The former head of the Israeli military Shaul Mofaz was allowed to speak in the UK parliament on Monday despite calls from Palestinians and their allies for his immediate arrest due to alleged responsibility for war crimes.
Mofaz was in charge of the Israeli armed forces between 1998 and 2002, a period which spanned the brutal repression of the second intifada including the bloody military assaults on Palestinian cities which Israel code-named Operation Defensive Shield.
After his military career ended, Mofaz moved into politics and held a number of positions in the Israeli government including minister of defense, where he was again responsible for numerous human rights violations, including torture, home demolitions and collective punishment.
“Strike a blow against impunity”
On learning of his trip to London, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) stated that, acting on behalf of Gaza victims of alleged war crimes, it had sent the UK police and Crown Prosecution Service evidence relating to Mofaz’s alleged crimes to enable his arrest on suspicion of committing offenses contrary to the Geneva Conventions Act 1957.
A PCHR statement reminded the UK government, the attorney general and the UK’s chief prosecutor of their “solemn international duties” under article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 to “seek out and prosecute” those suspected of committing war crimes. It called on UK authorities to “strike a blow against impunity” and “restore public confidence in the effectiveness of international criminal law regardless of the nationality of the suspect.”
However, instead of being arrested in London on suspicion of war crimes (as former Rwandan spy chief Karanze Karake was on the same day) Mofaz was allowed to speak at a meeting in parliament, demonstrating how Israel is singled out for impunity.
A pro-Israel event called “UK-Israel Shared Strategic Challenges,” organized by the lobby group BICOM with the newspaper Jewish News and held in the Attlee Suite of Portcullis House, gave Mofaz top billing on its day-long schedule (see full document below). Ironically, the war crimes suspect declared that the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement “harms peace,” is “evil” and “hypocritical.”
As David Cronin has reported, BICOM also lists indicted war criminal Michael Herzog, a retired Israeli brigadier general, as a “senior visiting fellow.” A war crimes investigations was opened in Spain in January 2009 over Herzog’s role in the 2002 bombing of a residential area in Gaza.
War criminal in the building
Numerous members of the UK political and media elite were happy to join Mofaz, including leading Conservative Friends of Israel lawmakers such as Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood and Robert Halfon. The latter joined the cabinet as minister without portfolio following the election in May, in the role formerly held by Sayeeda Warsi, who resigned last summer calling the UK’s silence over Israel’s attack on Gaza “morally indefensible.”
UK counter-terrorism chief Charles Farr also spoke on a panel about “radicalization,” which included academic Peter Neumann from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, a think tank with close links to Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
A host of pressure groups and think tanks also sent personnel to the event, as well as BICOM’s own Alan Johnson and Richard Pater, Jeremy Newmark from the new Israel Solidarity Campaign was present, along with Gillian Merron from the Board of Deputies, Alan Mendoza from the Henry Jackson Society, Shashank Joshi from the Royal United Services Institute, Richard Dalton from Chatham House, and Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation.
Media personalities had a presence too. The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland interviewed Israeli Labor leader Isaac Herzog, and the BBC’s Lyse Doucet was also listed on the schedule as a participant, raising questions about impartiality. Photos of the event indicated that at least one public relations professional – Marc Cohen of Kreab Gavin Anderson, a firm which has been employed to conduct Israel advocacy work before – was also due to be at the conference.
Other top Israeli politicians there included Israel’s UK ambassador Daniel Taub, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party, ex-MK Einat Wilf, and Israel’s UN representative Ron Prosor.
Getting away with murder
Prosor was speaking on the day that the UN accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza last summer during the 51-day onslaught it called Operation Protective Edge, when it killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 500 children, injured 11,000 people and destroyed or severely damaged 18,000 homes.
He and Wilf claimed there was what they called a “structural bias” at the UN Human Rights Council, echoing the longstanding and outright impunity Israel grants its military. In the face of this impunity, it might have been hoped the UK would seek to uphold international law when those responsible for similar crimes are within its jurisdiction.
However, after arrest warrants were issued for Israeli general Doron Almog in 2005 and Tzipi Livni (foreign minister during Israel’s 2008-09 massacre in Gaza) in 2009, the UK government changed the law in 2011 to make it harder for warrants of war crimes suspects to be issued.
Nonetheless, the extra protections it brought about only applied to official visits, meaning Mofaz, whose political career is now over, remained vulnerable. He could not follow the example set just last week by Livni, who set up meetings with government officials while in London to attend Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit, thus qualifying for immunity under “Special Mission” status granted by the Foreign Office.
The Israeli embassy and pro-Israel groups had reportedly been “scrambling” to get Mofaz diplomatic immunity to no avail. He decided to take the risk anyway – and British authorities allowed him to get away with murder.
- shaul mofaz
- war crimes
- second intifada
- Operation Defensive Shield
- Palestinian Center for Human Rights
- Crown Prosecution Service
- Geneva Convention
- Conservative Friends of Israel
- Tobias Ellwood
- Robert Halfon
- Charles Farr
- Peter Neumann
- International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation
- King’s College London
- IDC Herzliya
- Alan Johnson
- Richard Pater
- Jeremy Newmark
- Israel Solidarity Campaign
- Gillian Merron
- Board of Deputies
- Alan Mendoza
- Henry Jackson Society
- Shashank Joshi
- Richard Dalton
- Chatham House
- Maajid Nawaz
- Quilliam Foundation
- Jonathan Freedland
- The Guardian
- Isaac Herzog
- Lyse Doucet
- Marc Cohen
- Kreab Gavin Anderson
- Daniel Taub
- Silvan Shalom
- Yair Lapid
- Einat Wilf
- Ron Prosor
- Operation Protective Edge
- Doron Almog
- Tzipi Livni
- universal jurisdiction