Universal outrage

William Hague is thoroughly welcome here. His Israeli counterparts have the right to expect precisely the same hospitality in the UK.

William Hague 311 (photo credit: AP)
William Hague 311
(photo credit: AP)
As British Foreign Secretary William Hague began his visit here, he was served notice by his hosts that Israel will postpone all participation in its bilateral strategic dialogue with London.
This may seem like a particularly unkind and intemperate cut, considering that Hague perceives himself as a good friend of this country and that his is the first highprofile British visit to Israel since David Cameron’s Conservative- led government assumed office last May.
But Israeli resentment has been building steadily for some years – a cumulative outrage over the fact that no Israeli higher-up can dare go to Britain with the ease with which Hague can come here.
The latest case in point is that of Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor – no hardline, uncompromising hawk by any yardstick – who had to cancel a trip to London a day before Hague’s arrival here. Meridor scrapped his plans to avoid potential detention on a war-crimes warrant, made possible by Britain’s “universal jurisdiction” regulations, which permit prosecution there for alleged crimes against humanity said to have been perpetrated abroad. Anyone can demand that any visitor to Britain be taken into custody on this pretext.
The hounding of Israeli politicians and IDF officers overseas has in recent years become a favorite pastime of some Arabs and Muslims worldwide, along with a retinue of self-styled human rights activists, among them some Israelis.
Meridor isn’t the first Israeli official to have been forced to avoid Britain. Last December, Kadima’s Tzipi Livni was likewise threatened with prosecution. Perhaps the most famous incident involved Doron Almog, the former OC Southern Command, who was warned during a flight to London in September 2005 not to leave the plane, lest he be arrested for his role in anti-terror operations.
Thus, while Hague can visit Israel, comfortable in the knowledge that the authorities here are working relentlessly to keep this country, its citizens and its guests safe, those very people who are protecting us, and him, from terrorists’ predations cannot set foot in his country.
HAGUE’S OWN party has acknowledged the absurdity and promised “speedy action” to prevent this cynical abuse of its laws. Yet despite the declarations of intent, there has thus far been no action, speedy or otherwise.
On the eve of his visit, Hague told Israel Radio’s English News that “this is an unacceptable situation. We have to take the necessary legislation through Parliament...The relevant legislation will be introduced within a matter of weeks,” he promised, “and will go through this session of Parliament, which means it will be able to become law at some stage next year... These things take time.”
Indeed they do. It is estimated in Israel that, even were Her Majesty’s government truly to spring into belated action immediately, there is little chance that its universal jurisdiction stipulation could be critically amended before the middle or even the end of 2011.
The bottom line, then, is that for another year, if not longer, no high-ranking Israelis – or even lower-rank reserve officers – will be able to travel to Britain worryfree.
After the Almog incident, then-foreign minister Livni announced a campaign “against this latest fad in the war against Israel.”
But doubtless mollified by diplomatic promises of action, she instituted nothing of substance to attest to Jerusalem’s outrage. Behind-the-scenes interventions did take place to extricate individuals from specific dangers of political show-trials, but the larger, overall, recurring issue was not tackled.
It is highly unfortunate that Israel has had to resort to substantive action now, attaching a specific penalty for the UK’s ongoing failure to rectify the problem – a failure that lies heavily, too, with the previous Labor government.
But the grotesque double-standard needs to be confronted fearlessly and unequivocally. A continued failure by Israel to demonstrate the untenability of the current situation would have come to be regarded as an Israeli acknowledgement that its political and military representatives were deserving of this shameful legal exposure, that Israel was not too bothered to have its elected representatives and dedicated defenders branded as international outlaws.
That was a misperception that Israel has rightly now confronted. The sooner Britain confronts the problem, the more quickly the strategic dialogue can be resumed.
William Hague is thoroughly welcome here. His Israeli counterparts have the right to expect precisely the same hospitality in the UK.