NY judge raps Facebook for not taking suit by Israeli terror victims seriously
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NY judge raps Facebook for not taking suit by Israeli terror victims seriously

Nicholas Garaufis says it's 'outrageous, irresponsible and insulting' that social media giant would send first-year attorney to defend case

Mark Zuckerberg speaking at the Samsung Electronics Co. Unpacked launch event ahead of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 21, 2016. (JTA/Pau Barrena/Bloomberg)
Mark Zuckerberg speaking at the Samsung Electronics Co. Unpacked launch event ahead of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 21, 2016. (JTA/Pau Barrena/Bloomberg)

A Brooklyn judge on Thursday slammed Facebook for making light of a $1 billion lawsuit filed by Israeli terror victims, calling a decision by the social media giant’s law firm to send a first-year associate to defend the case “outrageous, irresponsible and insulting.”

In July, the families of five Americans murdered or injured in recent Palestinian terror attacks in Israel lodged a lawsuit against Facebook for failing to ban the Gaza-based terror group Hamas from using its social media platform.

The suit was brought to the New York State District Court under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows American citizens who are victims of terror attacks overseas to sue in US federal court.

In a hearing on Thursday, US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis gave a public dressing-down of the lawyer representing Facebook.

“You tell your folks back at Kirkland & Ellis that if they think so little of this court that they didn’t send a partner here to talk about this kind of problem which implicates international terrorism and the murder of innocent people in Israel and other places,” Garaufis said, according to the New York Daily News. “I think it’s outrageous, irresponsible and insulting.”

Garaufis ordered a new hearing on September 28, and said he wanted a partner from the firm present.

A Gazan man looking at a pro-Palestinian post on Facebook on April 07, 2013. Illustrative photo. (Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90)
A Gazan man looking at a pro-Palestinian post on Facebook on April 7, 2013. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

“I want to talk to someone who talks to senior management at Facebook,” he said.

According to Bloomberg, the judge underlined that similar lawsuits have thus far been unsuccessful under US law, but maintained that the social media giant must nonetheless treat the case seriously.

“Let’s put the law aside and talk about reality,” Garaufis said. “The reality is that people are communicating through social media and the outcome of these inquiries, be it Google or Facebook, has the potential of hooking people up to do very dangerous, bad and harmful things in terms of international and domestic terror.”

Isn’t Facebook “basically putting together people who’d like to be involved in terrorism with people who are terrorists?” he asked. “Doesn’t Facebook have some moral obligation to help cabin the kinds of communications that appear on it?”

He also suggested Facebook has a “social responsibility” to reach out to the victims outside the framework of the judicial system.

“Don’t you have a social responsibility as citizens of the world without having these plaintiffs come to me in Brooklyn?” he asked. “There are things you could do that don’t involve the courts or the judicial system.”

The plaintiffs, family members of victims in five separate terrorist attacks between June 2014 and March 2016, are seeking $1 billion in punitive damages from the social media giant.

“Facebook has knowingly provided material support and resources to Hamas in the form of Facebook’s online social media network platform and communication services,” a press release issued by the plaintiffs in July said. “Hamas has used and relied on Facebook’s online social network platform and communications services as among its most important tools to facilitate and carry out its terrorist activity.”

The lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Stuart and Robbi Force, the parents of 29-year-old US Army veteran and Vanderbilt University graduate student Taylor Force, who was fatally stabbed by a Hamas terrorist while visiting Israel on a school-sponsored trip in March.

Vanderbilt University held a campus memorial service for Taylor Force, above, on March 18, 2016. (Facebook)
Vanderbilt University held a campus memorial service for Taylor Force, above, on March 18, 2016. (Facebook)

Joining the Forces as plaintiffs are the parents of 16-year-old Naftali Fraenkel, who was kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank in June 2014; the parents of 3-month-old Chaya Zissel Braun who was killed in an October 2014 car-ramming attack in Jerusalem; the son of 76-year-old Richard Lakin who was killed in an October 2015 shooting and stabbing attack; and Menachem Mendel Rivkin, who was seriously wounded in a January 2016 stabbing attack in Jerusalem.

Richard Lakin (left) reads a book to his granddaughter as his son Micah Avni looks on. January 2014. (Courtesy)
Richard Lakin (left) reads a book to his granddaughter as his son Micah Avni looks on. January 2014. (Courtesy)

All of the victims were US citizens.

New York-based civil rights lawyer Robert Tolchin and Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the director of the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, filed the suit.

“Our aim in filing these law suits is to force Facebook to proactively monitor and remove in real time all materials that incite to terror,” said Lakin’s son Micah Avni on Friday. “I wrote to Mark Zuckerberg ten months ago and tried to appeal to his conscience. Unfortunately, Mark lacks the moral fiber that real leaders are made of. Rather than taking a proactive and responsible approach, he has chosen to hide behind vague corporate policies. In doing so, he has allowed Facebook to become the world’s number one facilitator of terror.”

In August, a federal judge in San Francisco dismissed a lawsuit accusing Twitter of supporting the Islamic State group. The families of two men killed in Jordan claimed that Twitter had contributed to their deaths by allowing the group to sign up for and use Twitter accounts. The judge agreed with Twitter that the company cannot be held liable because federal law protects service providers that merely offer platforms for speech, without creating the speech itself.

Tamar Pileggi, AP contributed to this report.

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