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How do you solve a problem like Israel?

The state of Israel means different things to different people. For some, it is a refuge from the rampant European anti-Semitism that culminated in the obscenity of the Holocaust. For others, it is a usurper state that has stolen land from and displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the process. For yet others it is a noble little state that stands up for democracy and freedom against hordes of barbarians seeking to destroy it (the father of political Zionism infamously once described it as such). For increasingly more people it is becoming rapidly a pariah state that breaks international law and conventions with impunity, aided and abetted by politicians in hock to a lobby with an incredible degree of influence and control. For all, it is a state that is simply not going to go away. So, how do you solve a problem like Israel?

In December, the ex-Foreign Minister of Israel decided against flying to London because a London Magistrate had issued a warrant for her arrest over alleged war crimes committed by her country a year ago. That prompted apologetic phone calls from the British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, both of them discrediting their positions in the process. It was announced to the Jewish Chronicle that David Miliband would do all he could to change the law on universal jurisdiction under which the warrant had been issued, so that Israel's leaders could travel to Britain, its "strategic partner". Baroness Scotland, the Attorney General, told an audience in Jerusalem this week that the British Government is looking at ways to reform the law, despite an assurance from her office before she went to the Middle East that she would not be speaking about this issue.


The Jewish Chronicle (8 January 2010) now claims that Justice Secretary Jack Straw "is blocking" such a change in the law. It reminds its readers that he was close to the Muslim Council of Britain as Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary by way of explanation for his alleged opposition. What is amazing is that it took three people – Martin Bright, Joshua Rozenberg and Anshel Pfeffer – to come up with this startling "news"; they really should know better.

The article quotes "Jewish Leadership Council Chief Executive Jeremy Newmark", who apparently said, "Intensive conversations continued right through the holiday period. These culminated in the Attorney General making a welcome commitment in Jerusalem earlier this week. At this point the ball remains in the government's court and we anticipate hearing the details of their proposed remedy very soon."

Here is evidence of some serious high-level lobbying of a political appointee in the judicial system, the Attorney General, which was, according to Mr. Newmark, successful in getting Baroness Scotland to make an announcement about universal jurisdiction. Conversely, it seems, in an act of chutzpah ("audacity") that is by definition breathtaking, these three employees of the Jewish Chronicle regard it as somehow offensive, immoral or simply wrong for the Muslim community and its largest representative body to have any access to the senior officers of state and thus any lobbying influence. Isn't that what democracy is all about? Aren't the writers of this JC article basically saying that Muslims should not be able to do what the Jews do? Much has been written about the efforts of the "Israel lobby" in Britain and America and its disproportionate influence on government policy-makers but, it seems as if this is something that the lobby wants to keep to itself. Paradoxically, I understand their viewpoint, for if the pro-justice lobby was to be as successful as the Israel lobby, then the state of Israel itself would be in the dock, along with its lackeys in western governments and the media.

This desire for exclusive lobbying rights is mirrored by the lobby's desire to have its paymasters in Tel Aviv exempt from the laws under which the rest of us live. Although, the JC claims, "Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve stopped short of committing a Conservative government to reform of the law", apparently the "Chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, James Arbuthnot MP, said: 'It is vital that the law is amended immediately in order to prevent it being exploited for the sake of the political agendas or vendettas of those people petitioning our courts.'" Mr. Grieve did add, however, that a Tory government, "Will work… to find the right balance between bringing genuine war criminals to justice and preventing the criminal justice system from being manipulated for political ends."

With respect to both Dominic Grieve, who I consider to be an honourable man, and Mr. Arbuthnot, there is nothing "political" about trying to see justice done. They are both looking at this from the wrong – pro-Israel – end of the telescope: wanting to bring alleged criminals before the courts when there is sufficient evidence to do so – as there is in this case, notably the UN's Goldstone Report – is neither anti-Israel nor pro-Palestinian, nor is it political; it is a quest for justice, no more, no less. And if Hamas leaders – who were also accused of criminal activity by Goldstone – were allowed to leave Gaza and enter this country I am sure that members of the pro-Israel lobby spearheaded by the Jewish Chronicle and the right-wing media would be clamouring for their arrest and indictment. Would that also be "political manipulation" of the justice system?

The Jewish Chronicle and, by extension, the rest of the Israel lobby, cannot have it both ways. If lobbying is right for the Jewish community, it is equally right for other communities; and if use of universal jurisdiction is right to bring Nazis and other non-Israeli war criminals to trial, it is equally right for Israelis and anyone else so accused to face justice.

I would like to know by what logic James Arbuthnot believes it is "vital" for the law to be amended, because that has implications beyond solving a problem like Israel. Britain's Muslims have been pilloried mercilessly by the right-wing and others for wanting to have certain aspects of the Shari'ah – notably concerning family and personal law – recognised in Britain; there is only one law in Britain, we are told. If that's the case, then that one law should apply to all, even those with Israeli passports. Failure to let the justice system run its course without political, media and lobbyists' interference does serious damage to the reputation of Britain as a centre of justice, and to the independence of the judiciary, of which we in Britain – even the Israeli lobbyists themselves, I'm sure (and if they're not, let them say so) – are rightly proud.

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Commentary & AnalysisIsraelMiddle EastPalestine
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