Lawsuit to seize Iranian regime’s Internet licenses

Attorneys representing American-Jewish victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism have filed 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 headquartered in Marina Del Rey 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. 

“We are demanding compensation and justice for the victims and their families,” said Nistana Darshan-Leitner, an attorney based in Israel representing the Jewish terror victims through the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, which she founded and directs. “The message we are trying to send Iran is that you have financed these Hamas attacks, you killed and injured innocent Jews, and now it’s time to pay compensation for your crimes.”

Countries around the world, including Iran, are authorized by ICANN to allocate top-level Internet domain names. The Jewish victims of Iranian-sponsored terror are seeking to obtain control of the domain names ending with “.ir” (Iran) and use them to leverage payment from the regime for their judgments. 

Officials working at the Marina Del Rey headquarters of ICANN declined to comment on the case when contacted by the Journal. Recently, government attorneys for ICANN filed a motion to request the court to completely vacate this latest case brought by the terrorism victims.

Darshan-Leitner, who hails from an Iranian-Jewish family, said the legal move against ICANN comes after many years of being unable to collect on judgments from the different cases against the Iranian regime for funding Palestinian terror attacks against Jews.

“For years the Iranian government has refused to pay its judgments, thumbing its nose at these terror victims and the American court system,” she said.

Darshan-Leitner thinks this time will be different. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act allows victims of terrorism to collect judgments against foreign governments that have sponsored terrorism against Americans by seizing the foreign government’s properties or assets that are in the U.S., the attorney said. She argues that the Iranian domain licenses are valuable assets the regime has been able to retain in the U.S.

Darshan-Leitner said the case at hand is especially important to her.

“We believe that the slogan ‘never again’ means first and foremost that no one can murder Jews and simply walk away,” she said. “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.” 

Family members of the Palestinian bombing victims said they were frustrated with the lack of support from the U.S. administration in their efforts to collect on judgments from U.S. courts against the Iranian regime.

“It’s not right that the U.S. government would provide these licenses to Iran while [Iran] is refusing to pay off the judgments handed down against it for funding global terrorism,” said Baruch Ben-Haim, whose son Shlomo was severely injured in a 1995 terrorist bus bombing in Israel; Ben-Chaim and his son have American and Israeli citizenship, and live in Israel.

Many Los Angeles Iranian Jewish leaders said they are supportive of Darshan-Leitner and Shurat HaDin’s pursuit of compensation for the terror victims.

“We are proud and in awe of Nistana’s legal acumen and courage,” said Sam Yebri, president of the L.A.-based Iranian Jewish nonprofit 30 Years After. “This move rebuts the element of financial sanctions that some find objectionable …  for those who say they want to hold Iran accountable but not hurt average Iranians, they must embrace Nistana’s work.”

Shurat HaDin was founded in 2003 in Tel Aviv with a mission to, as its website states, bankrupt “terror groups and grind their criminal activities to a halt — one lawsuit at a time.”

To date, the law center has won more than $1 billion in court judgments against terror organizations and state sponsors. It boasts freezing more than $600 million in terror assets and recouping more than $120 million to compensate victims and their families.

This isn’t the law center’s first interaction with Iran. In 2006, Darshan-Leitner filed a suit in U.S. federal court in New York against former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on behalf of Iranian-Jewish families whose loved ones were kidnapped and imprisoned during the 1990s while attempting to flee Iran illegally.

Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian-Jewish activist who heads the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, said the new case will be valuable to pressuring the Iranian regime.

“I have to say that Nistana’s efforts are extremely beneficial because it publicizes the forgotten cases, continues to expose the people responsible and the Iranian regime’s involvement,” he said. “It can also financially hurt the enablers of terrorism in Iran and demonstrates to the world that while the [United Nations] is either biased or oblivious to most global atrocities, there are still ways for individual victims to seek justice.”

Targeting Iranian Internet licenses and domain names may also curtail the regime’s use of the Internet to advance its radical fundamentalist ideology.

“All of the Iranian regime’s officials are using cyber [social media] for promoting terrorism,” said Roozbeh Farahanipour, an Iranian Muslim activist who heads the Marze Por Gohar Iranian opposition group in Westwood. “Not only should Iran’s supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei, but all of the regime’s officials should not be given the courtesy of exploiting any social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for their sick purpose — but as we can see, they all have a significant presence on these sites today.”

For their part, the Iranian regime has not acknowledged Darshan-Leitner’s move to seize control of its Internet licenses and domain names. The Farsi-language, Iranian state-run news website Tabnak recently reported on the case involving ICANN but did not indicate any reason for the legal action against Iran.

Representatives at the Iranian Mission to the United Nations did not return calls from the Journal for comment. 

Yes it is your bubbe’s Web address!

The Internet is a worldwide phenomenon, and yet the dominant language for online traffic has been English. If you want to navigate around the World Wide Web with a browser, you must have command of the Latin alphabet — even if you primarily read and write in Chinese, Japanese, Arabic or Hebrew.

It’s been one of the great failings of the online world. Type out a domain name in something other than English letters in a navigation bar and you’re likely to get the ubiquitous yellow warning sign with a “server not found” message.

But on Monday, the Internet came one step closer to becoming truly international. And it did so with the help of the unlikeliest of languages: Yiddish.

“Yiddish uses markings that are not used in Hebrew writing,” said Tina Dam, international domain names director with the Marina del Rey-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). In choosing Yiddish, they are testing the system “as far out as we can, as complicated as it can be,” she said.

When engineers first came up with the domain name system in the 1980s, they adopted the United States. ASCII characters, a code set based on the English alphabet, with upper and lower case letters, as well as the numbers zero through nine, the dot and the hyphen.

“They probably didn’t anticipate the Internet to be a global functionality as it is today,” Dam said.

ICANN, which assigns domain names and IP addresses, has come under fire in recent years from countries complaining that Internet domain names should be more inclusive of other writing systems. Out of more than 6,000 spoken languages in the world, 2,261 have a writing system.

In 2003, ICANN established a system whereby an individual or company could register a second-level domain in a language other than English, but you still had to switch back to the U.S. ASCII to write the top level. This made the multilingual amalgamation a dot-pain.

Domain names are broken down into three levels: third level, second level and top level. Using as an example — “www” is the third level, “jewishjournal” is the second level and “.com” is the top level.

Last week ICANN launched a system whereby servers would also recognize internationalized labels in the second and top level of a domain name. Yiddish was among the 11 different writing systems tested because of its right-to-left nature and its orthography, which includes vowels, where written modern Hebrew often excludes them.

And the request to include Yiddish came from an unlikely source.

“Yiddish is considered a formal minority language in Sweden, and the Swedish registry operator had implemented Yiddish [as a second level] under dot-se,” Dam said.

The public test launched by ICANN on Monday features the string “test.example” translated into Yiddish as well as 10 other new internationalized top-level domains, which in turn takes you to an introduction page written in that particular language.

The Yiddish and other domains are not yet available for registration, Dam says, adding that those responsible for formulating allocation plans need time to work out the logistics. She anticipates the new domains will be available at the earliest by mid-2008, at which point other languages will have been added.

“As soon as we’re done with the test, the shop will be open for any language at the top level, as long as the technology supports it,” she said.

The ICANN public test site is @ and Adam Wills’ GeekHeeb blog is right here: