New countersuit in discrimination case at Urth Caffé

A lawyer for the popular Southern California restaurant chain Urth Caffé filed court documents Nov. 8 alleging the seven Muslim women suing the chain for discrimination were trespassing at its Laguna Beach location on the night in question.

On April 22, the women, six of whom regularly wear the hijab, or Muslim headscarf, were asked to leave the restaurant’s Laguna Beach location. In a May 2 lawsuit, they alleged they were ejected because of their religion and not, as they were told at the time, because of a “45-minute policy” the location uses to clear tables during peak hours.

A placard at Urth Caffé displays the restaurant’s policy of a 45-minute limit.

Then, in June, David Yerushalmi, the Orthodox Jew who co-founded the conservative public interest law firm American Freedom Law Center and who is representing Urth Caffé pro bono, filed a countersuit alleging trespass. The countersuit focuses on the fact that for 45 minutes after they were asked to leave, the women refused, and were therefore trespassing on the restaurant’s property.

After he filed the countersuit, the lawyers for the women, of Pasadena firm Hadsell Stormer and Renick, asked that it be dismissed on the grounds that it was meant to intimidate their clients. Last week, Yerushalmi filed a brief in Orange County Superior Court defending the countersuit on the grounds that it was based on the trespassing allegation, rather than the lawsuit itself.

“The actual behavior that we’re suing them for is not their lawsuit,” Yerushalmi said in a phone interview. “It’s not their speech on social media about how terribly they were treated. It was simply for not abiding by our policy and refusing to leave until the police came.”

Yerushalmi also has alleged that the suit against his client is illogical in part because one of the owners — the one who authorized the Laguna Beach location to call the police on April 22 — is herself a Muslim woman. The chain was founded by Shallom and Jilla Berkman, a married couple from Jewish and Islamic backgrounds, respectively.

Parents of actor Anton Yelchin to sue over his death

The parents of Russian-Jewish actor Anton Yelchin are planning to sue Fiat Chrysler over the wrongful death of their son.

Yelchin, 27, who starred in the recently rebooted “Star Trek” movies, was found dead at his home in Studio City, California, on June 19 after being crushed by his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Friends found Yelchin pinned between his car and a brick pillar; the vehicle was in neutral and running, TMZ reported. The family attorney has said it appeared that Yelchin returned to his house to get something, which is why he was outside of the car while it was running.

The Jeep was part of a global recall of 1.1 million vehicles announced by Fiat Chrysler in April. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urged the recall because of complaints from drivers that a problem with the gear shift made it difficult to tell whether the car was in park. When not in park, the vehicle could roll away. A class action lawsuit has been filed in that case.

TMZ quoted the Yelchin family attorney as saying the Yelchins want punitive damages “for the wrongful death of their son due to significant defects” in the Jeep.

“Anton was our only son – a remarkable human being. It’s against nature when a parent has to bury their own child,” Victor Yelchin told reporters on Tuesday, People reported.

Yelchin’s mother Irina said: “We were always proud of him being the greatest human being – not for being a star.”

The parents also filed probate papers in order to control their son’s estate since he had no will.

Yelchin starred as Chekov in the 2009 and 2013 “Star Trek” movies, and is seen in the third film in the series, “Star Trek Beyond,” which was released last month. He also appeared in films including “Like Crazy,” “Alpha Dog,” “Terminator Salvation” and “Fright Night.”

Victims of attacks sue U.S. to keep Iran sanctions in place

Twenty U.S. citizens who won more than $1.5 billion in court judgments against Iran for its support of militant attacks sued the U.S. government on Wednesday to try and prevent it from lifting sanctions on Tehran under an international nuclear deal.

The lawsuit in federal court in New York said that unfreezing Iranian funds would rob the victims of the attacks in Israel and the Gaza Strip of “their last remaining opportunity to pressure Iran to satisfy their judgments.”

The plaintiffs, who have not yet received any money, include victims of several attacks between 1995 and 2006 carried out by groups backed by Iran – Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad. The lawsuit names the U.S. State Department and the Treasury Department as defendants.

The White House declined to comment on the lawsuit. A spokesman for the Department of Justice did not immediately comment.

The U.S.-led July 14 accord between Iran and six world powers would lift some of the harshest economic sanctions against Tehran in exchange for a verification program intended to restrict Iran's nuclear program.

Congress has until Sept. 17 to approve or reject the pact. President Barack Obama delivered a speech on Wednesday defending the deal and urging lawmakers to vote in its favor, despite fierce opposition from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Wednesday's lawsuit was brought by some of the same lawyers who in February won a $218 million jury verdict against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization for victims of militant attacks in Israel.

The Palestinian groups are appealing. A lawyer for the groups said in court in July that the judgment, which is automatically tripled under federal law, could “be the end of the Palestinian Authority.”

The U.S. government has said it may weigh in on the case and would decide by Aug. 10.

How to build an American shtetl — See: Bloomingburg, N.Y.

This is how you launch a Hasidic shtetl in 21st-century America.

Step 1. Find a place within reasonable distance of Brooklyn where the land is cheap and underdeveloped.

Step 2. Buy as much property as you can in your target area – if possible, without tipping off locals that you plan to turn it into a Hasidic enclave.

Step 3. Ensure the zoning is suited to Hasidic living: densely clustered homes big enough for large families and within walking distance of the community’s vital infrastructure.

Step 4. Build the infrastructure: Houses, a synagogue and beit midrash study hall, kosher establishments, a mikvah ritual bath. Lay the groundwork for a school. Launch a shuttle service so Hasidim who don’t drive or don’t own cars can get from the new shtetl to shopping outlets and other Hasidic communities in the region.

Step 5. Market to the Hasidic community and turn on the lights.

That, essentially, is the playbook developer Shalom Lamm is following for what is shaping up to be America’s newest Hasidic shtetl — the town of Bloomingburg in upstate New York.

Located in Sullivan County about 80 miles north of Brooklyn, Bloomingburg is a tiny village of 400 people dotted with small farms, run-down homes and a couple of old churches. There’s just one stoplight, and there’s not much to the small businesses clustered around it: a hardware store, bank, tattoo parlor, barbershop and thrift shop.

This is the way things were for decades until Lamm — son of Rabbi Norman Lamm, Yeshiva University’s president from 1976 to 2003 — came to town a few years ago and started snapping up properties like they were sample-sale sweaters.

He bought the white house with blue shutters and a front porch just across from the barbershop. He bought the Hickory apartments just off Main Street, adjacent to a trailer park. He bought the hardware store and a pizza shop. He bought a large warehouse built to house antique cars with the idea of turning it into a girls school.

Lamm didn’t stop there. He bought a group of farms on 200 acres of unincorporated land about half a mile from the stoplight and in 2006 got the village to annex it and rezone it for residential development in exchange for building a new $5 million sewage treatment plant for the area. He bought the airport in the nearby village of Wurtsboro. He bought 635 acres five miles away. He also bought a house for himself in Bloomingburg and moved in (Lamm also lives in West Hempstead, on Long Island).

Soon, changes started happening in the village.

Homes were fixed up and repainted. The Hickory apartments, originally built as a senior housing development, were renovated and turned into 12 units, with a synagogue and study hall built in a basement. Most notably, in 2012 rows of attached five-bedroom townhomes began going up on the 200 acres he had gotten rezoned from agricultural — the first of at least 396 units planned for construction in a development Lamm dubbed Chestnut Ridge.

Meanwhile in Brooklyn, a two-hour drive away, Yiddish-language newspapers began to run advertisements touting a new Hasidic housing development going up in Bloomingburg. The ads noted its location near the Catskill Mountains and just 30 minutes north of the Satmar village of Kiryas Joel, home to more than 20,000 Hasidim.

Once the locals upstate caught onto what was happening — when Chestnut Ridge broke ground in 2012 — opposition materialized almost immediately. Village meetings were organized, accusations flew, angry protesters took to the streets and lawsuits were filed. The Town of Mamakating (pop. 12,000), in which the village of Bloomingburg is located, tried to annex the village so that it could gain zoning power over Bloomingburg and thwart the Hasidic-friendly construction, but the bid failed.

Lamm and his defenders, including the public relations consultant he eventually hired, cast their opponents as anti-Semites or anti-Hasidic, and for some that characterization seemed apt. The window of the kosher grocery was repeatedly shattered, and some early protests outside Shabbat prayer services included anti-Jewish epithets.

But for many locals, it was a case of not-in-my-backyard syndrome: They lived in a quiet, albeit poor, country village, and the dense housing and Hasidic influx would indelibly alter Bloomingburg’s character. They believed Lamm and his investment partner, Kenneth Nakdimen, had hoodwinked the village into annexing and rezoning the agricultural land he was turning into a dense residential development.

Last month, Mamakating and Bloomingburg filed a federal lawsuit against Lamm, accusing him of fraud, bribery, racketeering, voter fraud and corruption of public officials — saying he bribed a former mayor, used a frontman to help mislead the village about his intentions for Chestnut Ridge and engaged in racketeering by promoting an enterprise that was corrupt on multiple levels. Lamm denies the accusations and has filed lawsuits of his own against the town.

Shalom Lamm has completed 51 of 396 planned units in Chestnut Ridge, where the homes are suited to Hasidic needs.

If Bloomingburg was going to look like any of the other Hasidic communities north of New York City – New Square, Kiryas Joel, or the hamlet of Monsey in Ramapo – there were plenty of cautionary tales to give local residents pause. Overcrowding in those places was taxing local infrastructure to the breaking point, and in Ramapo the school board had been taken over by a Hasidic majority that was stripping local public school budgets and selling off public school buildings to yeshivas at cut-rate prices.

For the Hasidim, the appeal of Bloomingburg over Brooklyn was clear. It offered much cheaper living, less congestion and fewer of the sorts of urban temptations that could ensnare a devout Jew. With so few residents, the village also offered the prospect of something else: political power that could give local Hasidim nearly unfettered control over their own destiny.

It wasn’t long before the first Hasidic families began to arrive.

Some were older couples from points south looking for a quiet place near the mountains in which to spend summers or weekends. But soon full-timers started coming, too — mostly young families from Satmar and other Hungarian Hasidic sects looking for more affordable alternatives to Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood and a quieter lifestyle than that available in Kiryas Joel or in Monsey, the sprawling Orthodox stronghold in Rockland County an hour to the south.

Bloomingburg’s first Hasidic pioneers arrived with almost no Orthodox infrastructure in place. There wasn’t much suitable food available locally — one early newcomer quipped that the only produce available at the local grocery store was two-week-old tomatoes — and kosher food had to be delivered by special order from Kiryas Joel or nearby Middletown. There was no weekday minyan. There was no women’s mikvah (and still isn’t — the zoning appeals board has rejected Lamm’s site for one).

Then, last summer, the city got its first kollel – a Jewish study collective where men learn Torah full time and receive stipends in return from community supporters (in this case, apparently, Lamm). Lamm also bought a 22-seat minibus and a passenger van and began running shuttles to large shopping areas and to Kiryas Joel, where some of Bloomingburg’s adults work and kids go to school.

By fall, there were enough Orthodox families in Bloomingburg to support a daily minyan — the quorum of 10 men needed for public prayer. Weekday services start at 9 a.m.

Mendel Kritzler, 25, moved to Bloomingburg in mid-April with his wife and three boys from a fourth-floor walkup in Williamsburg. Now he lives in a ground-floor apartment within walking distance of everything he needs: the shul and study hall where he spends his days, the kosher grocery Lamm opened up right before Passover, and the new Hasidic day care that now has 10 kids enrolled between the ages of 3 and 4. He doesn’t own a car.

“I was a little nervous before coming here, but since I moved I’ve really been enjoying it; it’s the Garden of Eden,” Kritzler said. “It’s quiet. There’s peace of mind. It’s much, much cheaper – half the price of Williamsburg.”

Lamm’s rentals begin at $350 per month for small one-bedrooms to $1,200 for large three-bedrooms. One of his tenants noted that, unlike her landlord in Monsey, Lamm isn’t so strict about the rent.

At the now-fully occupied Hickory apartments, young Hasidic women gather in the late afternoons and sit on plastic lawn chairs, rocking infants in their laps and watching their toddlers run around while they chitchat in the springtime sun. Once a month, the Hasidic women in town get together in someone’s house or the local kosher pizza-and-sandwich shop for an evening devoted to bonding, noshing and spiritual inspiration. A recent gathering featured slides on the Jewish value of modesty.

The men studying at the kollel come home in the early afternoon for a break. Some walk up the hill to the small kosher grocery, where the shelves are well stocked but the aisles mostly empty of customers. Those who commute to work in Kiryas Joel are generally home by early evening.

Despite the sleepy feel in town, there’s a sense of excitement among the Hasidim – a feeling that they’re the trailblazers in a noble experiment of establishing a new outpost for Hasidic life in New York State.

“I’m the pioneer, really,” said a young Belgian-born Hasid named Yossele who said his was the second full-time family to move in.

So far, only 27 Hasidic families live full time in the village, according to Yechiel Falkowitz, a 22-year-old Hasid who moved in last summer and compiled a head count of the families in early May. Another 20 or so families live part time in Bloomingburg, he said. Lamm, who is the landlord of all but a handful of the Hasidic families’ homes, says there are 176 Orthodox Jewish residents in Bloomingburg, comprising 40-50 families.

(The true Hasidic population of Bloomingburg is the subject of a legal dispute. Over the winter, the county board of elections challenged the eligibility of more than 150 individuals, almost all of them Hasidim, to vote in local elections, and said it would remove them from voter rolls. Hasidim responded with a civil rights lawsuit against the board.)

The main obstacle to growth at present is the town of Mamakating and the village’s government, which has declined to grant certificates of occupancy for the 51 townhouses at Chestnut Ridge that have been move-in ready for months, according to Lamm. Without those certificates, Lamm can’t close the sales of the homes.

“Almost nothing gets permitted,” Lamm told JTA. “I get the sense that they’d like us to give up, but that’s not in the cards.”

Lawyers for Mamakating and Bloomingburg say modifications are needed to bring the homes up to code first and that the process for evaluating the homes and granting certificates of occupancy is underway.

If Lamm’s vision comes to fruition, there soon will be hundreds more Hasidic families in Bloomingburg – maybe thousands.

At Chestnut Ridge, the newly built 2,800-square-foot attached townhomes look like they’re straight out of a brochure for the American dream, with identical facades, fresh white garages and bright green lawns. Inside, the décor is bright, modern and spacious, with 9-foot ceilings, an upstairs laundry room, and kitchens with granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances.

The houses also have all the accoutrements Hasidim, with their large families and Orthodox practices, might desire. The kitchens feature two stoves, sinks, ovens and microwaves – one each for dairy and meat. There’s an outdoor sukkah deck just off the dining room. Special sinks are located outside the bathrooms for ritual hand-washing, and a small room near the front is designed for a miniature library or study.

The five bedrooms upstairs have sleeping space for up to a dozen. The master bathroom easily fits two full-sized beds – Hasidic couples do not share beds during women’s menstrual periods and for a week afterward – and the walk-in closet in the master bedroom is big enough for a crib, which Lamm doesn’t doubt Hasidic parents will notice when their babies are born.

The homes are priced between $299,000 and $334,000. Once the remaining 350 or so houses are built, there will also be four playgrounds for the kids.

Many longtime Bloomingburg residents say they’re taking a wait-and-see approach even as they’re still stinging from the way Lamm got his housing development approved. They blame Bloomingburg’s former mayor for agreeing to the deal and say the village population was told the site was going to be a golf course surrounded by luxury homes, not dense development suited to Hasidim.

“It was a shady deal. The politicians we had here threw us under the bus,” said Patti, the owner of a thrift shop in the village who, like all the locals interviewed for this story and many of the Hasidim, asked that her last name not be used. After so much conflict and bad press, people here are wary of reporters.

Patti lives across from the Chestnut Ridge development, which she said has dramatically altered the local landscape. “I used to look at farm fields every day, with silos and animals grazing,” she said. Now she looks out at Lamm’s townhouses.

Despite her misgivings, Patti says she’s reserving judgment about what’s to come.

“Things are definitely going to change. Whether it’ll be for the better or worse it’s too soon to tell,” she said. “It’s in limbo right now.”

Ex-Justin Bieber neighbor suing over bodyguard’s ‘little Jew boy’ slur

A former neighbor of Justin Bieber is suing the American pop star, claiming that the singer’s bodyguard called him a “little Jew boy.”

Jeff Schwartz is seeking damages for emotional distress in his lawsuit filed last last week, according to the entertainment website TMZ.

According to the suit, Schwartz warned Bieber over Memorial Day weekend in 2013 to stop speeding around their Calabasas, Calif., neighborhood in his sports car because it put lives at risk, TMZ reported.

Next, the suit claims, Bieber’s bodyguards came out and one of them called Schwartz a “little Jew boy” before repeating, “What are you going to do about it, Jew boy?”

The slur allegedly was used months before Bieber egged Schwartz’s house. The singer pleaded no contest to a vandalism charge in the incident, was placed on probation and paid $80,000 to make repairs.

Bieber moved out of the Southern California neighborhood last year.

Eden Memorial Park faces second suit

Jewish cemetery Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills is facing a new, multimillion-dollar lawsuit related to allegations that it mishandled burial vaults, threw disrupted human remains into a pile on cemetery grounds and concealed potentially damaging information from its existing and potential customers. 

A civil suit filed Feb. 19 in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of more than 50 people accuses Eden and its parent company, Service Corporation International (SCI), of inflicting emotional distress, negligence, interfering with dead bodies and violating the rights of families over their deceased relatives.

This new suit comes just a year after SCI agreed to pay about $80 million to settle a 25,000-person class action lawsuit alleging similar grievances. Many of the plaintiffs in this most recent lawsuit were not eligible to participate in the original class action suit, which only covered people affected between February 1985 and September 2009. Gary Praglin, an attorney with Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack, the firm representing the plaintiffs, explained that this second suit includes plaintiffs affected both before and after that time frame, as well as people affected during those years who opted out of the class action.

Steven H. Gurnee, a lawyer for SCI, said he believes those plaintiffs whose complaints fall within the time period of the previous class action suit are subject to that settlement, and that their claims will be barred from this second suit. If that were to occur, only 13 plaintiffs would remain in the current case, he said. 

The most recent suit claims that plots at Eden are so close together that groundskeepers have difficulty digging new graves without damaging the protective vaults of the graves on either side. The suit alleges that the cemetery purposely plotted graves 1.5 to 3 inches apart to maximize profits.

Although not commenting on the Eden case in particular, Russ Heimerich, a spokesperson for California’s Department of Consumer Affairs, told the Journal that some overlap is natural. 

“You may find a vault or a coffin where you were digging that shouldn’t be there. A lot of times — in California, anyway — that is the result of seismic activity. When there are earthquakes, things tend to shift around a little bit. We’ve seen that at other places,” Heimerich said. 

When this occurs, cemeteries often will move the shifted grave back to its intended location, he said, though Heimerich admitted he is not knowledgeable on current best business practices.  

The suit goes further, however.

“Even more shocking, current and former groundskeepers at the cemetery have admitted that breaking burial vaults will often cause human remains to spill out of the broken vaults,” notes the complaint, citing sworn testimony from cemetery employees. “In such situations, the groundskeepers were instructed by their supervisors to throw away the bones and other remains in the cemetery dump located on the cemetery premises. According to the evidence, this has occurred on likely thousands of occasions.”

Gurnee denied that any such thing has occurred. 

“There is no merit to these claims,” he told the Journal. “There has never been evidence discovered that people were thrown out in bone piles, and there has never been evidence that people were instructed to break vaults. Not one misplaced bone has been found. There were two former disgruntled employees, and we think they have been discredited.” 

The suit further alleges that family members who purchased plots in the cemetery after the time SCI became aware of the negligent burial practices were not informed of the potential for harm. 

“Defendants further instructed the groundskeepers and their supervisors not to tell anyone outside of the cemetery about these problems, and threatened retaliation if they did so,” asserts the complaint. 

Jean Bergman, a resident of Los Angeles County and one of the plaintiffs, claims in the suit that she and her husband — he was buried in the cemetery in 2011 — were not informed of the risks prior to purchasing plots for themselves in 1990. 

“[Bergman’s husband] is buried in a section of the cemetery where there have been a number of broken and damaged protective vaults as well as disturbances of graves, all of which have scarred and tainted the hallowed ground upon which the Plaintiff’s loved one has been buried since burial, and where the Plaintiff similarly intended to be buried,” the complaint states. “Ms. Bergman and her husband would never have purchased property, funeral services and burial services from Defendants had this information been disclosed.”

Eden has an active cemetery license and has never been subject to disciplinary action, Heimerich said. The cemetery received a citation in 2002 for failing to submit a legal document on time, but that was not operational and is not uncommon in the industry, he explained.

Designer Galliano loses lawsuit against Dior in firing over anti-Semitic rant

The British fashion designer John Galliano lost his lawsuit against Christian Dior for unfair dismissal.

The decision by a Paris employment court was announced Tuesday.

Galliano, who was fired in March 2011 after being filmed making anti-Semitic statements at a Paris bar, was ordered to pay Dior one symbolic euro. He had sued for lost earnings of up to $16 million, claiming that the fashion house was aware of his alcohol and drug addictions before the incident.

In the video, Galliano stated his love for Adolf Hitler and told people he believed were Jewish that their mothers should have been gassed. He later blamed his outbursts on addictions to drugs and alcohol.

“It’s the worst thing I have said in my life, but I didn’t mean it,” Galliano said in an interview with Vanity Fair in an article in the July 2013 issue.

A French court ruled in September 2011 that Galliano in several incidents had made “public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity.” He was sentenced to a suspended fine and no jail time.

Following the anti-Semitic tirade, actress Natalie Portman, who was serving as a spokeswoman for Dior, issued a statement condemning Galliano and said “I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way.”

Last month, Galliano was hired as the creative director of the Paris-based fashion house Maison Martin Margiela.


Appeals court hears claims in Adelson v. NJDC lawsuit

A federal appeals court heard arguments in a bid by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson to reinstate a defamation lawsuit against the National Jewish Democratic Council and two of its formal principals.

Arguments in the 2nd Circuit on Thursday focused on whether a hyperlink in an online NJDC news release constituted adequate attribution to a source, which would protect the NJDC and its former chairman, Marc Stanley, and president, David Harris, from charges that they were peddling the allegedly defamatory claims, according to a report by the Courthouse News Service.

The federal judge who dismissed the case last year said hyperlinks provided even stronger protection than footnotes.

The lawsuit was based on an NJDC news release during the 2012 election campaign that linked to an Associated Press account of a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by a fired casino employee against Adelson, a major funder of Republican candidates.

The former employee alleged that Adelson allowed prostitutes to ply their trade in his casinos in Macau, China. The three-judge panel reserved its decision.

Trial starting in suit against Arab Bank by terror attacks’ victims

American victims of Hamas terror attacks during the second intifada in Israel are suing a Jordanian bank, claiming it offered benefits to terrorists.

In a trial set to begin Thursday in Brooklyn, 140 plaintiffs injured in two dozen terror attacks from 2001 to 2004 are suing Arab Bank for allegedly funneling money from a Saudi fund to the Palestinian terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, according to The Associated Press. Any family of a terrorist who died attacking Israel was to receive $5,000 from the fund.

The plaintiffs claim that the money transfers violate the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows terror victims to seek compensation. Lawyers for the plaintiffs say this is the first terrorism financing case to go to trial in the United States.

Representatives of Arab Bank, which has branches around the world, say the bank cooperates with the United States in fighting terrorism and did not know it was transferring money to terrorists.

“Arab Bank has great sympathy for all victims of terrorism but is not liable for the tragic acts described by plaintiffs,” it said in a statement.

The lawsuit was first filed in 2004 and has survived a number of challenges, including the bank’s refusal to hand over records for fear of breaking Jordanian law. In 2010, a U.S. court sanctioned the bank for recalcitrance in providing evidence.

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. 

Eden Memorial Park settles lawsuit in $80.5 million deal

A massive four-year, 25,000-person class action lawsuit against Eden Memorial Park came to an end on Feb. 27, when the Jewish cemetery in Mission Hills agreed to a settlement worth an estimated $80.5 million, according to documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The legal battle, which began in September 2009, centered around allegations that Eden’s management ordered its workers to disturb existing graves in order to fit new coffins in tight spaces. That disturbance allegedly included breaking concrete coffins and then dumping some of the human remains when bones fell out.

The tentative settlement, which won’t be finalized until mid-May, calls for Eden’s parent company, Service Corp. International (SCI), to distribute $35.25 million into a global settlement fund to pay plaintiffs and their attorneys, $250,000 for administrative costs, and fully refund class action members who wish to disinter family members buried at the cemetery. Court documents filed Feb. 27 indicate that the value of the non-cash services Eden will be ordered to provide is $45 million.

Located at Sepulveda Boulevard and Rinaldi Street in Mission Hills, Eden Memorial Park is owned and operated by SCI California, a subsidiary of Texas-based SCI, one of the country’s largest operators of cemeteries and funeral services. About 40,000 people are buried at Eden, which spans 72 acres.

The alleged incidents date back to 1985, when SCI acquired the cemetery. The plaintiffs contend that Eden knowingly broke as many as 1,500 buried concrete vaults between February 1985 and September 2009.

On Feb. 11, the case went to trial at the downtown Los Angeles Superior Courthouse, but not after years of court sanctions, state investigations, evidence tampering and a dispute over whether Jewish jurors would compromise the neutrality of the jury.

In November 2009, state investigators reported that they found no evidence that Eden mishandled graves. But one year later, in November 2010, Judge Anthony J. Mohr of the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that the cemetery intentionally cleaned out the cemetery’s dump, where workers allegedly disposed of loose bones and broken concrete sections. In September 2009, the court ordered that all such evidence must be preserved.

For the last several years, both sides have collected extensive evidence, with the legal teams interviewing 110 people during deposition. But only three witnesses had been brought to the stand in the past two weeks, according to defense attorney Steve Gurnee, of Gurnee Mason & Forestiere.

“This trial could have lasted until September,” he said.

He added that of the $35.25 million in cash that SCI will owe if the agreement is finalized, all but $10 million will be covered by insurance.

And while Gurnee said that he is confident his team would have won the case had the trial continued, he said Eden decided to settle for economic reasons.

“The plaintiffs have been making demands in this case for ages that have been stratospheric,” he said. “The company wants to move on.”

Although the amount that each family will receive won’t be known until this summer — the claim deadline is June 5 — plaintiff’s attorney Michael Avenatti of the Newport Beach law firm Eagan Avenatti, characterized the agreement as “no coupon settlement.”

“Families are going to receive significant [money] in this case,” he said.

San Diego mayor has signed letter of resignation, report says

The mayor of San Diego, facing a sexual harassment lawsuit and a slew of allegations of inappropriate behavior toward women, has signed a letter of resignation, the Los Angeles Times reported on Friday.

The resignation of Mayor Bob Filner could not immediately be confirmed by Reuters.

City Clerk Elizabeth Maland said her office had not received any such letter, and a spokesman for the city attorney declined to comment. A representative for Filner could not immediately be reached for comment.

The City Council was to meet Friday to consider a proposed settlement between Filner and the city amid controversy over how to handle the lawsuit and any liability arising from it.

Reporting by Marty Graham, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and John Wallace

Twitter sued for $50m for not naming authors of anti-Semitic tweets

Twitter is being sued for about $50 million in France for failing to honor a court ruling which ordered it to identify users who posted anti-Semitic hate speech.

The Union of Jewish French Students, or UEJF by its French acronym, filed the lawsuit on Wednesday with a Paris correctional tribunal, according to the French news agency  AFP.

UEJF President Jonathan Hayoun said his organization filed the lawsuit because the California-based website has “ignored” a civil court ruling from Jan. 24, which gave Twitter two weeks to comply with UEJF’s demand that Twitter identify people who broke France’s laws against hate speech.

As an American company, Twitter argued in court that it adheres to U.S. laws and protected by the First Amendment and the broad free speech liberties it ensures. But the judge said that comments by internet users in France are subject to France’s stricter legislation against racist and hateful expression.

“Twitter is playing the indifference card and does not respect the ruling,” Hayoun told AFP on Wednesday. “They have resolved to protect the anonymity of the authors of these tweets and have made themselves accomplices to racists and anti-Semites.”

UEJF sued Twitter last year shortly after the hashtag “unBonJuif,” French for “aGoodJew,” became the third most popular on French Twitter. A hashtag is a phrase which, when preceded by the symbol #, is used to index relevant tweets. Many users posted Holocaust jokes and calls to kill Jews under #UnBoJuif.

UEJF wants to deposit any damages it is awarded in a trial against Twitter with an organization working to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, AFP reported.

Anat Kamm wants compensation from Haaretz for revealing identity

Anat Kamm, who was jailed for turning classified military documents over to a reporter, is seeking compensation from Haaretz for revealing her identity.

Kamm, a former Israeli soldier, is asking the newspaper for more than $540,000, according to Haaretz.

“Kamm views you and some of the newspaper’s employees as directly responsible, or indirectly, for revealing [her] as the source,” Kamm's lawyer, Ilan Bombach, wrote to Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken more than a week ago, the newspaper reported on Monday. “This exposure caused my client enormous damage.”

Haaretz attorneys said that Kamm's claims “have no real basis.”

Kamm charges that her house arrest and jail time cut short her career as a journalist and her academic studies.

Her lawyer said that if she does not get the money from Haaretz, she will sue.

Kamm was convicted in February of collecting, holding and passing on classified information without authorization. She had been charged originally with espionage, but the charge was dropped as part of a plea bargain. Kamm was arrested in late 2009 or early 2010.

Kamm admitted to stealing about 2,000 documents, hundreds identified as classified or top secret, which she downloaded to two discs, while serving her mandatory military service in the Israeli army in the Central Command. She gave the information to Haaretz reporter Uri Blau, who wrote stories based on the information that were approved by the military censor. The stories led to a search for Blau's source.

Following her military service, Kamm was a media reporter for Walla, an online news site that at the time was partly owned by Haaretz.

Report: Justin Bieber sued for ‘assaulting’ Israeli bodyguard

The Israeli former bodyguard of teen idol Justin Bieber reportedly sued the pop star for assault.

Moshe Benabou, who lives in the United States, is seeking unspecified damages for assault and battery and more than $420,000 in unpaid overtime, the news site TMZ reported on Thursday.

According to Benabou — who claims he worked for the singer from March 2011 to October 2012 —  Bieber, 18, berated him and punched him in the chest multiple times during a disagreement about how to handle a member of Bieber's entourage. Benabou allegedly had attempted to keep the member of the entourage away from Bieber.

TMZ quoted sources “in Bieber’s camp” as saying that Benabou was “a disgruntled employee looking for money,” and calling the claim that Bieber struck Benabou “absurd.”

Benabou made a splash on the gossip website last February when he was filmed struggling with a photographer at Los Angeles airport. After a brief struggle, both men fell to the ground.

JONAH center being sued for false claims on reversing homosexuality

JONAH, a Jewish center in New Jersey that offers therapy to reverse homosexuality, is being sued for allegedly making fraudulent claims.

Four gay men and two of their mothers filed the suit Tuesday in New Jersey Superior Court against Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality, which offers treatments that the group says can turn its clients straight. Some of the treatments include using rabbinic writings on the subject of homosexuality.

The lawsuit, which was filed through the Southern Poverty Law Center, maintains that the center uses misleading pretenses to entice clients to enroll in its program. The plaintiffs are previous clients of JONAH.

“JONAH profits off of shameful and dangerous attempts to fix something that isn’t broken,” said Christine Sun of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Despite the consensus of mainstream professional organizations that conversion therapy doesn’t work, this racket continues to scam vulnerable gay men and lesbians out of thousands of dollars and inflicts significant harm on them.”

JONAH founder Arthur Goldberg and counselor Alan Downing violate the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Acts, the lawsuit said. JONAH therapy options cost a minimum of $100 for weekly individual counseling and $60 for group sessions, it said, and some clients said their instructions included undressing in front of a mirror or group sessions of standing naked in a circle.

Reacting to the lawsuit, Goldberg told ABC News that many JONAH clients were successful and healed, and “hundreds of the clients we serve are satisfied.” He also said, “Our therapy is very conventional.”

The amount of money being sought by the plaintiffs was not made clear but includes the costs spent by clients on JONAH and psychological services that dealt with alleged damages from using JONAH, as well as attorney fees, Reuters reported.

Benjamin Reznik: L.A. based lawyer who takes on Goliath

Among land-use attorneys working in Los Angeles, Benjamin Reznik is better known than most, perhaps because of his success at suing the City of Los Angeles. In 2009, the partner in the firm of Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP told the Los Angeles Times he had probably sued the City of Los Angeles about five or six times a year.

Reznik, 61, leads a 15-lawyer team that focuses on government, land use, environment and energy cases, and he has represented major clients, many who have changed to the shape and skyline of the city. A little more than a decade ago, Reznik helped one developer get more than 3,000 apartments approved downtown. 

So how did this powerhouse attorney come to be in Los Angeles’ City Hall on two successive days in June, arguing on behalf of a partially built Chabad synagogue in Sherman Oaks that will have a capacity of about 200 people, and will stand barely two-stories tall? 

“I believe that these kinds of institutions belong in neighborhoods and they’re very difficult to get approved,” Reznik said, sitting in his corner office in Century City. Reznik describes himself as “not a good board-member type person,” so he said he instead chooses to support Jewish communities by offering to help them gain approval, occasionally dealing with neighborhood opposition, often working on a voluntary basis or for reduced rates. 

He’s worked with a number of synagogues, including the one where he and his family are members, Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. He’s worked with other Chabad communities, and in Chabad of Sherman Oaks’ case, though the scores of religious Jews in the community who came to the two hearings certainly helped persuade the Los Angeles City Council to allow the project to go forward, Reznik’s simple testimony, which focused on what the law allowed, no doubt prepared the ground for the approval. 

Reznik doesn’t consider himself an ideologue or a “rabid property rights advocate”; there are certain clients he won’t take on, and though he’s usually representing the interests of builders, he has argued on behalf of clients who oppose developments, as well. Reznik pointed out the windows at a neighboring vacant lot on Avenue of the Stars, where a developer is seeking permission to build more office space than the current city plan allows. The owners of every adjacent office building teamed to hire Reznik’s firm to oppose that effort. 

“There’s a balance between community and development,” Reznik said. 

So-called NIMBY activists — the acronym stands for “Not In My Back Yard” — regularly oppose the building of senior residential facilities, a stance that Reznik said was not in line with the needs of the whole community. 

“I don’t think we have to house all our elderly on major boulevards,” Reznik said, “just because that way the neighborhood doesn’t have to see them.” Rather, Reznik said, there should be some consideration to having such facilities built in residential neighborhoods, which are, of course, the neighborhoods where those people grew up and lived. 

“I think those are Jewish issues,” Reznik added.

Reznik began his own law practice in the San Fernando Valley by taking on the kinds of clients who couldn’t pay the rates that firms like JMBM charge, and he still sees himself as something of an upstart — even when representing developers who might appear to have tremendous resources and power at their disposal. 

“Compared to the city, the developer is David and the city is Goliath,” Reznik said. “The city’s resources are endless.”

In September, Reznik was in the familiar position of arguing against a Los Angeles city attorney in court, this time at a hearing regarding a planned single-family project in the exclusive neighborhood of Benedict Canyon. Reznik’s client, a Saudi prince, has faced relentless opposition from a billionaire couple who once tried to buy the property, and September’s hearing was aimed at forcing the city to drop a technical objection holding up the project. 

That, Reznik explained, “is why so many of my cases ended up in court — because that’s where my client can get a fair hearing with the politics removed.”

Reznik hasn’t met this particular client — he deals with an intermediary — but he’s fairly certain that, ironic though it might seem, the Saudi prince is aware that the lawyer representing him is not only Jewish, but an Israeli-born Jew who is fluent in Hebrew. 

“I’m sure I was vetted,” said Reznik, who has Hebrew listed as his foreign language on his resume.  

Born in Haifa in 1951, Reznik said his parents came to Israel from Poland after the Holocaust. His father, who survived by “hustling on the black-market routes in Russia” as a young teenager, selling coffee, tea and tobacco, worked as a truck driver in Israel. 

But he was ambitious, and in December 1960, when Reznik was 9, the family moved to the United States. After a few years in Rochester, N.Y., they moved to Los Angeles in 1962. Reznik’s father bought an interest in a liquor store in South Central — Reznik worked there as a stock boy during summers and when he wasn’t in school — and managed to send his children to college and law school on the proceeds. 

Reznik went to UCLA as an undergraduate — he met his wife, Janice Kamenir-Reznik, at the Hillel there — and then on to USC for law school. The Rezniks have, over the years, gotten involved in a number of political causes — they were active in the movement to free Soviet Jewry — and Janice went on to become the founding president of Jewish World Watch. 

Not surprisingly, starting in 1975, when they helped recruit volunteers for Zev Yaroslavsky’s successful campaign for Los Angeles City Council, the Rezniks have also involved themselves in supporting candidates running for various offices. They recently held a fundraiser for Jackie Lacey, who is running for Los Angeles County district attorney. 

And the Rezniks, who built up their practice in the Valley together, look like they’re about to have one more lawyer in the family; their youngest son just started law school. 

Reznik, when he was just starting out, said he went into business for himself, in part because he enjoyed all different aspects of legal work, but also because he had a good deal of his father’s independent personality in him. So I asked if — in 2012, in today’s economy — a young lawyer, like his son, could set up shop on his own and have the kind of success Reznik has. 

“Absolutely; clients are rate-sensitive,” Reznik said, thinking back to his own experience of taking on the clients who were priced out of bigger firms. “You just have to work, really, really hard.”

Actress sues California man behind anti-Muslim film

An actress in an anti-Islam film that triggered violent protests across the Muslim world sued a California man linked to its production on Wednesday for fraud and slander, saying she had received death threats after the video was posted on YouTube.

Actress Cindy Lee Garcia, who also named Google Inc and its YouTube unit as defendants, asked that the film be removed from YouTube and said her right to privacy had been violated and her life endangered, among other allegations.

It was the first known civil lawsuit connected to the making of the film that has circulated online as a 13-minute trailer, including under the title “Innocence of Muslims.”

The film, which portrays the Prophet Mohammad as a womanizer and a fool, helped generate a torrent of violence across the Muslim world last week. The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in an attack in Benghazi. U.S. and other foreign embassies were stormed in cities in Asia, Africa and the Middle East by furious Muslims.

Garcia accused a producer of the movie, whom she identified as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula along with the alias Sam Bacile, of duping her into appearing in a “hateful” film that she had been led to believe was a simple desert adventure movie.

“There was no mention of 'Mohammed' during filming or on set. There were no references made to religion nor was there any sexual content of which Ms. Garcia was aware,” said the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

For many Muslims, any depiction of the prophet is blasphemous. Caricatures deemed insulting in the past have provoked protests and drawn condemnation from officials, preachers, ordinary Muslims and many Christians.

“This lawsuit is not an attack on the First Amendment nor on the right for Americans to say what they think, but does request that the offending content be removed from the Internet,” the lawsuit said.

The suit accuses Nakoula, Google and YouTube of invasion of privacy, unfair business practices, the use of Garcia's likeness without permission and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

A representative for Nakoula's criminal attorney declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“We are reviewing the complaint and will be in court tomorrow,” said a Google spokesman.

Additional reporting by Gerry Shih; Editing by Cynthia Johnston

Lawsuit filed against haredi radio station for excluding women

The religious women’s organization Kolech filed a class-action lawsuit against a haredi Orthodox radio station for excluding women.

The nearly $26 million lawsuit filed Tuesday in Jerusalem District Court against Kol Berama alleges that the station does not hire women as interviewers or invite women to be interviewed.

“From the start, the station adhered to a patently illegal policy, and women’s voices were completely silenced,” the suit says. “At all hours, only men are heard in the station’s programs. A woman who wishes to be interviewed is refused, and is requested to send a fax to the station, which is read by the presenter.”

The station went on the air in 2009; the Reform movement had asked the Israeli Supreme Court to prevent its launch.

Earlier this year, Israel’s Second Authority for Television & Radio ordered Kol Berama to interview women in official positions or who are experts in their fields. It also called on the station to allow women to speak on the air for four hours a week, Haaretz reported.

The station claims to have hundreds of faxes from female listeners that are satisfied with the station’s format.

Designer Galliano reportedly sues Dior over firing for anti-Semitism

Designer John Galliano reportedly has filed an $18.7 million lawsuit against Christian Dior, the fashion house that fired him for anti-Semitic speech.

On Tuesday, the website of the London-based The Daily Telegraph reported that Galliano “is believed” to have lodged an employee/employer dispute claim with the French labor court, with a Paris hearing scheduled for Feb. 4.

The Vogue website reported the following day that “a spokesperson” for Galliano “refused to comment on rumours” that Galliano had sued.

Christian Dior fired Galliano, a British national, last year after he was filmed making anti-Semitic statements at a Paris bar. Galliano stated his love for Adolf Hitler and told people he believed were Jewish that their mothers should have been gassed. He blamed his outbursts on addictions to drugs and alcohol.

On Aug. 20, the French government journal published a decree signed by French President Francois Hollande which said that Galliano, 51, may no longer wear the French Legion of Honor medal that he received in 2009.

Last year, a French court ruled that Galliano had made “public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity” in several incidents.

Families of murdered Iranian nuclear scientists file lawsuit

The families of several slain Iranian nuclear scientists filed a lawsuit accusing Israel, the U.S. and Britain of being involved in their assassinations.

“Through this complaint, we declare to the world that actions of arrogant governments, led by the U.S., Britain and the occupying Zionist regime, in assassinating nuclear scientists and elites is against human principles,” Mansoureh Karami, the wife of slain Tehran University physics professor Masoud Ali Mohammadi, said at a news conference Wednesday in Tehran, according to The Associated Press.

Mohammadi is one of five Iranian nuclear scientists who have been killed since 2010, and Iran repeatedly has blamed Israel’s Mossad intelligency agency as well as the CIA and Britain’s MI6 for the assassinations, with support from some of Iran’s neighbors. The U.S. and Britain have denied involvement in the slayings. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement.

In May, Iran executed 24-year-old Majid Jamali Fashi for the assassination of Mohammadi and spying for Israel. Mohammadi was killed by a remote-controlled bomb in January 2010.

In April, more than 15 Iranian and foreign nationals reportedly were arrested for carrying out alleged terrorist missions for Israel in Iran, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency, Iran’s official news service. The group was accused of spying for Israel, the attempted assassination of an Iranian expert and sabotage.

The state-backed Fars news agency said the lawsuit stressed that the deaths of the scientists would not undermine Iran’s progress because Iranian youths will double their efforts to make more achievements in scientific and technological fields.

Western powers accuse Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons, while Iran says it is attempting to build reactors for peaceful purposes such as power and medical isotopes.

Adelson lawsuit describes pressure on NJDC to apologize

Sheldon Adelson’s $60 million defamation lawsuit against the National Jewish Democratic Council describes extensive efforts by his representatives, including Alan Dershowitz, to talk the group into apologizing for intimating that the casino magnate approved of prostitution.

The 16-page lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New York.

Lawyers for Adelson, one of the worlds’ wealthiest men, a major Republican donor and among the largest U.S. givers to Jewish and Israeli causes, had sent a warning letter to the NJDC and to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last month after each body quoted news reports alleging that Adelson had approved of prostitution at his properties in Macau, China.

The allegation appeared in a lawsuit filed by a former Adelson employee, Steven Jacobs, who had managed Adelson’s Macau business until he was fired in 2010.

The DCCC apologized last week for referencing the allegation in news releases sent June 22 and July 2.

Under pressure from Jewish groups, the NJDC removed an online petition calling on Republicans to stop accepting money from Adelson—but it would not apologize.

“We don’t believe we engaged in character assassination,” said the July 11 statement announcing the petition’s removal and signed by NJDC President David Harris and Chairman Marc Stanley, who also are named in Adelson’s lawsuit. “We stand by everything we said, which was sourced from current, credible news accounts.”

Instead, Stanley and Harris said, they were removing the petition in the name of “shalom bayit,” the Hebrew term for peace in the home.

The original NJDC petition had cited an Associated Press story quoting parts of the Jacobs lawsuit. Nothing in the AP story aside from the quote from the Jacobs lawsuit validated the prostitution claim.

The AP story notes that federal investigators are interested in claims by Jacobs in the lawsuit that Adelson’s business authorized bribes to Chinese officials. In addition to the prostitution allegation, the NJDC petition cited the bribery investigations as well as Adelson’s clashes with unions to bolster its claim that Adelson’s money was “dirty.”

Adelson’s publicist, Ron Reese, had no immediate comment, but the lawsuit suggests that the NJDC’s non-apology made matters worse. The lawsuit cites not just the July 3 petition but the July 11 statement removing the petition to make its case. The claim by Harris and Stanley that they “stand by” what they described as “credible news accounts” was in itself “false and defamatory,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit details how, through an interlocutor, Adelson tried to show Harris that Jacobs was lying. It quoted what it said was a 2009 email from Jacobs to Michael Leven, Adelson’s chief operating officer, asking whether Adelson had approved of prostitution. The lawsuit does not quote the email at length or explain why Jacobs would make such a query, but it does quote him as saying that allowing prostitution would “seem at odds with what I know to be Sheldon’s ‘no tolerance’ policy.”

Leven responds the next day, May 12, 2009, and says “there is no evidence that can be found that anyone here supported in anyway (sic) a different policy than we have in las vegas (sic).”

The lawsuit says that Harris was contacted after the July 3 petition was posted and that the email exchange between Jacobs and Leven was described to him.

Alan Dershowitz, the prominent First Amendment lawyer and Harvard professor, told JTA on Wednesday that he was the interlocutor who reached out to Harris on Adelson’s behalf.

“I had a conversation with David Harris in which I personally told him the same man whom they quote as having made the allegation in an email had said he doesn’t believe the allegation to be true,” Dershowitz said.

Jacobs’ email, at least as quoted in the lawsuit, does not address the veracity of the prostitution allegation; it only notes that the allegation would seem at odds with Adelson’s stated policies. Harris would not comment on his conversation with Dershowitz.

Dershowitz, a Democrat who was among the notable Jewish individuals who had called on Harris and NJDC to rescind the petition as soon as it appeared, said Harris’ refusal to apologize disqualifies him to represent Democrats or Jews.

“He is now doing more harm to Democrats and the Jewish community than good. They are willfully spreading a ‘lashon hora’ that they know to be false,” Dershowitz said, using the Hebrew term for malicious gossip.

Dershowitz said he could not comment on the freedom of speech merits of the NJDC case because he may be called upon to act as a witness should the lawsuit go to trial.

Organizations associated with Adelson have paid Dershowitz twice: for speaking at the Jewish day school founded by Adelson and his wife, Miriam, in Las Vegas, and as a lawyer helping to represent Adelson’s Venetian casino in its efforts to keep union picketers off sidewalks adjacent to the hotel. The Venetian lost that 2001 case, which Dershowitz said occurred before he met Adelson.

“The work he does for Jewish education is unmatched,” Dershowitz said.

Adelson seems particularly galled in the lawsuit by the prostitution allegation because of the work he and his wife fund in Israel to rehabilitate prostitutes.

“The Adelson clinics work to support these women, provide them with drug abuse treatment, and end their involvement in prostitution,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit notes Adelson’s continued efforts to have the NJDC stand down, including the July 17 warning letter, and then outreach from Adelson’s lawyers to the NJDC on Aug. 3 to note the DCCC apology issued the day before.

The NJDC said in a statement Wednesday announcing the lawsuit that it would stand its ground.

“Referencing mainstream press accounts examining the conduct of a public figure and his business ventures—as we did—is wholly appropriate,” NJDC said in the statement. “Indeed, it is both an American and a Jewish obligation to ask hard questions of powerful individuals like Mr. Adelson, just as it is incumbent upon us to praise his wonderful philanthropic endeavors.”

The statement called Adelson’s lawsuit a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” or SLAPP, a term used for legal maneuvers aimed not at obtaining justice but silence.

“We know that we were well within our rights, and we will defend ourselves against this SLAPP suit as far and as long as necessary,” NJDC said. “We simply will not be bullied, and we will not be silenced.”

Bad blood between Harris and Adelson runs deeper than the usual Republican-Democrat square-off. Harris appeared at the Jewish Federations of North America TribeFest gathering in Las Vegas for young leaders on March 25 as a surrogate in a debate on the merits of the presidential candidates. Adelson walked into the event, which took place at his Venetian hotel, and berated Harris for six minutes, using insulting terms to describe Obama and harrumphing out loud when Harris attempted to respond.

Late Wednesday, NJDC blasted followers with an email fundraising off the lawsuit.

“Your support at this moment is more important than ever,” said the email, which carried the subject line “We’ve been sued for $60 million.”

Sheldon Adelson sues Jewish Democratic group

Sheldon Adelson is suing the National Jewish Democratic Council for defamation.

Lawyers for Adelson, the casino magnate and major Republican donor, had sent a warning letter to the NJDC and to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week after each body publicly stated that Adelson had approved of prostitution at his properties in Macau, China. That allegation appeared in a lawsuit file by a former Adelson employee, Steven Jacobs, who had managed Adelson’s Macua business until being fired in 2010.

The DCCC apologized last week for referencing the allegation in press releases sent June 22 and July 2 that called on Republicans not to take Adelson’s money. But NJDC has refused to excise the allegation from an online petition calling on Republicans to stop accepting money from Adelson.

Adelson filed the defamation lawsuit this week; the NJDC shared news of the lawsuit in a statement sent to reporters.

“Referencing mainstream press accounts examining the conduct of a public figure and his business ventures—as we did—is wholly appropriate,” NJDC said in a statement. “Indeed, it is both an American and a Jewish obligation to ask hard questions of powerful individuals like Mr. Adelson, just as it is incumbent upon us to praise his wonderful philanthropic endeavors.”

The statement called Adelson’s lawsuit a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” or SLAPP, a term used for legal maneuvers aimed not at obtaining justice but silence.

“We know that we were well within our rights, and we will defend ourselves against this SLAPP suit as far and as long as necessary,” NJDC said. “We simply will not be bullied, and we will not be silenced.”

Adelson’s publicist, Ron Reese, had no immediate comment.

Peace activist settles lawsuit with pro-Israel activist

A peace activist and the man she accused of assault as she protested Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress reached a settlement on her lawsuit.

Attorneys for Rachel Abileah, an activist with Codepink, and her alleged assaulter, Stanley Shulster of Oregon, refused to comment on details of the settlement.

Shulster, 73, told JTA that “I didn’t pay her a penny,” but a news release from Codepink—a women-initiated grass-roots peace and social justice movement that according to its website is “working to end U.S.-funded wars and occupations”—said that Abileah will “donate a portion of the received funds to legal and medical aid for peaceful Palestinian protesters in the West Bank.”

Shulster was in Washington for an AIPAC conference when he went to hear Netanyahu speak before a joint session of Congress at the Capitol on May 24, 2011. Shortly into the address, Abileah stood and unfurled a banner that read “Occupying Land is Indefensible.” She also shouted slogans such as “No more occupation” and “Stop Israeli War Crimes.”

Abileah claimed that Shulster then grabbed her banner and physically assaulted her. She sued him for $1 million.

Following the settlement, Shulster and Abileah issued a joint statement that read in part that “Mr. Shulster apologizes for any physical or emotional harm caused by him to Ms. Abileah. He agrees that he should have let the Capitol Police handle the situation. Ms. Abileah accepts this apology.”

The statement added that their agreement “resolves Ms. Abileah’s claim that Mr. Shulster assaulted her” and “Mr. Shulster respects the right of Ms. Abileah to hold a different view on the Israel-Palestine conflict and believes that she holds this view in good faith.” In turn, “Ms. Abileah respects Mr. Shulster’s right to hold a different view on the Israel-Palestine conflict and believes that he holds this view in good faith.”

Shulster, who said he has volunteered on two separate occasions to assist in humanitarian efforts for the Israel Defense Forces, said that about 10 minutes into Netanyahu’s speech, “I heard this very loud screaming to my left” and then noticed a woman unfurling a banner.

“I just had this adrenaline rush,” Shulster said, adding that he immediately thought a weapon might have been hidden in the banner.

“Instinctively I grabbed for this cloth. I did grab the cloth, and I didn’t let go,” he told JTA.

Shulster says he recalls holding the woman’s wrist and then letting go when security personnel appeared and removed Abileah from the hall.

“If I hurt her, I certainly apologize, but I don’t believe I hurt her,” Shulster told JTA.

Hearing on motion to dismiss set in Hebrew National class-action suit

A hearing on a motion to dismiss a consumer fraud case against the company that produces Hebrew National products has been scheduled for Nov. 30 in a federal court.

The hearing will be held at the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.

ConAgra Foods Inc., which owns the Hebrew National brand, on July 26 filed the motion to dismiss a class-action suit that alleges that Hebrew National’s iconic hot dogs and other meats do not comport with the brand’s claim to be kosher “as defined by the most stringent Jews who follow Orthodox Jewish law.” The ConAgra motion states that the case should be dismissed because, among other reasons, kosher is “exclusively a matter of Jewish religious doctrine.” It also states that under the First Amendment, “federal courts may not adjudicate disputes that turn on religious teachings, doctrine and practice.”

The suit, which was filed May 18 in a Minnesota state court, accuses ConAgra of consumer fraud. ConAgra has rejected the claims.

Triangle-K, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based supervising agency that certifies Hebrew National products as kosher, and AER, which provides the kosher slaughtering services at Hebrew National facilities in the Midwest, including in Minnesota, also rejected the allegations. Neither is named in the suit.

The suit is seeking monetary damages equal to the total amount of monies that consumers in the class paid for Hebrew National meat products.

Zimmerman Reed, an Arizona-based law firm with offices in Minnesota, solicited consumers through its website. The firm advertised a free case review for anyone who purchased Hebrew National hot dogs in the past two years or had information about the preparation of the products.

Orthodox gay activist sues cousin for assault

An Orthodox blogger sued his cousin, whose family owns a large New York Judaica store, for assaulting him.

Chaim Levin, now a gay activist, has sued cousin Sholom Eichler in a Brooklyn court, according to the New York Post. Eichler’s family owns Eichler’s Judaica Store in Brooklyn.

Levin claims that Eichler assaulted him weekly beginning when he was 6, from 1996 to 1999, at the Eichler family home and at a synagogue.

ZOA sued for discrimination, national president Morton Klein takes the stand in Beverly Hills court

Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein took the stand Thursday in a Beverly Hills courtroom as the final witness in a sex discrimination and wrongful termination case filed against the ZOA.

Julie Sager, who worked for the ZOA for seven years, including five years as national director of campus activities, based in Los Angeles, is accusing the ZOA of sex and pregnancy discrimination for firing her when she returned to work after a short maternity leave following the birth of her third child in May 2009. The ZOA counters that Sager was a problematic employee for some time. ZOA also notes that it accommodated Sager through three pregnancies while she was employed at ZOA.

The ZOA is an Israel advocacy organization with a budget of around $4 million.

Taking the stand on the last day of two weeks of testimony from both sides, Klein testified for the defense regarding Sager’s employment history. He also stated that he harbored no bias against pregnant women. In fact, he said, the opposite is true.

“No one could be more thrilled than me when Jewish women have children,” Klein said, choking up a bit. “I am a child of Holocaust survivors. I lost many first cousins, aunts, uncles, and three of four grandparents to Hitler, and I’m thrilled when Jewish woman have children … I wish they’d have more.”

The plaintiff contends that ZOA has fired three women shortly after they took maternity leave. ZOA countered that the women were all terminated for cause, and that many other women have held and continue to hold important positions at the organization. As an organization with fewer than 50 employees, ZOA is not federally mandated to have a maternity leave policy.

ZOA says that it had to eliminate Sager’s position because of budgetary stress following the Madoff scandal and economic collapse of 2008. But in a brief filed with the court, Sager’s attorney, San Francisco-based Charles J. Wisch, says ZOA filled the position immediately and maintained the same number of employees in the campus activities department.

“Julie Sager successfully built and ran ZOA’s campus department for over 7 years before ZOA fired her,” Wisch said. “[Her] record speaks for itself about her competency and effectiveness.”

Steven Goldberg, a national vice chair for the ZOA and president of ZOA’s L.A. regional board, said ZOA refused to settle, because it is “outraged at being falsely accused.”

“Any type of discrimination is sickening, but it’s also pretty sickening to make an accusation that is completely false, especially when it’s done so cynically,” said Goldberg, an attorney who was co-counsel on the case but stepped down so he could be called as a witness.

The damages the plaintiff is seeking are not specified the brief, except to say they include compensation for back pay; intentional infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages.
The trial, which is expected to rest on Friday, will be decided by California Superior Court Judge Richard A. Stone, who is presiding over the jury-less bench trial, as agreed to by both sides.

The timing of the verdict is at Stone’s discretion.

Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah’s father suing police

The father of Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah reportedly is suing police for allegedly murdering his son.

Mohamed Benalel Merah filed a lawsuit against the RAID elite police who shot his son, the French news agency AFP reported Monday.

“This is a suit against unnamed persons for murder with aggravating circumstances concerning those who gave the orders at the top of the police,” Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, a member of the legal team representing Mohamed Benalel Merah, told AFP.

Mohammed Merah, who murdered four at a Jewish school in Toulouse in a drive-by shooting on his motorbike, was killed last March by police after a 32-hour siege at his house in the southern France city. Merah was fatally shot while jumping from his window during a daylong siege on his apartment in Toulouse.

“You’ve got 300 to 400 heavily armed people and a guy shut up all alone in his apartment. That alone is enough to raise questions,” Coutant-Peyre said.

Merah had confessed to the school killings, which included a rabbi and his two of his young sons, and the daughter of the school’s headmaster. He filmed himself carrying out the attacks.

AFP reported that the head of the legal team, Algerian attorney Zahia Mokhtari, said he has evidence that Merah was “liquidated,” including videos that Merah filmed himself during the siege.

Conn. congregation, member settle lawsuit over non-Jewish burial

A Jewish woman suing her congregation over the burial of a non-Jewish black woman in its cemetery has settled her lawsuit.

Maria Balaban, 73, settled her lawsuit with Congregation Ahavath Achim in Colchester, Conn., on Wednesday after two days of negotiations in the middle of the trial, which began last week.

Balaban, a member of the congregation’s board of directors, sued the congregation for allowing the burial of a non-Jewish woman in the newly established interfaith section of the congregation’s cemetery, which she says should be reserved for Jewish members and their non-Jewish spouses and family members, The Bulletin of Norwich, Ct., reported.

Juliet Steer, 47, was buried in the cemetery in 2010 after dying of cancer. She was not affiliated with the congregation, and is the first burial in the interfaith section.

The agreement must be approved by Congregation Ahavath Achim’s board of directors and membership by June 15.

During the trial, the congregation had accused Balaban of filing the lawsuit because Steer was black, something Balaban denied. Balaban also dropped her request to have Steer’s body exhumed and moved to a different cemetery, according to the newspaper.

Businessman seeks new hearing in Coca-Cola lawsuit

A Jewish Canadian-Egyptian businessman wants a full U.S. appeals court to rehear his lawsuit against Coca-Cola for using his family’s property in Egypt.

Raphael Bigio and his family filed the brief Wednesday in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. He is suing the Coca-Cola Company headquartered in the United States for its use of family property in the Cairo suburbs that was confiscated by President Gamel Nasser in 1965 during his purges against Egyptian Jews.

Bigio is hoping to settle with the beverage giant for compensation for what he alleges is substantial profit. Coca-Cola Egypt had leased the property from the family following Nasser’s purge.

A three-judge panel of the New York-based appeals court dismissed the case in March on the grounds that the complaint did not contain sufficient evidence that Coca-Cola caused or directed Coca-Cola Egypt to build additional buildings on the property.

In a news statement distributed by his attorney, the Washington firm of Lewin & Lewin, Bigio said his family’s story is “one of flagrant abuse, first by an anti-Jewish government, then by a greedy corporate Goliath.”

Coca-Cola has said that an Egyptian state-owned company, not Coca-Cola, owns the property; that it is a minority stakeholder in the company that leases the land; and that the land was purchased lawfully from the Egyptian government.