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How a case against Israel officials helped Saudi Arabia

How a case against Israel officials helped Saudi Arabia
From Al Jazeera - August 12, 2017

A US lawyer with ties to Saudi Arabia filed a "false alarm" lawsuit against senior Israeli and Trump administration officials, which helped the country's lobbying efforts against legislation that allows US citizens to sue Riyadh over the September 11 attacks.

Al Jazeera has discovered that Martin McMahon, who filed the complaint in February at a district court, has connections to Saudi Arabia dating back to at least 2003.

The lawsuit alleges the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, the Trump administration's ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and the Kushner Family Foundation, the charity of Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner all committed or financed war crimes in violation of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).

JASTA is an amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) that limited foreign states' immunity to lawsuits brought by US citizens in relation to support for "acts of terrorism". It became law in September 2016 after a veto from then-president Obama was overridden by US Congress.

The complaint against Israeli and Trump-related officials was then used by Saudi lobbyists to show members of Congress how a key ally could be put at risk by JASTA, according to Brian McGlinchey, editor of 28pages.org.

'Shaky lawsuit'

McGlinchey told Al Jazeera he became aware of the suit because it "was used as a talking point" for anti-JASTA lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

"They pointed to the complaint and said, 'Here are the unintended consequences,'" he said, explaining the lawsuit was used as an example of a US ally put at risk of legal action.

McGlinchey noted the February lawsuit appeared to have been made on weak grounds.

"When you looked at the actual complaint, the State of Israel is not named," he said. "It seemed a shaky invocation of JASTA."

READ MORE: Saudi Arabia condemns passage of US 9/11 law

The amendment only applies to foreign states and related entities, not individuals, as in the lawsuit.

According to 28pages, a "false alarm" complaint refers to a lawsuit seemingly filed for the purpose of providing lobbyists another piece of ammunition to argue for their specific goal.

Others called into question the text of the suit itself, which is "long and rambling", according to William Dodge, a professor of law at the University of California's Davis School of Law and member of the US State Department's Advisory Committee on International Law.

"There's been a lot of litigation around foreign official immunity recently," Dodge said in an interview, naming several cases that are testing the limits of the immunity granted to officials such as a case brought against Muhammad Al Samantar, Somalia's prime minister from 1988 to 1990 under Somali strongman Siad Barre.

Samantar admitted to ordering extrajudicial torture and killings, the State Department decided he was not immune, though it was not an absolute ruling.

Still, "None of [the litigation] is around JASTA, because JASTA does not affect foreign officials. None of this depends on the passage of JASTA," Dodge explained. "Just because you name JASTA in a complaint does not mean it will be seriously considered."

Robert Tolchin, an attorney representing an accounting firm named in McMahon's lawsuit for working with the Kushner Family Foundation, which donates to Israeli settlement organisations in the occupied West Bank, is similarly confused by what he called the "legal mumbo jumbo" contained in the text.

According to a motion to dismiss filed by Tolchin, McMahon did not meet basic legal requirements of giving street addresses for the plaintiffs, using instead the city or country in which they live.

McMahon responded with an affidavit from Miko Peled, an anti-occupation Israeli activist and author living in the US, which said "locating an individual address in Palestine is a very difficult task" because of an "uncertain" postal system.

Tolchin filed another response saying many of the plaintiffs listed in the suit, including Peled, live in the US, so the reasoning remained without merit. His research also found 13 plaintiffs were killed by Israeli forces.

No representatives of the estates of the deceased have been named, Tolchin wrote, and the deceased "do not have standing to sue in their own name simply because a lawyer has decided to name them as plaintiffs".

Several of the living plaintiffs declined to be interviewed for this article, others did not respond to Al Jazeera's request for comment.

Al Jazeera asked Tolchin for his take on the legislation, to which he replied, "I am not sure who's paying him to file these complaints, but I am sure someone is."

Saudi connections

While it's not known who, if anyone, pays for the time required to file the complaints, Al Jazeera has learned that McMahon has a history of working for Saudi interests.

'Insidious' campaign

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