February 25, 2015
By Philip Giraldi

Lawfare, as the name suggests, is the concept of using the law itself as a weapon of war. What it has meant in practice is turning American courtrooms into battlegrounds between private actors and foreign litigants seeking leverage in international political disputes. As a court case just concluded this week in New York against the Palestinian Authority highlights, the increasing abuse of Lawfare litigation in the U.S. courts may soon have dangerous and irreparable implications for American foreign policy interests in the Middle East.

Israel’s Shurat HaDin Law Center has featured in much of the Lawfare litigation, seeking to harass groups and individuals that it regards as hostile, tying them up with litigation so they become ineffectual or even bankrupting them when a friendly judge rules its way. Shurat HaDin is headed by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and her husband Avi, who have described their organization as a means of “fighting back,” particularly appropriate for Israel because “the Jews invented law.” As of 2012, Shurat HaDin claimed success in obtaining $1 billion in judgments, freezing $600 million in defendant assets, and collecting $120 million in actual reparations payments.

Such court cases often play out over the applicability and meaning of loosely worded anti-terrorist legislation in the U.S., which makes it illegal to provide “material support” to any group identified as a terrorist organization. This deliberately vague language has opened the door for Lawfare to justify litigation if a State Department designated terrorist organization is in any way involved or can plausibly be implicated. Many of the charges are frivolous and only intended to advance foreign political interests through exploitation of the U.S. judiciary system. The suits frequently accomplish little beyond tying up American courtrooms. Those who are sued have to waste time and resources defending themselves, which is precisely what is intended.

Recent Shurat HaDin activity has included a flurry of litigation aimed at stopping 2011’s Gaza Flotilla. A lawsuit was filed in federal court in New York City claiming that the sponsoring organization the Free Gaza Movement was raising money and preparing ships to be used in “hostilities” against American “ally” Israel, a violation of the U.S. Neutrality Act. Despite describing itself as an NGO, the organization works closely with the Israeli government, and received marching orders to stop the Gaza flotilla at all costs, as well as an offer of full support, directly from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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