Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said she works to defend her country from terrorists.
But instead of the dull click of rounds sliding into magazines, the founder and director of the Israeli non-profit organization Shurat HaDin hears the airy rustle of legal briefs every time she gets ready to fight.
“Once there is a ruling against you for $100 million or $200 million, you think twice about funding terrorism,” Darshan-Leitner said.
Darshan-Leitner’s organization, known in English as the Israel Law Center and based in Tel Aviv, Israel, has filed lawsuits in courts around the world in order to prevent funding and other material support for organizations it believes threaten Israeli or global security or the rule of law. Darshan-Leitner established the organization in 2003 on the model of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit organization based in Montgomery, Ala., that uses litigation, often including class-action lawsuits, to combat alleged civil rights violations. Since its founding, Shurat HaDin has won more than $1 billion in judgments, of which $120 million has gone directly to survivors of attacks and families of victims.
Critics, however, have claimed the organization uses “lawfare” — achieving military objectives through legal action — to suppress criticism for Israeli policies. For example, the organization took steps in 2011 to oppose the Freedom Flotilla II, a band of activists from the U.S. and other countries who intended to sail to Gaza from Greece in order to protest Israel’s ongoing blockade against the Gaza Strip.
In recent years, two Pitt alumni, Rachel Weiser and Steven Fake, have found themselves on opposing sides of these ongoing legal disputes in the Middle East.