Much has rightly been made of the South African government’s disregard for international law by aiding and abetting the flight of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir who is wanted by the ICC for war crimes. Less has been mentioned about the UK government offering legal immunity to an Israeli war criminal.
Former Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, was granted diplomatic immunity by the British government during a visit to the UK this week to avoid possible arrest over alleged war crimes. The Zionist Union politician was attending the Fortune Most Powerful Women International Summit in London, where she spoke on the Israeli political climate and the future of Israel and Palestine. Livni was able to qualify for legal immunity by arranging meetings with British officials, exploiting a legal loophole that protects Israelis on official visits to the UK. The “universal jurisdiction,” UK law permits British courts to cover serious offenses such as war crimes, torture and hostage-taking, regardless of where they were committed. However, the British government amended the law in September 2011 to avoid further diplomatic incidents. Parliament changed the legislation so that the head of public prosecutions must give approval to a request for arrest warrants under universal jurisdiction. The UK government has also granted automatic immunity to all Israelis on official visits to Britain, according to the Times of Israel. As a result, British courts rejected a request for a new arrest warrant against Livni ahead of this week’s visit.
Just in case some readers of this blog are under a misapprehension that Israel possesses the moral high ground, a BBC Newsnight interviewer challenged Livni over her parents’ involvement in Irgun, a paramilitary organisation that used acts of terror against the occupying British in its struggle for an independent Israel. Livni was asked if she would describe her parents as terrorists. The former Israeli foreign minister denied there was any comparison between Hamas and Irgun. She told BBC journalist Evan Davis: “There is a huge difference between those fighting an army, the British Army, and between all those terrorist organisations in our region that are looking for civilians to kill.”
As always, one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom-fighter.