Ministers’ ‘U-turn on war-crime law’

By Anshel Pfeffer and Marcus Dysch, March 26, 2009

Senior Israeli officials have attacked the British government for reneging on its promise to change a law that allows private citizens to bring war crimes charges against Israeli officers.

The failure to alter the legislation effectively bars Israeli top brass from entering Britain for fear they would be arrested on arrival.

“Both the Blair and Brown governments promised us that they would bring the necessary legislation to Parliament,” said a senior Israeli diplomat. “But it is clear now that they never really meant to fulfil that promise.”

In a recent unofficial message to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the British Foreign Office explained that, due to the public mood in Britain following the Gaza operation, the government would not be changing the legislation during the current session of Parliament, as it would be difficult to ensure a majority.

But the JC understands that the Foreign Office had already indicated before the conflict began in December that it would not be able to make the change, and is only now raising Gaza as the reason.

One senior IDF officer said: “The British hypocrisy is breathtaking. Their officers are dealing with the same kind of warfare in civilian areas in Afghanistan.

“How can they allow people to bring charges against our officers? Don’t they know that their officers will be next?”

The proposed new legislation would have given the Attorney-General a veto over charges brought by private citizens against officials and officers of foreign governments.

Jonathan Hoffman, co-vice chairman of the Zionist Federation, said: “It is entirely wrong that ‘universal jurisdiction’ allows the arrest of innocent Israelis when they land at Heathrow.

“David Miliband promised Ms Livni that the UK government would do something. He must honour that promise.”

UJIA chief executive Doug Krikler said: “The government quite rightly indicated that they would act to remove this anomaly and we fully expected them to do so.

“The fact that new legislation is apparently no longer considered a possibility does not remove the necessity to deal effectively with this situation and to ensure that senior public figures from a friendly ally are free to visit.”

James Arbuthnot MP, Conservative Friends of Israel parliamentary chairman, said: “It’s unfortunate the government did not deal with this issue when it had the chance.

“It now finds itself in a position where it’s impossible to resolve an important issue.

“Gaza is just an excuse, because last September other issues were being resolved between the two countries.

“The end result is that Britain will be less able to play the part it could otherwise play in resolving the problems of the Middle East.”

    Last updated: 2:45pm, March 31 2009