Former prime minister Ehud Barak is being sued in the US over a deadly raid of six Turkish boats trying to break Israeli blockade of Gaza in 2010, an event that still affects relations between Turkey and Israel.
The Turkish parents of 19-year-old Furkan Dogan, among nine killed in the raid, sued Barak in federal court in Los Angeles on Oct. 16, claiming unlawful death and torture. Barak, the defense minister at the time of the raid, was served with the papers Tuesday after he gave a speech near Los Angeles.
The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles couldn't immediately provide a contact for Barak, who is still in the area.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon, based in Jerusalem, said in a statement that the lawsuit "is yet another attempt to abuse otherwise legitimate legal tools for the cynical, political purpose of attacking the State of Israel."
"We are confident that the United States will not lend its hand to such abuse," said Nahshon, who does not speak for Barak.
On May 31, 2010, Israeli forces raided a Gaza-bound flotilla of mainly Turkish activists, killing eight Turks and Dogan aboard the Mavi Marmara, the largest of the six vessels in the flotilla. Dogan was a US citizen born in New York who lived in Turkey with his parents.
A United Nations panel found the raid was "excessive and unreasonable," but it also blamed Turkey.
The panel said Israel's naval blockade of Gaza was legally imposed as a legitimate security measure to prevent weapons smuggling, but it added that the killing of the nine activists was unacceptable.
The deaths deteriorated once-close ties between Turkey and Israel, though the countries have been discussing reconciliation in recent months.
Attorneys for Dogan's parents said Wednesday that they have been pursuing Barak for years to serve him with litigation, coming closest in France in 2010.
"It's been an ongoing process ever since this happened to get accountability," said Rodney Dixon, a London-based attorney in Los Angeles for the litigation. "It's a major breakthrough."
Dan Stormer, a Los Angeles attorney also working on the case, said Barak is a "war criminal who led a massacre," and that Dogan's family deserves justice.
Dogan's parents have an uphill battle with the litigation, said Douglass Cassel, who teaches international human rights law and international criminal law at the University of Notre Dame.
"All down the line, the hurdles are daunting," said Cassel, especially because a 2013 Supreme Court ruling imposed limits on the ability of foreigners to use American courts to seek accountability and monetary damages for human rights abuses.
The case also could be thrown out for political reasons, and Barak may qualify for immunity, Cassel said.