Israeli minister cancels UK visit over arrest fear
A SPECIAL inter-departmental team is advising Israeli ministers and senior officers to limit their visits to Britain and three other European countries out of fear of being arrested. The latest minister to cancel a visit was Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon who was scheduled to attend a JNF dinner in London.
Experts on international law from the foreign and justice ministries, and the IDF Attorney-General’s department, have advised cabinet ministers with a security background and senior IDF officers not to visit Britain, Spain, Belgium or Norway, while lawyers in these countries are seeking to arrest Israelis on charges of alleged war crimes through “universal jurisdiction” laws.
Mr Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff, had accepted an invitation to speak at a dinner in November to raise funds for the Benji Hillman Foundation, a project for lone IDF soldiers in Ra’anana. The foundation built a home in memory of the British-born IDF officer who was killed in the Second Lebanon War.
The minister was advised by the interdepartmental team not to travel to London as he was exposed to an arrest warrant that pro-Palestinian lawyers could obtain for him. As IDF chief of staff in 2002-2004, he authorised the air-strike against the home of Hamas leader Salah Shehade in July 2002 in which 14 civilians, including children, were killed.
Former IDF major-general Doron Almog narrowly evaded arrest at Heathrow four years ago. General Almog was the officer in command of the IDF’s Southern Command at the time of the Shehadeassassination.TradeandIndustry Minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who was defence minister at the time, has also been warned against travelling. Mr Ya’alon’s office issued a statement saying that the visit had been cancelled “to avoid playing into the hands of antiIsrael propaganda”.
Samuel Hayek, JNF UK chairman, said: “It is regrettable that relationships between Israel and the UK are hampered as a result of the British government’s failure to resolve an outstanding serious diplomatic issue that prevents senior Israeli statesmen and politicians from conducting a normal diplomatic relationship with the British government.”
Requests for an arrest warrant for Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who attended the Labour conference in Brighton last week, were blocked as he had diplomatic immunity as a senior minister and an official guest.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) celebrated Mr Ya’alon’s decision not to travel and welcomed former Israeli officers’ fears of coming to Britain. PSC’s Sarah Colborne said: “Israeli war criminals must not be allowed to come into Britain, walk freely and remain unpunished.”
Staying put: Moshe Ya’alon