|Congress overrode President Barack Obamas veto last year to pass a law making it easier for families of Sept. 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia — but now a Washington lawyer is using it to target Israel instead. In a 103-page complaint filed Feb. 1, attorney|
Congress overrode President Barack Obamas veto last year to pass a law making it easier for families of Sept. 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia — but now a Washington lawyer is using it to target Israel instead.
In a 103-page complaint filed Feb. 1, attorney Martin F. McMahon alleges that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as U.S. charities tied to President Donald Trumps son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trumps Israel ambassador pick David Friedman, are complicit in war crimes against Palestinians because of their financial support for settlement activity in the West Bank.
The suit could bolster critics of the Saudi-targeted law, who warned U.S. lawmakers that the statute opened the door to legal claims that ultimately could drag U.S. officials into court, even on flimsy grounds.
The lawsuit was first reported on by Courthouse News Service. The Israeli Embassy in Washington did not offer immediate comment Monday. The White House deferred to Friedman, who did not respond to a request for comment, and the Kushner Family Foundation, which declined comment.
Aides to leading lawmakers who pushed for the Saudi-related bill, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, also did not offer immediate comment.
U.S. investigators have said they’ve found no evidence that senior Saudi officials or the government of the conservative Muslim kingdom played a role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, though 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. Many relatives of Sept. 11 victims insist there’s more to uncover and have turned to the courts for assistance. But for years, their legal attempts went nowhere, because U.S. law, with some very specific exceptions, forbid lawsuits against foreign governments under a principle known as “sovereign immunity.”
After years of lobbying, JASTA passed last year. The law has two main provisions: one that allows lawsuits against foreign states — not just Saudi Arabia — for terrorist attacks committed on U.S. soil, and one that allows legal action in the case of terrorist attacks carried out by designated foreign terrorist groups.
The push for JASTA drew broad bipartisan support in Congress. Former President Barack Obama vetoed the Saudi-related bill over concerns it went too far, but Congress overrode him. Even so, several lawmakers voiced support for amending the statute to clarify elements related to “sovereign immunity” — but they have yet to get any changes through, despite urging from the Saudi government.
Sean Carter, one of the lawyers involved in the Sept. 11 families still-ongoing legal push against Saudi Arabia, cast doubt on the new lawsuit’s chances, at least when it comes to the grounds allowed by JASTA. He noted, that, for one thing, "there is not even a claim against a foreign state, let alone a claim for a terrorist attack on U.S. soil." The plaintiffs also do not appear to allege any injuries resulting from attacks by a terrorist group, he added.
“JASTA prohibits a lawsuit like it in numerous ways,” he said. “I expect it will be quickly dismissed, assuming it is not voluntarily withdrawn.”
The roughly three dozen plaintiffs in the new lawsuit include Palestinians, Palestinian Americans and Jewish Americans. Aside from Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli foreign minister, are listed as defendants.
McMahon, the attorney who filed the case, has been involved in past legal action involving Israeli settlements. In an email, McMahon stated: "We allege that the U.S. defendants and Netanyahu have been frustrating the implementation of the two-state solution for years."
Friedman, who worked as Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer for years, is listed as a defendant alongside American Friends of Bet El Institutions. Friedman is reported to have served as a top official in the American Friends group, which raises money for institutions in Israeli settlements built on land claimed by Palestinians for a future state.
Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is not individually named as a defendant. But the Mountainside, N.J.-based Kushner Family Foundation, which is reported to also have funded Israeli settlements in disputed territories, is listed. Trump has suggested his son-in-law could help negotiate an end to the decades-old conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.