WASHINGTON — A federal US court on Thursday dismissed a $1 billion case brought against a group of wealthy American Jews, including the billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and media mogul Haim Saban, that accused them of supporting alleged Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.
Judge Tanya Chutkan of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the lawsuit, brought by Palestinian activists against 49 defendants, was asking her court to decide on a matter outside the purview of the US legal system.
One of the most prominent plaintiffs was Bassem Tamimi, who lives in the West Bank village Nabi Saleh and goes frequently on speaking tours on college campuses to advocate the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
He and his fellow plaintiffs were seeking $1 billion in damages against the various pro-Israel and Jewish groups and individuals, some of whom are staunch supporters of the settlement movement. The case accused them of engaging in a civil conspiracy to expel all non-Jews from East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide.
The judge ultimately dismissed the case — Bassem Tamimi, et al. v. Sheldon Adelson, et al. — on the grounds that it did not meet the jurisdictional requirements for a US federal court to make a ruling.
“The Palestinian and Palestinian-American Plaintiffs in this lawsuit allege that they have experienced immense loss of life, liberty, and property over the last several decades, and they seek justice and compensation for violence they have experienced,” Chutkan wrote in a 23-page opinion.
“At the core of their Amended Complaint, however, is the request for this court to adjudicate and resolve the lawfulness of the development of Israeli settlements in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem stretching over thirty years into the past.”
She went on, “This issue, both close to the heart of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and central to the United States’ foreign policy decision-making in the region, is simply inappropriate for this court to resolve. Instead, these issues must be decided by the political branches.”
Beyond Adelson, who is known for his support and financial backing of Republican politicians, and Saban, who has backed Democratic politicians, the defendants included pro Israel donors like Irving Moskowitz, Norman Braman, Daniel Gilbert and Lev Leviev; corporations like the car-manufacturer Volvo; and groups that support West Bank settlements, like American Friends of Har Homa and the Karnei Shomron Foundation.
There was no immediate reaction from either side, but Shurat HaDin, an Israeli law organization, quickly praised the judge’s decision.
“Cases such as al-Tamimi vs. Adelson are brought solely to furnish a foundation of legal legitimacy for the BDS movement, and undermine the legitimacy of Israel,” its president, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, said in a statement.
“The plaintiffs sought to create a stigma and intimidate those who donate to Israeli charities and support the Jewish State,” added Shurat HaDin, which has successfully sued Palestinian and other groups accused of supporting terrorism against Israel.