British police summon Tzipi Livni for war crimes questioning

Ex-foreign minister calls attempts to arrest her ‘unacceptable’; Scotland Yard drops request; Zionist Union leader protests to UK foreign secretary

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni  at the Knesset, on June 20, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni at the Knesset, on June 20, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni was summoned last week by British police for questioning over her suspected involvement in war crimes in the 2008 Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Sunday.

The summons, received by Livni Thursday before her participation in a Haaretz conference in London that began Sunday, was dropped after an exchange between Israeli and British diplomats. The Zionist Union party No. 2 and former foreign minister received diplomatic immunity.

According to a source in Jerusalem who spoke to Haaretz, the summons was given to the Israeli Embassy in London ahead of Livni’s arrival, asking her to appear voluntarily for questioning at Scotland Yard’s war crimes bureau.

Livni served as a member of prime minister Ehud Olmert’s security cabinet during the three-week conflict between Hamas and Israel in 2008-2009. Pro-Palestinian groups have repeatedly attempted to have her charged with war crimes during her visits to the United Kingdom, but Scotland Yard’s summons was unprecedented.

Speaking Sunday at the conference in London, Livni, who also served as justice minister and headed up peace talks with Palestinians, said the situation could not continue.

“The fact that Israeli decision-makers and army commanders are forced to participate in a ‘theater of the absurd’ when we come to London is something that is not acceptable,” she said. “It’s not a personal issue. It’s a moral issue and this is something that needs to be changed.”

She added that she was “proud of the decisions [she] made as a cabinet minister in the Israeli government.”

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog sent a letter to British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, urging him to change the law allowing Israeli politicians to be questioned.

He said that in light of the recent terrorist attacks on Israelis near Hebron, “attempting to question MK Tzipi Livni makes a mockery of the British government’s calls for unity in fighting radical Islamist terror, and legitimizes those that seek to murder children and terrorize society.”

A year ago, Livni avoided possible arrest when she attended the Fortune Most Powerful Women International Summit in London, which could have been considered a personal visit, leaving her unprotected. To preempt the problem, Livni arranged to meet with senior UK government officials, enabling the Knesset speaker to approve her travel as an official visit.

In 2009, ahead of a planned trip, a British court issued a warrant for Livni over alleged war crimes committed by the IDF during the three-week conflict. She did not go through with that trip.

UK lawyers representing pro-Palestinian groups have repeatedly taken advantage of legal loopholes and sought to have Israeli officials visiting the country arrested for alleged breaches of international law under the terms of universal jurisdiction.

But in 2011, Britain changed the law to make it more difficult to obtain arrest warrants against Israeli figures by requiring the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The amended law helps those visiting Britain in an official capacity. Those making trips of a personal nature are left vulnerable.

Last year, former defense minister and chief of staff Shaul Mofaz was nearly arrested when he visited London. At the time, Mofaz was greeted at the airport by two Israeli diplomats. His arrest was avoided after swift action by the Israeli Embassy in London and the British Embassy in Israel.

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