In new memoir, father seeks justice from terrorists who killed his daughter

In a new memoir, Stephen Flatow shares his personal pain and legal battles after the murder of his daughter, Alisa.

THE LAST photo taken of Stephen Flatow and his daughter, Alisa. (photo credit: Courtesy)
THE LAST photo taken of Stephen Flatow and his daughter, Alisa.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In April 1995, a Palestinian terrorist murdered Alisa Flatow, a 20-year-old American.
Beyond further illustrating Palestinians’ obsession with killing Jews and not building Palestine, this crime showed that six months before Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, Palestinian terrorists were already sabotaging the Oslo Peace Process.
This tragedy also mobilized Stephen Flatow against the terror infrastructure that murdered his daughter. Flatow’s determination created a new tool against terrorism – lawfare; drained billions from the networks bankrolling terrorism; and pushed back creatively against Iran, the world’s great terror-paymaster.
His battle was one “I’d win, but one which could never compensate me for what I had lost,” Flatow writes in his new book, A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror.
That subtle, tear-stained sentence captures the nightmare haunting his life – and both sides of his remarkable memoir. It’s a compelling legal-political thriller, and a searing tribute to a missing daughter.
The first dimension is a real-life Hollywood thriller. A regular guy – a real-estate lawyer from New Jersey – seeking justice, punishes evil, confronts hypocrisy and inspires millions. Flatow wanted to sue the Iranians for financing Alisa’s murderer. He assumed the discovery process would embarrass them, exposing the mullahocracy’s evils. But – surprise! The court quickly awarded his family $250 million.
Then the real drama began.
As Flatow explained to me recently in Jerusalem, the American government “was caught flat-footed by the judgment, too.” Then-president Bill Clinton feared this decision might unleash many Lone American Rangers against foreign governments – making a mess of American foreign policy. Less explicable was Clinton’s softness toward Iran – which Barack Obama mimicked. That’s “what still frustrates me the most,” Flatow says. “I could never quite understand what his goal was.”
Thanks to Flatow’s superhuman persistence – lobbying, cajoling, button-holing, speechifying, op-eding – the Flatows eventually received about one-tenth of the award. Today, the money funds good causes, especially the kind of year-in-Israel programs Alisa was enjoying when she was killed.
Unfortunately, they were double-crossed.
Flatow refused to take “one cent” from the American taxpayer. The Clintonites implied the funds came from $400 million in seized Iranian assets. Only in 2016, when the Obama administration inexplicably paid Iran the $400 million – plus $1.3 billion in interest – did Flatow realize he’d been snookered.
What makes the book most memorable is the emotional journey Flatow shares with the reader as the international intrigue is playing out.
Alisa was a vivacious kid who, like all kids, wasn’t perfect, and wondered why things went wrong when they did. Once, when she broke her foot, Flatow explained to Alisa: “Things happen. We just don’t understand why. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
FLATOW WRITES movingly about his excruciating last-minute flight to Israel, with his daughter on life-support, to authorize ending her life – and sharing her organs with others. It will be a challenge for readers – seeing how he’s shepherded with love along the way – to get through the book without getting misty-eyed.
At the funeral, after calmly recounting the Israeli and American love that enveloped them, Flatow said: “What breaks my heart the most is this. There’s one family mourning the loss of a child. And there’s a family dancing with glee that their son killed himself – and my daughter.”
Later, he recalls being cross-examined by his lawyer, Tom Fay, who asked: “Mr. Flatow, you were the father of Alisa Flatow?”
Flatow responded: “No.”
Fay “looked lost.” Flatow explained: “I’m still her father.”
Fay teared up. The judge swiveled away, trying to hide his emotions. Flatow realized then that he just might win.
Today, Flatow tells Orthodox students: “You must learn how to stand up for yourself as a person and a Jew. History has taught us if we don’t stand up for ourselves no one else will. But we do it in a civil way.” He tells non-religious Jews: “Israel is our home. We can always look toward Israel for our strength and our inspiration.” Then he adds, “Please, understand that people there are under tremendous pressure and they deserve our support.”
Flatow has lived a full life, with a loving wife, four surviving children and 16 grandchildren. He has full days, often waking up at 5 a.m. But, he says, “Eventually, every night, you run out of steam. You never quite recover.” 
This Jewish hero, this American hero, this extraordinary human being, ends his love poem to his daughter, to Judaism, Israel, Zionism and humanity, with the wrenching words: “I can only hope that I will find my right place.”
We hope so, too, while imagining how many lives he – and Alisa by extension – saved by pursuing the terrorists and their enablers, putting them on the defensive for a change.
The writer is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology, The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society. A distinguished scholar of North American History at McGill University, he is the author of 10 books on American history, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.