The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has condemned the British judge who issued an arrest warrant for former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni ahead of a planned visit to London. It has called upon the British government to act immediately to pass legislation to end the legal outrage whereby judges have discretion to issue arrest warrants presently targeting Israelis, part of a Palestinian-instigated campaign of lawfare against Israel.
The ZOA has written to the British Ambassador to the U.S., Sir Harold Scheinwald, describing the prosecutorial harassment of law-abiding Israeli leaders and Palestinian lawfare in general as aimed at isolating Israel internationally, denying Israel the exercise of its inherent right of self-defense and thus motivated by anti-Semitism. Describing these practices as vile and unacceptable, it has demanded that Britain act without delay to pass legislation to remove discretion from judges to issue arrest warrants without the knowledge or prior legal advice of British government against foreign officials who visit Britain.
The Israeli government confirmed on Tuesday that Ms. Livni canceled a planned London trip this month after her office received news of a secretly issued arrest warrant that was awaiting her arrival. This is far from being the first case in which an Israeli official has faced arrest in Britain or cancelled plans to visit Britain under threat of arrest on trumped-up and politically motivated charges of war crimes (see examples provided below).
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the Livni arrest warrant that We will not agree to a situation in which Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni will be summoned to the defendants bench. We will not agree that IDF commanders and soldiers, who heroically and in a moral fashion defended our citizens against a brutal and criminal enemy, will be condemned as war criminals. We reject this absurdity outright (Statement from PM Netanyahus Bureau on UK action against MK Livni, December 15, 2009, Independent Media Review & Analysis).
Some other recent examples of attempts to prosecute Israeli officials abroad:
- September 2005: Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, former IDF OC Southern Command, was forewarned during his flight to London not to leave his plane, as he stood the risk of arrest when a Palestinian NGO, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) procured an arrest warrant ahead of his arrival.
- December 2005: The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), in conjunction with PCHR, attempted to sue in a New York court the former director of Israels General Security Service, Avi Dichter, regarding an Israeli military action against Hamas terror-mastermind Saleh Shehadeh in July 2002 that resulted in the deaths of 14 other Palestinians. Shehadeh was due to succeed Sheikh Ahmed Yassin as head of Hamas but was killed in the strike, which occurred before his plan to send a truck loaded with 600 kilograms of explosives to a Jewish celebration in Gush Katif was to be implemented A federal judge dismissed the suit in May 2007.
- December 2005: The CCR attempted to sue former Israel Defense Forces Chief-of-Staff, Lt-.Gen Moshe Yaalon, over the deaths of Lebanese civilians during an Israeli strike on Hizballah terrorists at Qana in 1995. The case against Yaalon was dismissed by the U.S. District Court of Columbia in December 2006.
- December 2006: Former Chief of Staff Yaalon almost found himself in custody in New Zealand on war crimes charges when an Auckland District Court issued an arrest warrant against him. The charges were dropped only because the prosecutor declined to press ahead with the case.
- 2007: Dichter turned down an invitation to visit Britain after being advised that he would be arrested for his involvement in the July 2002 strike on Selah Shehadeh.
- June 2008: The PCHR filed a suit in the National Court of Spain, the highest Spanish judicial council, against seven former senior Israeli military officials: former Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, former military advisor, Michael Herzog, and former IDF Chiefs of Staff, Moshe Yaalon and Dan Halutz. All were charged in the deaths of civilians in the Gaza military strike on Hamas terror-mastermind Saleh Shehadeh in 2002.
· December 2008: A few days after the outset of Israels three-week operation in Gaza that ended on January 18, 2009, a lawsuit was filed by several French pro-Palestinian organizations against the Israeli president, foreign minister and defense minister.
- February 2009: Turkish prosecutors said that they would investigate whether Israeli leaders should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity over Israels offensive in Gaza, after Mazlum-Der, an Islamic-oriented human rights organization, filed an official complaint in Turkey.
- October 2009: Moshe Yaalon, now Israels Strategic Affairs Minister, cancelled plans to attend a British Jewish National Fund fund-raising dinner in London after the Israeli Foreign Ministrys legal department advised Yaalon that pro-Palestinian groups could ask a British court to have him arrested and put on trial for alleged war crimes.
In ZOAs letter to the British Ambassador to the U.S., Sir Harold Scheinwald, ZOA National President Morton A. Klein, Vice-President Steve Goldberg and National Chairman of the Board Dr. Michael Goldblatt wrote, We unreservedly condemn the efforts of a British judge to bring to trial in Britain Tzipi Livni by issuing an arrest warrant against her on Palestinian-fabricated charges of war crimes.
Palestinian lawfare, in particular, the politically motivated attempts by Palestinian extremists and their local sympathizers to obtain the arrest of Israeli officials visiting Britain, is nothing other than anti-Semitic in intent. It would certainly be anti-Semitic in effect if permitted to be successful. If Israeli officials who are doing their moral, legal and honorable duty to defend the citizens of Israel will be arrested, Israel will be hampered and constrained in lawfully defending itself against terrorist groups seeking to murder and maim Israeli men, women and children. To seek to deny Israels right to defend itself is vile and unacceptable. Where leaders of constitutional, democratic governments are targets of such suits, there is simply no legitimacy for applying universal jurisdiction. Such leaders deserve the protection of British law.
It is therefore the urgent duty of the British government to pass legislation to remove discretion from judges to issue arrest warrants against foreign officials who visit Britain without the knowledge or prior legal advice of the British government.
We are deeply critical of the fact that the British government has permitted this state of affairs to exist so long. We urge the British government to act without delay to put an end to this state of affairs.