Israel rejects UK war crimes warrant for Livni

Israel on Tuesday warned of a chill in ties after a British court issued an arrest warrant for former foreign minister Tzipi Livni for her role in alleged war crimes during Israel's Gaza war that began almost a year ago.

Gil Cohen Magen/Reuters
Israel's opposition leader and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni speaks at the annual Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) conference in Tel Aviv, Tuesday.

Israel on Tuesday warned of a chill in its ties with the United Kingdom – a relationship with significant historic and strategic weight – after a British court issued an arrest warrant for former foreign minister Tzipi Livni for her role in alleged war crimes during Israel's offensive in Gaza that began almost a year ago.

The countries have close bilateral cooperation in the West's drive to block Iran from gaining nuclear arms. Moreover, British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan face similar dilemmas of asymmetric war as Israel in the Palestinian territories.

But Ms. Livni is the fourth Israeli official since 2004 to be targeted in British courts for alleged infractions of international law in the Gaza Strip. At the same time, British trade and academic unions have pushed for boycotts of the Jewish state.

"The British government has been very cooperative on strategic issues because they share the same threat perceptions – Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan,'' said Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University. "But the newspapers, trade unions, and universities are the hothouses for these cases specifically to embarrass Israeli officials like Tzipi Livni.''

Britain's Foreign Office said it is looking into the implications of the case and stressed that Israeli leaders need to be able to visit for talks with the British government.

A shared history

After conquering Palestine in World War I, Britain was one of the first countries to back the creation of a Jewish state. But rising nationalist violence among both Jewish and Arab residents of Palestine forced Britain to seek a solution from the United Nations.

The arrest warrant, which was issued on Saturday by a Westminster Magistrate court, was revoked on Monday when it was found that Ms. Livni was not in the country. Livni was invited to appear at a UK convention of the Jewish National Fund scheduled for Dec. 13, but declined two weeks ago.

Livni was part of the troika of Israeli ministers who oversaw Israel's "Cast Lead'" operation to silence Hamas missile fire on its cities. The operation left more than 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. A UN inquiry panel headed by South African judge Richard Goldstone later expressed concern both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes.

"Cast Lead achieved its goal," Livni said at a Tel Aviv conference on Tuesday. "Israel needs to do what is correct," she said, regardless of jurisdiction or arrest warrants.

A few month ago, a British court rejected a warrant against Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the grounds of diplomatic immunity.

'Universal jurisdiction'

Britain is one of several European countries, including Spain and Belgium, where activists have sought to use statutes that permit courts to invoke the principle of "universal jurisdiction" regarding individuals and conflicts outside of the national borders.

Each time, Israel has blamed the legislation of pro-Palestinian activists and urged the governments to do something about the rulings.

This time, Israel's Foreign Ministry said it rejected the "cynical legal move" and called on the British government "to exercise once and for all their promise to act against the abuse of the British legal system against Israel and its citizens by anti-Israeli elements."

But Gershon Baskin, the Co-Director of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information in Jerusalem, says Israelis shouldn't be so dismissive of other countries' rulings related to alleged war crimes in Gaza.

Says Mr. Baskin: "This should be another reminder to the Israeli public that just because we ignored the Goldstone report doesn't mean it's going to go away."

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