Jewish Groups Ask Supreme Court to Reject ‘Lawfare’
ZOA in the news
December 9, 2009


Washington, DC – Four Jewish groups have filed an amicus curiae (”friend of the court”) brief with the United States Supreme Court asking the Justices to overturn the ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that, the amici claim, could inhibit officials of the State of Israel from lecturing or meeting with others on American territory.

The case itself concerns a group of Somalis who are seeking restitution from a former Somali prime minister for alleged torture they say they suffered at the hands of soldiers under his command. The former leader invoked a law, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, to have the lawsuit against him rejected. The Fourth Circuit appeals court ruled that the suit may proceed

The problem with that ruling, according to the brief’s filers – Agudath Israel of America, the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the Zionist Organization of America – is that it invites anti-Israel activists to embrace a tactic in the U.S. that they have widely employed in other countries: intimidating Israeli officials to shun travel, so not to render themselves vulnerable to lawsuits, no matter how frivolous.

That tactic, which has been labeled “lawfare,” consists of asserting that Israel, for its defense of its territory from terrorist groups, is guilty of war crimes – and that, therefore, its officials may be sued in American courts.  Such lawsuits in effect use the courtroom as a front in the larger assault on Israel by her enemies.

Earlier this year, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon cancelled a visit to Britain to attend a charity event because of the threat of a lawsuit.  In 2007, Israel’s public security minister declined an invitation to visit Britain after being advised he could be arrested.  In 2005 a retired general dodged arrest by staying aboard his plane at London’s Heathrow airport after being tipped off that police were outside to arrest him.

The brief, written by renowned Washington attorneys Nathan Lewin and Alyza Lewin, contends that such lawsuits should be “dismissed at their inception” because of the immunity provided foreign governments themselves under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.  Not extending that immunity to government officials, the amici write, “will surely stifle speaking engagements, scholarly visits and public appearances in the United States by current and former government officials of the State of Israel.” 

Permitting the Fourth Circuit decision to stand, the brief further notes, would force Israeli officials to “shade” decisions they make as public servants, a concern that lies at the heart of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

Agudath Israel of America, as a national Orthodox Jewish organization affiliated with a political party in Israel, frequently invites the party’s representatives who serve in the Knesset to speak at and participate in its functions in the United States.

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