When is a war criminal not a war criminal? The answer: when you’re an Israeli.
Loading article content
Foreign Secretary William Hague had barely set foot in the unholy land this week on his first official visit when the Israelis were springing the mother of all diplomatic ambushes. British officials were said to be “irritated” that Israel had suddenly decided to suspend “strategic dialogue” with Britain over defence and security issues in protest at attempts to use British law to prosecute visiting Israeli officials for war crimes.
What was odd about Israel’s response was that London had already pretty much caved in to Jerusalem’s demands by announcing plans to give the UK’s director of public prosecutions the right to veto arrest warrants for suspected war criminals. This, in effect, could let a whole bunch of alleged Israeli war crimes suspects -- and others -- off the hook, defusing a source of tension between Britain and Israel that has existed since 2005, when retired Israeli Major-General Doron Almog was about to step off an El Al flight in London where he was facing an arrest warrant for violating the Geneva Conventions in connection with the destruction of Palestinian homes in Gaza.
In the end, Almog stayed on the plane, turned around and went back to Israel. Almog was not the first, and doubtless will not be the last, high-ranking Israeli military or government official to be associated with alleged war crimes.
Looking back across recent history, the roll-call of senior Israeli figures at the centre of such claims gives food for thought. Who can forget the man they nicknamed “the bulldozer”, Ariel Sharon, who, as Israeli Defence Minister in 1982, gave his full approval to an operation that resulted in the massacre of perhaps as many as 2000 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut?
More recently it was Tzipi Livni, Israel’s former Foreign Minister, who became the focus of an arrest warrant issued by a British court over war crimes allegedly committed in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, the 2008 Israeli military blitz that was later condemned by Amnesty International the Goldstone Report and other human rights groups and inquiries.
Earlier this week Israel’s Intelligence Minister, Dan Meridor, was also said to have cancelled a trip to Britain for fear that he, too, would have fallen foul of a warrant issued under what is known as “universal jurisdiction”.
This ongoing saga has revealed two things. The first is that something is rotten in the State of Israel. The second is that Britain’s wimpish handling of the affair has shown once again that when Jerusalem shouts jump, our own Government is only too happy to ask: how high?
Lest we forget, it was only earlier this year that Israel was happy enough to give a two-finger salute to British “outrage” after evidence pointed to the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad cloning the passports of six unsuspecting Britons to enable its agents to carry out the alleged murder of a Palestinian member of Hamas, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in a Dubai hotel room. How did Britain respond?
Well, after a bit of ritualistic political sabre-rattling, it eased off the diplomatic pressure and allowed the incident to slip from the political radar. As if this wasn’t appeasement enough, the Government then pulled out all the stops to amend a law that was already part of the British judicial system simply to ensure visiting Israeli officials to the UK would not be inconvenienced by an arrest warrant for their alleged complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Call me cynical, but no doubt the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) and the Jewish state’s other bullying lobbies here in the UK and elsewhere were working overtime to ensure it was ever going to be so. “We understand Israel’s frustrations …” assured the Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP, parliamentary chairman of CFI, in response to Israel’s suspension this week of its “strategic dialogue” with the UK Government. Mr Arbuthnot then went on to reiterate the Coalition’s strong commitment to changing the law on universal jurisdiction.
What’s really ironic about all of this, of course, is that far from showing its gratitude for all this British Government grovelling, the moment William Hague arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel simply sank the boot in further. Mr Hague, it seems, had no idea of what he was up against in the likes Avigdor Lieberman, former nightclub bouncer turned Israeli Foreign Minister.
Under investigation for fraud, embezzlement and money-laundering, and head of an Yisrael Beiteinu party whose slogan is “No loyalty, no citizenship”, Mr Lieberman is the consummate Israeli boot boy. Here is a man who advocates that Israeli-Arab MPs who meet Hamas should be executed like Nazi collaborators after the Nuremburg trials.
No surprises, then, that in Israel he commands considerable public support. Mr Lieberman has been unrelenting in his plan to push for what he calls a “population exchange” whereby 1.3 million Arabs currently living in Israel would be stripped of citizenship and forcibly transferred outside Israel’s future borders.
To that end, Israel has recently been staging a training exercise to test its ability to quell any civil unrest that might result from such a controversial move. This past week Mr Hague, no dummy, appears to have been taken to the cleaners and forced to confront what so many of his predecessors as Foreign Secretary had to learn painfully in the past: Israel gives scant regard to diplomatic niceties when its nose is out of joint or sees anyone trespassing on its political territory.
So just when can we expect the British Government to wake up to the reality of what the State of Israel actually represents: a dangerous and demanding bully that insists in getting its own way and damns the consequences?
Britain should think again about revoking or amending the law with regards to universal jurisdiction. No-one want to stop Israeli government or military officials coming to Britain, but the Jewish state needs to be reminded that should such individuals have blood on their hands they will not only be unwelcome, but will be held fully accountable for their actions under international law.
By David Pratt