The Israeli government prohibited a former security official from testifying in a landmark anti-terrorism case in the US, court documents showed on Saturday, drawing accusations from victims of Palestinian violence that the country was caving in to political pressure from China.
In a petition to a US federal court, the government asked to quash the deposition subpoena issued to the witness, who could have tipped the scales in a case filed by families of victims of suicide bombers who accuse the Bank of China of facilitating terrorist funding via branches in the US.
In the motion, obtained by reporters, Israel said that by providing knowledge he has of specific Israeli counter-terrorism information, the witness could divulge state secrets that would endanger Israel’s national security.
However, critics say Israel’s actions are motivated by other considerations, namely that the testimony could jeopardize valuable trade ties with China.
“This motion asserts that Israel will forgive the supporters and perpetrators of acts of terror against Israelis and Jews. This is unacceptable,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, a lawyer representing 22 families of people who were killed in Palestinian suicide bombings. “[Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, by turning his back on the victims of terror, is not only denying justice to those who have paid the ultimate price, but he is sending a message to the terrorists and the whole world that Jewish blood is cheap.”
The families accuse the government-owned Bank of China, through its US branches, of serving as a key conduit in transfers of money to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Palestinian groups that have killed hundreds of Israelis.
The family of Daniel Wultz, a 16-year-old American who was killed in a 2006 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv carried out by Islamic Jihad, is pursuing a separate, but related case against the bank. Adding to the high profile of the case, Wultz’s mother, Sheryl, is a cousin of US House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
A representative for the Wultz family declined comment because they have not yet received the motion.
However, Naftali Moses, whose son Avraham was murdered in a Jerusalem library in 2008, lashed out at the prime minister.
“Netanyahu’s office promised to fight terror — and they are backing down,” he said. “Netanyahu’s office promised to aid us in our court case — and they have forgotten the victims of terror in favor of relations with the Chinese.”
The families are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages in US courts. With claims based in part on US anti-terrorism laws, a verdict against the bank could also potentially affect its ability to do business in the US.
The cases depend heavily on the testimony of the former counter-terrorism agent, named Uzi Shaya, who has emerged as a key witness in determining how much the Bank of China knew about the financial transfers.
According to court documents, Shaya was part of a delegation of Israeli counter-terrorism officials who met with Chinese officials in April 2005, warning them that Hamas and Islamic Jihad were transferring large sums of money to their militants through the Bank of China.
At that meeting, the Israelis asked Chinese officials to “take action” to prevent further transfers.
Shaya was scheduled to appear for questioning in New York on Monday next week. In an Aug. 29 letter to lawyers for the victims, Shaya said he wanted to testify, but did not yet have permission to do so.