Israel reacted angrily to the news that a warrant has been issued in Britain for the arrest of former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, with President Shimon Peres calling it one of the “biggest political mistakes the UK has ever made” and warning that it is “high time” the British government changed a law allowing courts to grant such warrants. British ministers said they will look “urgently” at reforming the law.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the move “an absurdity,” as an embarrassed Foreign Office distanced itself from the legal action, saying that “Israel’s leaders need to be able to come to the UK for talks with the British Government.” But the British ambassador in Jerusalem, Tom Phillips, was told by Israel’s European liaison Naor Gilon that “if this persists the situation would force us to consider whether officials should go to Britain or not.” Uzi Arad, an aide to Netanyahu, demanded the British government take parliamentary action to “act against this immoral phenomenon.”
The warrant was issued by a London court Dec. 12 at the behest of pro-Palestinian activists, on the grounds that Livni was responsible for war crimes during Israel’s devastating Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last winter. Livni said the court had been “abused” by the plaintiffs. “This is a lawsuit against any democracy that fights terror,” she told the BBC. (The Independent, BBC News, Dec. 16)
Livni, a member of the war cabinet during Operation Cast Lead, had been due to address a meeting in London on Dec. 13 but cancelled her attendance in advance. The Guardian reports that Westminster magistrates’ court issued the warrant at the request of lawyers acting for Palestinian victims of the Gaza campaign, but that it was later dropped. The warrant marks the first time an Israeli minister has faced arrest in the UK. (The Guardian, Dec. 14)
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Aw, Tzip it, Avigdor
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, reacting to the news of a British warrant for Tzipi Livni, again invoked a “new anti-Semitism” and charged that certain elements are “using anti-Semitism to incite hatred of Jews and to delegitimize Israel.” Speaking before a conference on anti-Semitism in Jerusalem, Lieberman said: “The people behind the [global] assault against Israel have crossed the line. They seek to destroy the Jewish state and take away the right of the Jewish people to define themselves.”
Lieberman warned, half-joking, that soon Britain would issue arrest warrants for NATO commanders over the war in Afghanistan. “It is in Britain’s interest, not Israel’s, to make a change,” he said. (Haaretz, Dec. 16)
Lieberman needn’t have joked. Iraqis have already launched suit against Donald Rumsfeld, who is also accused of war crimes in Afghanistan, and the UN torture rapporteur has also called for charges against Rumsfeld and George Bush. We hope that this conference on anti-Semitism actually spent some time examining real anti-Semtism, and not just providing a soapbox for self-serving Israeli politicians.