The Zionist Advocacy Center (TZAC) announced unsealing of a False Claims Act lawsuit in October 2020, alleging that the UK-based charity Christian Aid violated the terms of its USAID anti-terrorism certification. The complaint was filed in June 2017 but sealed while the government investigated the allegations. According to the court’s order unsealing the case, the government declined to intervene in the case. Christian Aid filed a motion to dismiss, which was granted by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on June 9, 2021, for lack of jurisdiction.
TZAC alleged that Christian Aid co-sponsored a vocational training for disabled Syrian refugees in Lebanon with Jihad-al-Binaa, an organization the U.S. listed as a supporter of Hezbollah in 2010, making Christian Aid’s representations to USAID that it had not provided material support to terrorist groups a false one. However, Chrisitian Aid provided support for the workshop to the Lebanese Physical Handicap Union, which in turn hired Jihad-al-Binaa to conduct the training. In granting Christian Aid’s motion, the court ruled that TZAC failed to demonstrate facts that would establish the court’s jurisdiction over Christian Aid. As a result, the case was dismissed without addressing the merits of TZAC’s claim. However, the court did note that “TZAC has not asserted that Christian Aid actually knew about the association with Jihad al Binna…” (p. 8) TZAC’s complaint also included non-related criticism of Christian Aid’s advocacy in support of Palestinian human rights.
After the case was unsealed, Christian Aid submitted a letter to the court on Nov. 19, 2020 requesting leave to file a motion to dismiss, citing TZAC’s vague and speculative claims, lack of allegations that Christian Aid acted knowingly or with reckless disregard for the facts and lack of jurisdiction. In response, TZAC filed an Amended Complaint on Dec. 18, 2020 that sought to strengthen its arguments. In a follow up letter to the court Christian Aid said the Amended Complaint “concedes that the program was actually organized not by Christian Aid but by a grantee of Christian Aid, the ‘Lebanese Physical Handicap Union (LPHU).” TZAC also admitted that Christian Aid made payments to its grantee, not the listed group.
Christian Aid filed its Motion to Dismiss on Feb. 12, 2021. In addition to raising jurisdictional objections, its arguments included two key points:
- TZAC failed to allege Christian Aid knew its anti-terrorism certification was false when it was made or that it in fact violated it;
- TZAC did not allege the purported false certification would have been material to USAID’s decision to grant funds to Christian Aid. In fact, the motion points out that USAID directly funded the same group (LPHU) during the same time period. As a result, Christian Aid argues that even if a small portion of its grant proceeds supported the training event at issue, the allegation is “not one that plausibly would have led USAID to refuse to do business with Christian Aid had it been now prior to contracting with Christian Aid.” (p. 3)
In his opinion and order dismissing the case Judge Kevin Castel found that Christian Aid’s contacts with the U.S. were insufficient to satisfy due process requirements. TZAC had argued that Christian Aid could be brought before the court because:
1) it is a member of the Act Alliance, which has one of its offices in New York,
2) it was involved in creation of a New York registered nonprofit Inspriaction,
3) that some of its executives traveled to New York in 2018 and 2019 to attend conferences, and
4) Chrisitan Aid’s grant agreement with USAID says the U.S. has the right to seek judicial enforcement of grant assurances.
The court found that “Even taking these allegations as true, these are insufficient contacts to support this Court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction over Christian Aid on either a general jurisdiction or specific jurisdiction basis.” (p, 6) The judge also denied TZAC request to file another amended complaint, saying that “TZAC has had over three years to bolster its jurisdictional allegations.” (p. 10)