I recently interviewed Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, an Israeli attorney of Iranian Jewish heritage who represents Jewish victims of Palestinian and Iranian terrorism. She has successfully sued the Iranian regime in U.S. federal courts for their sponsorship of terrorism. My latest article explores her latest move in filing a lawsuit in U.S. federal court in Washington, D.C., to seize control of Internet licenses and domain names belonging to the Iranian regime. The legal motion was made in June against the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a U.S. government agency that controls all Internet domain names. The maneuver aims to force the Iranian regime to pay nearly $1 billion in unpaid judgments from civil lawsuits won by Jewish victims against the Iranian regime for funding suicide bombings and shootings by Hamas and Islamic Jihad nearly two decades ago. The following is a segment of my interview with her…
For many years now you have tried to seize the Iranian regime’s assets and bank accounts in the U.S. and Europe to collect on the judgments against the regime for its direct support of terror. What motivated you to seek an attachment on their internet licenses and domain names? And how successful do you think you will be in collecting on this judgment in a U.S. federal court?
The years are passing by and we have over a billion dollars in unsatisfied court judgments against Iran. Our clients, the terror victims and families, have grown impatient and understand that if we aren't proactive, if we aren't vigilant and aggressive, we will never be able to have Teheran pay voluntarily. We believe in going on the offensive. ICANN provides these licenses and domain names to Iran, they are a property, an asset, and we intend to seize them for the victims. Legally we are correct and we hope the courts will act justly. ICANN is a U.S. government agency and in the past the U.S. government has prevented different plaintiffs seeking to collect on judgments against the Iranian regime from moving forward.
How confident are you that the Obama administration will not block this latest move by your law firm on behalf of the victims of terror?
There has been legislation, some that we were instrumental in passing that makes it easier now for terror victims with judgments to go after Iranian assets in the US. We are pursuing ICANN under these statutes and we are hopeful that we can seize the internet licenses and at least in part satisfy the judgments. The Obama administration has in recent years been making greater strides to warm relations between the U.S. and the Iranian regime.
Have you encountered any opposition or resistance from the administration to block your latest move on attaching the regime’s internet licenses and domain names?
Well the State Department and others involved in appeasing the outlaw regime in Iran are always frowning upon any private effort by lawyers to hold Iran accountable for its sponsorship of international terrorism and the suicide bombings and rocket attacks in Israel. On the other hand we maintain good relations with the intelligence services and US armed forces who understand that Iran is determined to continue to enrich uranium at all costs and continues to be the largest sponsor of terrorism globally. So we will continue to work with the rational elements and agencies in the US, Israel and Europe that have a clear eyed understanding of the threat of Islamic extremism. Just recently I lectured before a group of senior officers at the US Naval War College in Rhode Island. My speech was very well received. Those senior officers don't have any allusion about appeasing Islamic extremism. Accordingly, those committed to fighting the jihadists and who understand you cannot compromise or ignore the threat from Iran are all on the same page – the Iranian and Revolutionary Guard ideology cannot be placated, it’s an aggressive and dangerous cancer, and it must be fought by the government, the military and the private sector relentlessly.
Is there any legal precedent for some suing ICANN to obtain another country’s or entity’s internet licenses and domain names in matters of collecting on a judgment?
This is a case of first impression. It’s unprecedented and we are very determined and excited to see what ICANN and the court will do. We know we are legally correct and have the right to seize all Iranian property we can locate in the US to satisfy our federal court judgments.
What message are you and the terror victims’ families hoping to send with this latest move to get an attachment on the Iranian regime’s internet licenses and domain names?
The message we are trying to send to Iran is – you have financed these Hamas attacks, you killed and injured innocent Jews and now it’s time to pay compensation for your crimes. 60 years after the Holocaust Jew haters worldwide have to know there is a steep price to pay for murdering Jews. Iran has to be taught that sponsoring Palestinian terrorism will lead to its economic destruction. While some want to reach a misguided agreement with Iran on the nuclear issue, and want to ease the sanctions, we are determined that the issue of Iran's financial support for Middle East terrorism not be swept under the rug. We are demanding compensation and justice for the victims and families.
If the US Administration wants to whitewash Iran's decades of terrorism and war crimes that is its problem, we won’t let them throw the terror victims under the bus. In the past the Iranian regime has ignored your lawsuits and judgments, how certain are you that this latest legal move will grab their attention?
They have ignored our cases, however, when we have moved to actually collect they sometimes hire US law firms to fight. We do not care if they respond in the ICANN case because we intend to seize the licenses and have title passed to the victims of Iranian terrorism. So they can boycott the proceedings at their own peril.
You are of Iranian Jewish heritage and have seen how the Iranian regime has treated Jews for 36 years. How personally important is it for you to see the victims’ families collect this judgment against the Iranian regime?
It’s personally important to me both because my family is Persian and more importantly because these victims are Jews who were targeted because they are Jewish. We believe that the slogan "never again" means first and foremost that no one can murder Jews and simply walk away. There has to be a heavy price and simply forgiving Iran or shrugging our shoulders means that Jewish blood will be deemed cheap in the eyes of the nations. Not pursuing the financers of Palestinian and Hezbollah terrorism endangers not just Israelis but the entire world Jewish community. It’s very hard not to be ashamed of Iran, its treatment of minorities and woman, the wanton murders carried out in the name of religion, its widespread civil rights violations, the tortures and the destruction of its societal fibers. Persia today under the Ayatollahs is a tragic and criminal skeleton of what it once was. In a little over three decades the Islamic extremists have erased much of Persia's glorious culture and history and replaced it with a foreign and immoral cult of Jihadism, escalating racism and Revolutionary Guard corruption. Every Persian person, whether Muslim, Bahai or Jewish, who can still remember what Persia once was, needs to join with us in fighting this wicked and artificial regime. We are combating Iran through the courts.
If this latest legal move is blocked by the U.S. administration or the U.S. courts, will you continue to fight this fight? If yes, then why?
Yes of course. We'll oppose all legal challenges, appeal to the highest courts and seek assistance from Congress. Why should Iran enjoy licenses and benefits from the US government, a country they actively seek to destroy, and at the same time thumb their noses at the US court system and the terror victims who have legal judgments against them? Iran is like any other deadbeat creditor who needs to pay up. They lost at trial. They murdered Jews and now they need to hand over the cash.
Why should Jews and average Americans care about this case? Some people reading about your work wonder why you are rocking the boat and trying to push this case so much. How do you respond to them?
Firstly, I represent private families with judgments from federal courts who are pursuing their rights. It’s their business not the public's. More importantly, Iran is an outlaw regime and only the most naïve observer would believe for a moment that Iran has changed its agenda or its stripes. We are going to continue pursuing justice for the terror victims in every forum, in every jurisdiction, worldwide. We will pursue Iran until the end and we believe we will succeed. We owe it to the families. Teheran should know the terror victims haven't yet begun to rock the boat.
What do you think is the most important aspect of your efforts in this case?
For years the Iranian government has refused to pay its judgments, thumbing its nose at these terror victims and the American court system. Our clients continue to suffer from the suicide bombing that Iran financed in Jerusalem nearly seventeen years ago. It is not our intention to shut down Iran's internet usage, but we want what is rightfully due. If by seizing any funds earned from these licenses and contractual rights we can satisfy the judgments, we will have served our clients.