Nitsana Darshan-Leitner grew up in Israel in the 1970s, at a time when frequent terror attacks plagued the Jewish state. In the early 1990s while attending law school in Ramat Gan she met Avi Leitner, an American immigrant, who later became her husband. When Avi took Nitsana to visit the United States, he introduced her to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a famous civil rights group organization that used lawsuits to fight against neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan throughout the 1980s. That trip transformed her understanding of what lawyers can do in the world, offering an exciting possibility for fighting terror in a totally new way. In 2002 she founded Shurat HaDin, a nonprofit legal center.
Through Shurat HaDin (“letter of the law” in Hebrew), Nitsana has spent the last fifteen years battling terrorism through civil lawsuits. Representing terror victims from Israel, the United States, Canada, Iran, and elsewhere, Shurat HaDin files motions, seizes assets, and sends warnings to state-sponsors of terror letting them know the consequences of supporting known terror groups. Shurat HaDin has put terrorists and terror-sponsoring organizations on their heels, forcing them to spend vast sums on legal fees and preventing them from using the Western banking industry to fund terrorism.
Over the past fifteen years, Nitsana and her team have won over $1 billion in judgments. This has led to the freezing of more than $600 million in assets around the world—money that would otherwise be funding terror operations. Shurat HaDin has also directly provided victims of terror with more than $120 million in actual awards.
Shurat HaDin’s first big breakthrough came in February 2002, with the case of Ira Weinstein. Weinstein was a 53-year-old father of three from Brooklyn who was riding a bus in Jerusalem in February 1996 when a suicide bomber blew himself up, murdering 25 people. Shurat HaDin filed suit on behalf of Weinstein’s family against the government of Iran, a state-supporter of the Hamas terrorists that had carried out the attack. The federal judge awarded a default judgment of $183 million against the Iranian regime.
That same year, an Israeli judge ruled that there was enough evidence to hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for the lynching of Israeli Defense Force reservist Vadim Nurzhitz, and placed a preemptive lien on $16 million in Palestinian money held by the Israeli government.
Two years later, a judge in Rhode Island awarded the Ungar family over $100 million in damages in the case of Yaron and Efrat Ungar, a young American couple who were gunned down in their car by Hamas terrorists when stopped at a traffic light just outside the city of Beit Shemesh in June 1996.
Over the next decade, Shurat HaDin developed a specific strategy to fight terrorism. First, the organization sued state-sponsors of terror. Iran, Syria, and Libya were all placed on the State Department’s formal list of governments that sponsored terror, and therefore could be sued under U.S. law.
Second, Shurat HaDin sued terror organizations themselves, along with other non-state bodies with ties to terror, such as the Palestinian Authority. However, terror groups do not recognize the authority of American courts and it is extremely difficult to officially serve them with lawsuits. With the help of intelligence agencies, Shurat HaDin can identify assets, track them down, and attach them to damages awarded to plaintiffs.
One of Shurat HaDin’s biggest challenges has been fighting against corporations and banks. In 2013, American judges offered preliminary rulings in two crucial cases—one against the Lebanese-Canadian Bank, the other against the Bank of China—that allowed the cases to move forward to provide justice for victims.
In 2016, Shurat HaDin continued to lead the fight against terrorism and anti-Semitism. The firm filed a lien against Boeing for selling airplanes to Iran, as well as a suit against the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security and the Syrian Arab Republic on behalf of the Fraenkel family for the kidnapping and murder of their son by Hamas terrorists. Additionally, Shurat HaDin petitioned Israel’s High Court to prevent Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon from providing financial compensation to Israeli banks that may be sued by terror victims because of the banks’ links to Palestinian banks.
Shurat HaDin is also at the forefront of using the law to hold social media companies responsible for providing material aid and resources to terror organizations. The firm is involved in ongoing litigation against Facebook, Twitter, and Google to stop these social media giants from providing a platform to known terrorists and terror groups. In 2017 and onwards, Shurat HaDin will continue pursuing innovative strategies to block terror funding, hold terrorists liable for their activities, and bring justice to terror victims around the world.