LONDON - Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon is the latest Israeli to face possible arrest on war crimes charges during an official visit to the UK.
Ayalon returned to Israel on Tuesday evening after a two-day visit to London, during which pro-Palestinian activists attempted to use a section of British law to have him arrested.
The International Criminal Court Act of 2001 and the Criminal Justice Act of 1988 allow for private individual complaints of war crimes to be lodged against military personnel, even if they are not British citizens and the alleged crimes were committed elsewhere.
Ayalon and his advisers received the news on Monday evening before he was scheduled to give a keynote speech at the London School of Economics. His team took the necessary precautions and, after consulting with the Israeli Embassy, decided that he would continue with his trip.
On Monday night, Ayalon spoke at LSE. However, a student wearing a keffiyeh held up proceedings by shouting at the minister as soon as he took to the podium to deliver his speech, "The Situation in the Middle East: The View from Israel."
Despite appeals from Prof. Michael Cox, head of LSE's International Relations department and chairman of the event, the student refused to stop hurling abuse at Ayalon. Eventually the audience turned against the student, after the chairman lost control, and the minister was able to give his speech and engage in debate afterward.
An LSE spokeswoman apologized for the disruption, saying it had been caused by a very small minority and that the school tried to give a platform to all voices.
"LSE believes in free speech and has a long tradition of upholding it. The school is also, traditionally, a place where many world leaders come to explain their thinking and answer questions. Mr. Ayalon's speech gave LSE staff and students the opportunity to listen to, and question, a senior politician on a topic of pressing global concern," the spokeswoman said.
In his speech Ayalon reaffirmed his government's commitment to a "historic reconciliation" with the Palestinians, and acknowledged that "painful concessions" would be necessary for all people to live with dignity, security and justice.
Ayalon's advisers believe that the material advertising the university event was the catalyst behind the call for his arrest, as it described him as a former IDF officer: "Mr. Ayalon is a former captain in the Israeli army who served as foreign policy adviser to prime minister Ariel Sharon and as Israel's ambassador to the United States from 2002 to 2006."
No further details were available at press time regarding who demanded the arrest.
Earlier this month, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon, a former chief of General Staff, declined an invitation to travel to the UK to speak at a Jewish charity fund-raiser, for fear that he might face arrest on charges of war crimes.
On Tuesday, Ayalon had meetings with government officials, in which he raised the absurdity of Israeli officials facing possible arrest under the universal jurisdiction law when they visited the UK. The minister also discussed the boycott call by a number of British trade unions, and bilateral relations.
Ayalon also met with Ivan Lewis, minister for the Middle East, and discussed the regional peace process, Iran and building ever closer links between the UK and Israel.
In a statement the Foreign Office said: "In a productive meeting, Mr. Lewis made clear the UK's continuing concerns about Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They also discussed the need for Israel to initiate an independent investigation into the allegations of abuses during the Gaza conflict. Ivan Lewis reiterated the UK's desire for Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapons state. Both ministers agreed on the need to make progress towards a two-state solution and Mr. Lewis reiterated the UK government's commitment to opposing boycott campaigns against Israel."
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