The International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists met this week in London for a conference on Democratic and Legal Norms in an Age of Terror.
Topics under discussion were the law of universal jurisdiction, the Goldstone Report, academic freedom and boycotts of Israel, the ‘Free Gaza‘ flotilla, how should democracies cope with terror and, finally, Iran.
The timing was apt as it seems that the political battleground is gradually moving to the courts where we could now be witnessing the beginnings of the politicisation of the British judiciary.
It is well known that Israeli figures such as Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni cannot visit the UK due to the threat of arrest under the law of universal jurisdiction. All that is needed is for someone to go to a magistrate and present a flimsy case for such an arrest and the magistrate has to issue an arrest warrant.
But it has also now been made possible to enter a factory, cause £180,000 of damage and be acquitted of the charge of criminal damage on the ground of “lawful excuse” because you disagree with the aims of the company. Seven such defendants have just been allowed free. In his summing up to the jury the judge said:
“You may well think that hell on earth would not be an understatement of what the Gazans suffered.”
The court’s decision has been fully supported by the newly elected Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas.
One can invade a British supermarket with no intention of buying anything and dump, and no doubt damage in the process, Israeli produce into trolleys and be allowed to walk out without arrest or caution.
One can also repeatedly stand outside an Israeli shop in London to harass customers and cause a profound disturbance so that the Israeli shop and neighbouring shops lose business.
It is expected that the law on universal jurisdiction will be amended so that authorisation for an arrest warrant will have to be given by the Director of Public Prosecutions or, possibly, the Attorney General but the thrust of an impressive talk given by Professor Yaffa Zilbershats (Law Faculty, Bar Ilan University) was that the law of universal jurisdiction should be reserved for “heinous crimes”, as was originally intended, committed by the likes of Adolf Eichman or President Bashir of Sudan, not the likes of Olmert, Barak and Livni.
Michael Caplan QC, of Kingsley Napley, gave a fascinating account of his representation of Augusto Pinochet. He told of how the House of Lords allowed an appeal from the High Court, so authorising Pinochet to be tried in his capacity as head of state of Chile and clearing the way for his extradition to Spain, but that the 3-2 decision had to be thrown out when Lord Hoffmann’s links to Amnesty International surfaced.
Professor Lord Paul Bew, one of the best-known commentators on Northern Ireland, spoke (listen below) about Ireland and the similarities, or lack thereof, with Israel/Palestine. He made the point that the level of hatred between Catholics and Protestants was no where near the same level as that involved in Israel/Palestine.
Importantly, he spoke of the basic framework within which the peace process took place, one of the main aspects of which was renunciation of violence. Although breaches of the framework regularly took place all sides worked towards that goal.
There is no such framework in the Middle East where Hamas is fully committed to violence and the destruction of Israel.
As to continuing brainwashing of Palestinian children he pointed out that even now in Irish schools in America the schoolchildren are having the Troubles in Northern Ireland put on a par with the Holocaust. He couldn’t say what effect this might have for the future.
Professor Gerald Steinberg (NGO Monitor and Professor of Political Science at Bar Ilan University) spoke (listen below) of the huge amounts of cash that are heading to NGOs from Arab countries and described how many of these NGOs (over a hundred) directly supplied evidence to the Goldstone Commission that eventually found Israel guilty of war crimes in the Gaza Conflict of 2009/2010.
Professor Anne F Bayefsky (Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute and eyeontheun) spoke about the members of the United Nations Human Rights Council. It was the Council that conducted the Goldstone process. She described an experience of speaking at an open microphone at the United Nations, when the UN adopted the Goldstone Report on November 25th, having found herself shocked by the hate speech. She was taken out and had her badge removed for four months on the ground that the Palestinian ambassador found what she had said to be “offensive”.
The Council consists of 47 nations and she pointed out that many of the members have some of the world’s worst human rights records: Saudi Arabia, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Angola, Cuba, China and Russia. Less than half of the Council members are fully free democracies according to Freedom House rankings.
Retired Judge Hadassa Ben-Itto spoke of her experience of dealing with publishers of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is still on sale all over the world. The Protocols, a Tsarist forgery, portrays a Jewish conspiracy to control the world and forms part of the Hamas Charter. She suggested that companies that publish such defamatory and inciteful material should be sued.
Dr. Anthony Julius, one of Britain’s top lawyers and a prolific author, spoke about how boycotts of Israel are anti-Semitic. He said that all countries have enemies but the problem for Israel is to uncover those who are purely motivated by Jew hatred.
He described how the boycott has been identified historically with anti-Semitic sentiment and how it is increasingly becoming difficult to talk about anti-Semitism in this country because it is said against those that do that they are simply trying to silence and smear the opposition. Even the debate amongst Jews, he said, has now changed to whether we should just concentrate on talking up the positive aspects of Israel.
Professor Irwin Cotler, the former Minister of Justice of Canada, spoke about the threat of a nuclear Iran and also the crime of incitement to genocide by President Ahmadinejad and the Iranian regime in general. He suggested that although Iran is not party to the International Criminal Court a reference should be made to the United Nations for Ahmadinejad to be referred to the court as was the case with President Bashir of Sudan. His 160-page analysis of Iran is out on 8th July 2010.
Interestingly, Dr Robbie Sabel of the Hebrew University quoted Palestinian civilian casualty figures for Operation Cast Lead as being somewhere between 250-300 (source; Israel) and 760 (source; B’Tselem) as opposed to the oft quoted figure of 1440. The latter figure includes Hamas fighters.
Professor Avi Bell gave a detailed legal critique of the Goldstone Report in light of his soon-to-be-published paper on the matter and his view of the Mavi Marmara deaths set against the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea.
With regard to the latter a relevant section of the manual is:
67. Merchant vessels flying the flag of neutral States may not be attacked unless they:
(a) are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search or capture;
The Israeli Ambassador to Britain, H.E. Ron Prosor (listen below), and the Israeli Ambassador to France and Monaco, H.E. Daniel Shek, also spoke.
There was a description of the situation in France where boycotts against another nation are treated as incitement to racial hatred and are imprisonable offences (listen below).
Delegates flew in from Israel and from as far a field as Australia and Argentina for the conference.
Recordings of some of the talks (left click to play):
Professor Lord Paul Brew -
The Israeli Ambassador to Britain, H.E. Ron Prosor -
The position in France -
Professor Gerald Steinberg -