International Fellowship of Christians and Jews

"War crimes" prosecution

How a legal quirk gets used to harass and defame Israelis

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is promising Israel that a wacky British law that’s been used by pro-Palestinian activists to harass Israeli officials is on its way out the door. Whether or not Britain cancels its law, the issue is one that some say imperils the concept of national sovereignty but, more immediately, has become a cudgel to threaten Israel and its leaders.

This week, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni became the latest in a line of elected officials and IDF officers who had to cancel plans to visit Great Britain when they learned that warrants for their arrest for “war crimes” had been sworn out in British courts. (It’s also happened in Belgium and Spain.) These warrants are based on a strange legal concept called “universal jurisdiction,” which up-ends the traditional concept of “jurisdiction” — meaning that courts in one locality or country have oversight only over that area or country.

This means that courts in Detroit don’t try cases that happened in Miami, nor can a judge in Miami tell the populace of Detroit what their laws ought to be there. Internationally, courts in Singapore rule over cases that happen in Singapore and don’t have the right or power to make rulings about cases or laws in Holland. Each country or locality has sovereignty–control over itself; it’s the responsibility of each area to set laws and try cases for their own jurisdiction. (This is why criminals are extradited — they have to be tried in the areas in which they’re accused of committing crimes.).

Universal jurisdiction, however, allows courts in one locality to extend their jurisdiction into other areas: So that one area’s courts can claim the right to prosecute offenses that happened well outside its area of jurisdiction. Once this crosses international borders, extending jurisdiction can be said to compromise national sovereignty. (Jurist Robert Bork is one of the legal scholars who’ve explored this issue in detail.)

(Ironically, one of the first cases in which a country tried someone for offenses that occurred outside its border was Israel’s prosecution of Gestapo Chief Adolf Eichmann in 1962. Tried for crimes against humanity and war crimes–he has often been called the “architect of the Holocaust”–he is the only personto receive the death penalty in the Jewish State.)

In the last few decades, universal jurisdiction received major boosts when it was adopted by a number of major Western countries and, especially, when the UN established the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 1998, which would have the power to investigate and charge any individual anywhere for “genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, [and] the crime of aggression.” The ICC has yet to get fully off the ground since U.S. under the Bush administration refused to join it; President Obama has said that the U.S. will cooperate with the Court but has not yet ratified the treaty to make this official.

Israeli Minister Moshe Ya'alon was a target.

Israeli Minister Moshe Ya'alon was a target.

Beyond questions of compromising national sovereignty (which are more relevant than ever as some nations pursue a war against terror, while others seek to pacify or placate terrorists and their sponsors), the growth of “universal jusrisdiction” poses a particular threat to Israel, whether in the cases of countries like Britain or Belgium, or in the case of the ICC. As the Israeli journal Azure explained regarding the ICC, such courts are “almost certain to become just as politicized as the many other international bodies created in a similar spirit over the past half century.”

And so, accusations against Israel are pursued zealously in foreign courts, while they ignore the misdeeds of Hamas and other terrorist groups, as well as take Israeli actions out of context. (For instance, the near-impossibility of waging war against a terrorist group without impacting civilians if the terrorist group uses those civilians as human shields.)

Plus, these show trials ignore the fact that Israel’s own judiciary may have already explored and dismissed accusations of malfeasance, misbehavior, or gross violations of law. Israel’s judiciary and IDF oversight may be imperfect, but they do work — and they give truth a much better chance than do the kangaroo courts of public opinion, which, sadly, are only too eager to convict the Jewish state and its citizens of all manner of crimes — when the real crime they’ve committed is daring to defend themselves.

Update (12/17/09):

UK officials are discussing the possibility of changing the universal jurisdiction law by requiring that the Attorney General approve any warrants (Canada took this route); legal experts tell SFI that they can’t do away with the law all together since it’s required by the country’s ratification of the ICC.

What do you think?

  • Gerald
    January 5, 2013
    11:47 am

    Amen to Douglas and Julia;douglas 04/28/11 and Julia 02/24/12

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  • Harold
    December 16, 2012
    11:32 am

    Why do’nt the Israeli’s issue the same warrants against Abbas and his henchmen for their terrorist attacks against Israelis and their vilification of Jews on their TV ??

    Reply to this comment »
  • Paul
    September 3, 2011
    9:33 am

    God has supernaturally re-established the modern State of Israel-just as the jewish prohets foretold.Those prophets also said that God would not allow any power to pluck them up again.God is sovereign

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  • daniel
    February 4, 2011
    12:06 pm

    shalome ; a true christan could not talk about Israel the way you have, “i will bless them that bless thee and i will curse them that curse thee ” Gen:12-3 you are cursed by your own words ! good luck with that

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  • Cheryl
    August 8, 2010
    11:00 pm

    The Interational courts are helping usher in the one world government which is already in effect but not so much offically. They are trying to get people use to the idea one world, one government. When you read the TORAH in the books of prophesy it tells you these things. And when you read the HOLY BIBLE that contains both the OLD COVANT AND THE NEW COVANT you get more of an over all picture of what is going on. Matthew 24 in the NEW COVANT tells a lot about it.

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    • Gerald
      January 5, 2013
      11:33 am

      Cheryl seems tto have a point,never realized till now that this has progerssed so far,and her message was not written yesterday. Yesua is the beginning and the last,Jehovah saviou(Jesus) the”I Am” and everything is unfolding as it should/as prophesied int he Torah/the Holy BIble and everything that was spoken by our Lord shall come to pass.His Word shall not go out void but accomplish that which was said accoprding to his purpose. He is the Alpha and Omega the beginning and the end.If more would read the end of the book they would see where we are.And that nothing can be done against his ultimat epurpose.He can change anything around for his purlose.Everything works together for the good for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose. All is in his hands.

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  • Joel
    August 6, 2010
    1:45 am

    Shalom asks us to be “willing to listen to the other side for once”. Hey, Shalom, what do you have to say about the insulting anti-semitism practiced in the media in every Muslim nation and taught to children in their schools? Point out to us the moderate voice on the Muslim side who grants Israel any point of credibility whatsoever or concedes a single point in its favor. Your comments inherently show your own prejudice against Israel, blaming it for every manner of inhumanity but admitting no culpability for the narrow hateful lies consistently put out by Arab nations against Israel and Jews.

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  • Juanita
    July 30, 2010
    9:36 am

    Israel our prayer’s are with You the Beloved of Our Heavenly Father . Juanita and Family

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  • Dave
    July 30, 2010
    8:18 am

    It’s easy to throw out slanderous accusations like “Israel murders innocent kids” and much harder to back them up. What exactly are you talking about?! And why can’t you visit Jerusalem? There are thousands of Palestinans in Jerusalem (you yourself know that Israel is 20% Arab!) Back up some of these groundless charges with facts, please, or keep them to yourself!

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  • shalom
    July 29, 2010
    10:16 pm

    Israel is a state that murders Kids, women, innocent palestinianes in the West Bank and Gaza strip. It’s a state of fake democracy, a state that favour jews over non-jews, however, 20% of Israel’s population is Arabs!! in the next 50 years this population will increase to over 50%. I am a christan catholic Palestinian/American who was born in Jerusalem, YET I CANNOT visit the city where I was born because I am a plaestinian. Please Post this comment if you are willing to listen for the other side for once! בבקשה, זה לכתוב תגובה … תודה

    Reply to this comment »
    • Robert
      May 3, 2011
      11:15 pm

      Shalom, I don’t know where to begin, you are wrong on every point you make. Hamas and radical Muslims are the ones who kill innocent children and women. Unless you are involved in terrorist activity there is no reason you can’t visit Jerusalem. Palestine was never a country, prior to the establishment of Israel it was a part of Syria. You claim to be Palestinian/American but I feel compelled to ask, do you consider yourself more Palestinian than American? Cause you sound that way.

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  • yale
    June 28, 2010
    6:51 am

    This persecution has its root in waht Jesus told to His disciple that they will be persecuted by all nation BECAUSE OF ME(Jesus).

    The israeli people are the front of the battle field,but the one these anti-Israel are fighting really is the THE GOD of ISRAEL,to whom these anti-Israel nations will never win.


    SHAME THEIR ENEMIES YOUR ENEMIESand our enemies too who love your people ISRAEL because of YOU.

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    • patricia
      July 5, 2010
      2:45 pm


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      • Gerald
        January 5, 2013
        11:40 am

        To Yale and Patricia’s comments June and July 2010 Amen and Amen again

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    • Sol
      July 6, 2010
      1:36 am

      Anyone who accuses Israel of State Sponsored murder and terrorism is a terrorist liar.
      Any terrorists or their supporters must be attacked anywhere in the world… without having to wait for 100% absolute proof.

      Reply to this comment »
      • Gerald
        January 5, 2013
        11:43 am

        Sol is retaliation always the answer.Yes they should be stopped,yet they have a right to a fair hearing as anybody

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    • douglas
      April 3, 2011
      2:01 pm

      I could not have worded it better if I tried Jesus is a Jew and without Him there would be no GOD, God Bless Israel and all its allies

      Reply to this comment »
    • douglas
      April 28, 2011
      1:23 pm

      May the God of Israel Bless those who bless israel and curse those who curse israel as quoted in the bible God Bless all Jews and Christians worldwide. Shalom

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