WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 (JTA) — The family of an Israeli American killed in a 1996 Hamas bus bombing in Jerusalem is suing Syria under a law that allows American victims to sue states responsible for terrorist acts.
Ira Weinstein’s family is seeking $330 million in damages from Syria. They allege, in the lawsuit filed in a New York court, that Syria provided support to Hamas at the time of the attack.
The families of other American citizens killed in Israel in terrorist attacks have sued successfully in U.S. courts but have not been able to claim damages.
In May, the families of Matthew Eisenfeld and Sara Duker, students killed in the same bombing as Weinstein, won a $327 million judgment against Iran. The family of Alisa Flatow, who was killed in a bus bombing in Israel in 1995, was awarded $247.5 million in damages.
But none of the families has received any money. The Flatow family has not been able to collect because the Clinton administration has blocked Iranian assets.
Under a 1996 law, families are allowed to sue foreign state sponsors of terrorism in U.S. courts, but the president can block the seizure in the interests of national security. President Clinton exercised that provision in the Flatow case.
Many of Iran’s frozen foreign assets in the United States are diplomatic properties and pose special problems, the White House has argued.
A bill working its way through Congress now, the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, would prevent the United States from freezing nondiplomatic assets, making it easier for families to collect their judgments.
The White House, however, opposes the legislation, saying the assets are bargaining chips and can be used as leverage in negotiations with terrorist countries. The way the bill is written, U.S. consular properties abroad might also be jeopardized.
The administration is working with congressional lawmakers to reach an agreement before Congress reconvenes in the fall.
In the Weinstein complaint, filed in the Supreme Court of Nassau County, N.Y., the Syrian government is charged with providing “material support and resources to Hamas in order to facilitate and further the commission of terrorist attacks.”
The Syrian actions, therefore, caused Weinstein’s death, the lawsuit maintains.
The U.S. State Department considers Syria to be a state sponsor of terrorism, though it does identify Syria mostly as an indirect supporter of terrorism and notes the Syrian government’s attempts to prevent terrorist attacks against civilians in Israel.
A report released in April by the State Department charged Syria with continuing to support regional terrorist groups that want to end the Middle East peace process.
Syria provides safe haven to several terrorist groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report said. These and other terrorist organizations have bases in Damascus, and Syria granted space for training camps within Syrian territory or in areas of Lebanon under Syrian control.
Jeffrey Miller, the lawyer for the Weinstein family, said the support Syria gives to terrorist groups helps carry out attacks like the suicide bombing that killed Weinstein.
But Steven Perles, an attorney for the Flatow family and one of the lawyers in the Eisenfeld and Duker case, says foreign sovereign immunity act cases like this one are extremely difficult, time-consuming and expensive. The case may be won, Perles said, but there is a “myriad of problems.”