Swiss prosecutors say criminal complaint filed against visiting President Herzog

After he attends Davos summit, federal prosecutors say charges against Israeli head of state to be ‘examined in accordance with the usual procedure,’ including question of immunity

President Isaac Herzog speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 18, 2024, alongside a photo of Hamas-held Israeli hostage Kfir Bibas. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
President Isaac Herzog speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 18, 2024, alongside a photo of Hamas-held Israeli hostage Kfir Bibas. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

President Isaac Herzog has been targeted with a criminal complaint during a visit to Switzerland, Swiss prosecutors said Friday, amid allegations of crimes against humanity over the war in Gaza.

The Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office (BA) confirmed that it had received a criminal complaint against Herzog, who was at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos on Thursday to discuss the Gaza war.

Appearing to dismiss the validity of any such complaint, a spokesman for Herzog’s office told The Times of Israel on Friday only that “the president of the State of Israel participated in the World Economic Forum as planned and represented the position of the State of Israel and the importance and justness of the struggle to secure the release of the hostages.”

A spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment, and sources in the government suggested that the complaint was a publicity stunt with no chance of advancing to any investigation.

Herzog returned to Israel Thursday evening following his appearance at the conference.

In a statement, Swiss prosecutors said that “the criminal complaints will now be examined in accordance with the usual procedure,” adding that they were in contact with the foreign ministry “to examine the question of the immunity of the person concerned.” It did not say what the specific complaints were, or who had filed them.

Participants walk through the congress center of the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

But a statement allegedly issued by the group behind the complaint, entitled “Legal Action Against Crimes Against Humanity” and obtained by AFP, said several unnamed individuals had filed charges with federal prosecutors and with cantonal authorities in Basel, Bern and Zurich.

The statement said the plaintiffs were seeking a criminal prosecution in parallel to a case brought before the UN’s International Court of Justice by South Africa, which accuses Israel of genocide in its offensive in Gaza.

Addressing the issue of immunity, the statement suggested that it could be lifted “in certain circumstances,” including in cases of alleged crimes against humanity, claiming that “these conditions are met in this case.”

South Africa launched the emergency case at the ICJ in The Hague this month, arguing that Israel had breached the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.

South Africa demanded that the judges order Israel to halt its offensive in the Palestinian territory. Israel has denounced the case as false and libelous.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the UN, holds public hearings on the request for the indication of provisional measures submitted by South Africa in the case South Africa v. Israel on January 11 and 12, 2024, at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the seat of the Court. (Courtesy: International Court of Justice)

Israel launched a war against Hamas after thousands of its gunmen stormed across the border and massacred around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took another 240 hostage in Gaza.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 24,500 people have been killed in the fighting, unverified figures that include both civilians and Hamas members as well as those killed by failed rocket launches. The IDF says it has killed more than 9,000 Hamas operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Herzog told the Davos forum on Thursday that Israel had launched its campaign in “self-defense” and condemned the South Africa case at the Hague as “outrageous.”

“They [South Africa] basically support the atrocities and barbarism that we have seen on October 7,” he said, adding that Israel was concerned about the destruction in Gaza. “We care. It is painful for us that our neighbors are suffering so much,” he said.

“But how else can we defend ourselves if our enemies decided to entrench themselves in an infrastructure of terror of unbelievable size and scope?” he said.

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