Marla Bennett was studying at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University when a bomb exploded in the school’s cafeteria, killing her and six other people. More than nine years later, her parents still hope to receive compensation from the attack’s suspected backer, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
But since winning a $12,904,548 court ruling in 2007 against that nation and its intelligence service, Michael and Linda Bennett’s efforts to recover that money have been stifled by an unexpected foe.
The U.S. government opposed their effort to put a lien on the former Iranian Embassy in Washington, D.C., which was closed after the United States suspended diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980. The government said a lien would violate its international agreements to protect diplomatic property.
The couple’s latest effort is a lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court against Iran and two American companies alleged to be holding Iranian money, Franklin Templeton Fiduciary Trust of San Mateo and Visa Inc. of San Francisco.
The couple’s attorney, Tom Fay, called the U.S. government’s opposition to selling the former embassy property “mystifying,” given Iran’s takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979, during which 52 Americans were held hostage for more than a year.
“The attitude of the State Department seems to be, ‘You’ve got to treat these people nice, that’s the way to deal with them,’” Fay said.
Linda was more circumspect.
“It’s a bit disappointing, but I know that our government is trying to do what’s best for the United States,” she said. The lawsuit seeks a lien on securities that it claims Iran invested through Visa with Franklin Templeton. Fay said the assets are being held in Northern California banks.
Franklin Templeton said in a statement that it has “no records of any shares issued to the Islamic Republic of Iran or for its benefit.”
“Only the particular U.S. investor can determine whether the Islamic Republic of Iran has an interest in the shares,” the statement said, in reference to Visa. The company said it would “honor any enforceable court order concerning the ultimate disposition of those shares.”
Visa did not respond to calls for comment.
“We are still hopeful,” Linda said. “The attorneys have hope, and so we have hope. We would like to get some money and be able to give it to some charities that we know our daughter would have liked the money to go to.”
Marla, a graduate of UC Berkeley, was working on a master’s degree in Judaic studies at Berkeley’s Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies at the time of her death. She was two days from returning home, Linda said.
Linda described Marla as “a very peaceful, loving, kind person.” She had wanted to become a teacher at a Jewish day school, and to help others, regardless of their faith or nationality, Linda said.
Since Marla’s death, gardens and other memorials have sprung up in Southern California, Israel and at the UC Berkeley Hillel Jewish student center.
“I know she would be amazed at what’s been done in her memory,” Linda said.