OK, so it’s there in the Bible, Exodus no less: “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children.” Of course I do not blame the Israeli politician Tzipi Livni for the iniquity of her father – and mother. But there is no doubt that Livni’s parents did commit iniquities.
It is as well to bear these in mind, since Livni is at the heart of this coming Wednesday’s Commons debate and vote on Universal Jurisdiction – the power to issue warrants in Britain to arrest suspected war criminals. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, raised Livni’s case when questioned in the Commons last week about this planned change in the law, and there would never have been a move for such a change if, in December 2009, Westminster Magistrates Court had not issued a warrant to arrest Livni, who was planning to visit this country (but withdrew it when she cancelled her trip).
Livni’s parents, Eitan and Sarah, were leaders of the terrorist gang Irgun Zvai Leumi, which operated in Palestine during the British mandate. Indeed, they met while robbing a British train, as part of a series of terrorist operations which resulted in Eitan being sentenced to 15 years in jail, from which he escaped. Tzipi, of course, has no such record of illegalities, and her role as an agent of the Israeli spy agency, Mossad, was perfectly respectable (at any rate, to those who regard Mossad as perfectly respectable).
The warrant for her arrest was, it seems, granted taking into account that she was foreign minister and deputy prime minister in the Israeli cabinet which authorised Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli invasion of the Gaza strip in December 2008-2009, which killed 1,400 Palestinians, including 300 children, but was not exactly successful, taking into account the wave of rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel during the past few days.
When the warrant was issued members of the then British Labour Government got into a tizzy, and sounded off promising a speedy change in the law. A group of us in the Parliamentary Labour Party (including myself, who had a special meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown) soon put a stop to that, and any such Labour legislation was shelved.
The Tories, however, blatantly seeking to ingratiate themselves with what they assessed as the Jewish vote, promised that they would change the law, dramatising this pledge with a full-page advertisement in the hysterically chauvinistic Jewish Chronicle during last year’s general election campaign. Now that legislation is before Parliament, in legislation put forward by the coalition government, somewhat curiously, since when in opposition the Liberal Democrats were vocally opposed to any such legislative change on the issue of warrants; but, there we are, that’s the Liberal Democrats for you.
The Police Reform and Social Responsibility, Bill, amendments to which will be debated on Wednesday, aims to change the right to issue warrants. At present the hurdle to be surmounted for such issue is high, since issue of warrants can be decided only by specially legally-qualified magistrates, such as the most senior district judge at Westminster Magistrates’ Court. If the Bill’s change goes through, the prior consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (appointed and “superintended” by the government’s Attorney-General) will be required; the hurdle will be raised to almost unscaleable heights.
And this, of course, is taking place at a time when hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians have suddenly escalated, with two terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians and Israeli assaults on the Gaza strip which have, this very week, killed many Palestinians. Israeli ministers are threatening condign action against Gaza. This week’s change in the law would not for a moment have been proposed if Israel were not involved. It demonstrates the skewed attitude of the West towards Israel, whose actions against Palestinians (including last May’s piratical lethal assault on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza :an attack whose “legitimacy” Livni vocally upheld) – are tolerated with no more than pained comments by such as the useless Barack Obama. Libya gets a no-fly zone, backed by military force; Israel gets, at worst, ineffectual remonstrations.
Yet, as I have pointed out in the Commons, Israel cannot be immune from the wave of yearning for emancipation that is sweeping the Middle East. It will never know tranquillity until it emancipates the Palestinians, and its survival as a viable state is in jeopardy. It will be with such thoughts in mind that many of us will be voting against the wrecking of Universal Jurisdiction when it comes before the Commons this week.