NEW YORK TIMES – THE LEDE BLOG
British Court’s Arrest Warrant for Israeli Politician Surprised British Government
As The Lede explained on Tuesday, Israeli officials expressed outrage at the news that a British court had issued an arrest warrant for Israel’s former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, over allegations that she was involved in war crimes committed during the war in Gaza earlier this year. When the court discovered that Ms. Livni, who now leads the largest opposition party in Israel, had canceled her planned visit to London, the warrant was withdrawn, but the diplomatic fallout continues.
Seeking to defuse diplomatic tensions, officials in the British Foreign Office stressed that the court had acted without the knowledge of the British government, and said that they would push to change a feature of English law that allows private citizens to ask judges to order arrests.
David Miliband, Britain’s foreign minister, said in a statement posted on the Foreign Office Web site on Tuesday:
The procedure by which arrest warrants can be sought and issued without any prior knowledge or advice by a prosecutor is an unusual feature of the system in England and Wales. The Government is looking urgently at ways in which the UK system might be changed in order to avoid this sort of situation arising again.
Mr. Miliband called Israel “a strategic partner and a close friend of the U.K.” and said that it is important for Israeli leaders to be able to travel to Britain to “have a proper dialogue with the British Government.”
Speaking to the BBC one of Mr. Miliband’s deputies, Ivan Lewis, said that “the government is absolutely determined to act to make sure that this can never ever happen again.”
Ms. Livni herself appeared on the BBC to make her case directly to the British people:
What needs to be put on trial here is the abuse of the British legal system, because it’s not about me. It’s not a lawsuit about Tzipi Livni, it’s not a lawsuit against Tzipi Livni, it’s is not a lawsuit against Israel. It’s a lawsuit against any democracy who fights terror. I’m proud of decisions I made as an Israeli foreign minister in order to protect our civilians. I am proud of the Israeli soldiers who have taken action in order to stop terrorism and taken all the necessary steps in order to avoid civilian casualty in impossible situation. [...]
Any comparison between the Israeli soldiers and all these terrorists is unacceptable. The decisions that we made are the same decisions that any country who wants to defend its citizens would have taken. And it’s about time to put terrorists on trial and not those who try to stop terror and bring life of bring peace to our region.
As The Lede noted on Tuesday, the attempt to use a British court to try Ms. Livni for war crimes is layered with historical resonance, since both of her parents were members of a Jewish militant group, the Irgun, which fought to drive the British out of Mandate Palestine in the 1940s, before the state of Israel was established. Ms. Livni’s mother and father were both arrested by British authorities in the region as a result of their activities and both subsequently managed to escape.
Ian Black of The Guardian reported that Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to Britain, met with Mr. Miliband and said he had pressed for a change in the law:
The British government must take a firm stand to prevent British courts becoming a playground for anti-Israel extremists. The current situation is absurd and unacceptable in equal measure. Israelis cannot continually be held hostage by fringe groups of anti-Israel extremists, preventing politicians, businessmen and officers from visiting the U.K.
Writing in another British newspaper, The Independent, on Wednesday, Sir Geoffrey Bindman — who represented Amnesty International in the attempt to bring Chile’s former President Augusto Pinochet to trial on similar charges in 1998 — argued that Ms. Livni was not entitled to immunity from prosecution in Britain under laws that recognize “universal jurisdiction” for war crimes. According to Mr. Bindman:
Traditional immunities — of the head of state, of its diplomatic representatives, and of the state itself — have been sufficient to enable normal inter-state relationships to proceed. But these immunities are being whittled away where international crimes are concerned, and Tzipi Livni appears to have no claim to any of them. She is not a head of state; nor does it appear that her visit has a diplomatic purpose.
Last week, Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that four Jewish groups in the United States filed a brief “urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower court decision that strips individual foreign government officials of immunity from civil lawsuits in the United States.” The groups argued that the ruling, which concerns the immunity claim of a former Somali minister, if upheld, could lead to “torrent of lawsuits against Israeli government officials.”