Israel’s former foreign minister, Tsipi Livni, declared on Sunday that the British legal system had been “abused” after it emerged that a Scotland Yard detective attached to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit had attempted to bring her in for questioning during her visit to London at the weekend to address the Ha’aretz conference.
Ms Livni declined the police invitation to attend a police station in London “on a voluntary basis”, and was given emergency diplomatic immunity after frantic talks between Israeli and British officials.
Mystery surrounds the initiative for the approach, believed to have been made last Thursday by a detective called James Mason. A Scotland Yard spokesman told the Jewish News, which was the media partner for the Ha’aretz conference, that “there is no investigation into alleged war crimes that took place in the Israel/Gaza region in 2008/9”.
Israeli officials said its government viewed the request to interview Ms Livni, who was in the cabinet during the 2008/9 Operation Cast Lead, “with concern.” A spokesman added: “Israel is fully committed to the rule of law – in both times of peace and in times of war. This commitment stands true despite the fact that Israel remains under the constant, daily threat of terrorists, including the recent horrific attacks of the last days.”
The spokesman added: “We stand shoulder to shoulder with our global partners, including the UK, in both our commitment to the rule of law and our ongoing fight against the threat of terrorism and extremism. Israel would expect that those sharing this commitment act to prevent the abuse of their legal system for political ends, and to confront attempts to draw a moral equivalence between those perpetrating terror and those fighting against it.”
Israel would do “all in its power” to ensure that all of its citizens were not the subject of “the cynical, political abuse of otherwise legitimate legal tools, including in the UK,” the spokesman said.
In a passionate address to the Ha’aretz conference, Ms Livni told a packed audience: “We, and I, support the legal system of Israel, even though there is a political price to it. Now the fact that Israeli leaders and decision-makers, and Israeli army generals, are forced to participate in a kind of theatre of the absurd when they come to London — this is not acceptable. It’s not a personal issue, it’s a moral issue, and this is something that needs to be changed. We cannot allow the law to be abused as a weapon by those who seek to blur the moral distinction between those fighting terror and those defending it.”
Saying she was “proud” of decisions she took as a cabinet minister, Ms Livni declared that she did not expect the world to “turn a blind eye” to what Israel was doing in its fight against terror — “but I want the world to judge us in accordance with their values as well. We should not accept any equivalence between those who are fighting terror and the terrorists themselves… Israel is open for any British minister to come and visit Israel, without questioning him on decisions he took in cabinet to fight terror. These are not only my expectations, but the expectations of the state of Israel”.
Though the law on “universal jurisdiction” was amended in 2011 to give the Director of Public Prosecutions the ability to veto the issuing of random arrest warrants, it is not clear whether the bid to interview Tsipi Livni falls into this category. Jeremy Newmark, who was closely involved with the campaign to amend the law five years ago, told the JN that the new legislation was not intended to stop inquiries, but rather to stop “unfounded arrest warrants. It does not prevent people trying to build up cases. So this is not actually a test of the new legislation, which only activates if an arrest warrant is issued,”
Speaking after meeting a centre for Jewish Life delegation of young professionals in Tel Aviv, former Ambassador to the US oMichael Oren MK said: “I call on the British government and particularly the home secretary to investigate why the British police acceded to the request to question former foreign minister Livni”