hadin book, saying that the State of Israel was looking to suits to be brought by Shurat Hadin because the State of Israel could not bring such suits. I don't know whether that's only because of fear of public exposure or because there is a legal barrier. If there is such a barrier, it might be grounds for early dismissal.

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Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada. He lives in London. Biography here.