Hot on the heels of their failure to persuade the Hawks to arrest Israeli politician Tzipi Livni should she arrive in South Africa, anti-Israel hardliners are once more clamouring at the door of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). Yet again, their aim is to prevent Israeli representatives from visiting South Africa by levelling allegations of “war crimes” against them.
The tactic of singling out Israeli leaders for worldwide harassment through the manipulation of international humanitarian law has been termed “lawfare”. It is the latest strategy to delegitimise the state of Israel.
More broadly, “lawfare” is the newest, most visible and increasingly emergent form of asymmetric warfare. It is the cynical manipulation of legal and judicial systems and human rights law, for purposes other than those for which they were originally enacted, to achieve political ends.
As identified by the Lawfare Project, an American organisation dedicated to examining the phenomenon, lawfare has three main goals: “To silence and punish free speech about issues of national security and public concern; to delegitimise the sovereignty of democratic states; and to frustrate and hinder the ability of democracies to fight against and defeat terrorism.” These goals threaten modern liberal democracies by turning the values and ethics of democracy and its rules and regulations into tools with which to harm and destroy it.
“Lawfare” is what Gadija Davids, who has laid charges against Israel with the NPA because of her experiences on the Israeli-intercepted ship Mavi Marmara last year, is in fact engaging in. As such, she and those she represents are abusing the Rome Statute to pursue a narrow political agenda. The Rome Statute can and should be used to prosecute dictators, individuals and regime leaders accused of genocide and crimes against humanity, in other words, the infliction of real human suffering. What Davids experienced, while no doubt discomforting, hardly falls into that category.
In the propaganda war, even when attempts to demonise Israel have failed, setbacks are reinterpreted and presented as victories. The Hawks announced they would not arrest Livni, but the anti-Israel lobby still claimed success. Similarly, the postponement of her visit was attributed to local opposition.
In recent reports in the Mail & Guardian (January 21), Jazmin Acuña and Ilham Rawoot evidently endorse this anti-Israel line. They take a belittling stance towards the South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ assertion that the cancellation of the Livni visit was the result of the foreign ministry strike in Israel and infer that the protests against it were the real reason.
A great shame
This was in spite of the fact that, as one of the organisers of the visit, the board is best positioned to know why it did not take place. It also ignores the fact that the strike likewise prevented a visit to Israel by Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev and resulted in the cancellation of a conference of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.
It is ironic that the writers contradict their own stance by noting in their following article that they were unable to obtain a comment from the Israeli ambassador because of the strike.
Using similar techniques in the article on Davids, Acuña and Rawoot assert that the Mavi Marmara was “carrying supplies to blockaded Gaza”. What they fail to note is that the blockade of Gaza is legal and the flotilla had the express purpose of breaking it. Davids and others should understand there are legal consequences to illegal actions. This is what international law is about. Also not mentioned is that the Israeli defence force acted in self-defence. They were attacked by people on the ship.
Like all the nations of the world, Israel is not perfect or beyond criticism. But this does not justify misusing legal principles to hold it to standards of behaviour not expected of other countries.
That such tactics are being used to try to prevent high-ranking dignitaries from visiting South Africa, where they might learn from the South African experience and foster real change and reconciliation in the Middle East, is a great shame.
Zev Krengel is the chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.