"We are all Tzipi Livni"

Reports of British arrest warrant for former Israeli minister could have serious implications

Britain's legal system has had a tough rap in recent weeks. As if the furore about draconian libel laws wasn't enough, a diplomatic storm appears to be brewing over reports that a British court issued an arrest warrant against the Israeli opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, for war crimes in Israel's offensive against Gaza last year.

The Guardian reported yesterday that Westminster Magistrates' Court issued the warrant at the request of lawyers acting on behalf of some Palestinian victims of the conflict. Livni, a former foreign minister, was in the war cabinet for "Operation Cast Lead", which ruined infrastructure in Gaza and killed between 1,100 and 1,400 Palestinians.

Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador to Britain, told Israeli army radio that Britain should change the law allowing groups to pursue charges against non-citizens for crimes outside the UK:

The current situation has become intolerable; it is time that it changes. I am convinced that the British government will understand that it is time to react and not content itself with declarations.

But the warrant is thought to be part of an international effort to pursue alleged war crimes under universal jurisdiction. Bill Bowring, a professor of law at the University of London, told al-Jazeera English:

This has happened before. It's under quite old legislation, under the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. Basically what it says is that if a person anywhere in the world commits grave breaches against civilians then that person should be arrested and prosecuted wherever they turn up in the world.

This move could have major implications. As a former minister, Livni is no longer protected by diplomatic immunity. The same is true of former prime minister Ehud Barak. Sources report that international travel is increasingly a matter of thought for Israeli public figures.

The Foreign Office, meanwhile, issued a slightly panicked-sounding statement:

The UK is determined to do all it can to promote peace in the Middle East and to be a strategic partner of Israel. To do this, Israel's leaders need to be able to come to the UK for talks with the British government. We are looking urgently at the implications of this case.

As the Israeli vice-premier Silvan Shalom said, reacting to the "scandalous" news: "Where Cast Lead is concerned, we are all Tzipi Livni."

The independence of the courts is supposedly sacrosanct, but this move could have significant diplomatic repercussions. As the high court faces a challenge from the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, it will be interesting to see whether the government allows this particular trend to continue.

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Show Hide image

Commons Confidential: Smith, selfies and pushy sons

All the best gossip from party conference, including why Dennis Skinner is now the MP for Selfie Central.

Owen Smith discovered the hard way at the Labour party conference in Liverpool that one moment you’re a contender and the next you’re a nobody. The party booked a luxurious suite at the plush Pullman Hotel for Candidate Smith before the leadership result. He was required to return the key card the day after Jeremy Corbyn’s second coming. On the upside, Smith no longer had to watch his defeat replayed endlessly on the apartment’s giant  flat-screen TV.

The Labour back-room boffin Patrick Heneghan, the party’s executive director of elections, had good cause to be startled when a TV crew pounced on him to demand an interview. The human submarine rarely surfaces in public and anonymity is his calling card. It turns out that the bespectacled Heneghan was mistaken for Owen Smith – a risky likeness when vengeful Corbynistas are on rampage. There’s no evidence of Smith being mistaken for Heneghan, though. Yet.

Members of Labour’s governing National Executive Committee are discovering new passions to pass the time during interminable meetings, as the Mods and the Corbs battle over each line of every decision. The shadow cabinet attack dog Jon “Sparkle” Ashworth, son of a casino croupier and a bunny girl, whiles away the hours by reading the poetry of Walt Whitman and W B Yeats on his iPad. Sparkle has learned that, to echo Whitman, to be with those he likes is enough.

I discovered Theresa May’s bit of rough – the grizzled Tory chairman, Patrick McLoughlin, a former Derbyshire coal miner – does his gardening in steel-toecapped wellies stamped “NCB” from his time down the pit thirty years ago. He’ll need his industrial footwear in Birmingham to kick around Tories revolting over grammar schools and Brexit.

Another ex-miner, Dennis Skinner, was the MP for Selfie Central in Liverpool, where a snap with the Beast of Bolsover was a popular memento. Alas, no cameras captured him in the Commons library demonstrating the contorted technique of speed-walkers. His father once inquired, “Why tha’ waddling tha’ bloody arse?” in Skinner’s younger days, when he’d top 7mph. Observers didn’t dare.

The Northern Poorhouse minister Andrew Percy moans that he’s been allocated a broom cupboard masquerading as an office in the old part of parliament. My snout claims that Precious Percy grumbled: “It’s so small, my human rights are violated.” Funny how the only “rights” many Tories shout about are their own.

The son of a very prominent Labour figure was caught trying to smuggle friends without passes into the secure conference zone in Liverpool. “Don’t you know who I am?” The cop didn’t, but he does now.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories