Tiptoeing between lawsuits: Senior officials stay in Israel
After Ehud Barak nearly arrested in London, Minister Ya'alon cancels his trip to Britain 'in light of legal recommendation.' However, together with Mazuz, only two lawyers handling some 1,000 foreign lawsuits against politicians and military officers. 'Situation intolerable,' said a senior official in Jerusalem
Will someone try to arrest them? Three Israeli lawyers against 1,000 lawsuits from around the world that put senior officials at legal risk for Israel's defense activities. Such is the situation facing senior Israeli officials traveling abroad recently, from government ministers all the way to IDF officers.
The most recent case involved Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who canceled a trip to London next month for a conference being held by England's Jewish National Fund to raise funds for a house intended for lone soldiers. Ya'alon's office reported Monday, "Minister Ya'alon has avoided visiting England in recent years in light of a legal recommendation so as not to play into the hands of propaganda against Israel, its leaders, and its officers."
Ya'alon's office emphasized, "In order to support this front, Israel needs internal fortitude and vigorous action on the legal and diplomatic fronts. And we are doing as such."
Ya'alon accepted the recommendation made by the legal team subordinate to the attorney general that is made up of three lawyers alone: the attorney general himself, Menachem Mazuz, his deputy, Danny Taub, and Attorney Adi Scheiman.
Barak in London. Did not fear arrest. (Photo: Reuters)
This team of three is in charge of all the open cases in the world against senior Israeli officials, politicians, and defense establishment officials. The number of open cases could change at any given moment, especially following the publication of the Goldstone Report in the UN Human Rights Council that claimed that Israel committed war crimes during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.
The political echelons, from the prime minister and on down, understand that the legal team needs to urgently reinforced, but this has yet to happen in reality. Despite many discussions at the top, the necessary resources have yet to be allotted for grappling with this phenomenon that has many in Jerusalem worried.
Scandinavia is problematic
In the meantime, the lawsuits are being addressed through work papers and discussion summaries. The existing system can warn politicians, as well as current and former military and defense establishment officials about destinations in which there are legal claims or arrest warrants out against them. However, to all those involved, it is clear that Israel does not currently have a legal response to the phenomenon.
A long list of current and former ministers and officers cannot travel to many destinations in the world without first conferring with a special team appointed for assessing threats to senior officials. Among those on this dubious list are former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, MK Shaul Mofaz, MK Avi Dichter, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Minister Ben Eliezer, Ya'alon, and Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai.
The military officials who must take extra precautions include Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and all the senior officers below him, including the military prosecution officers who accompanied Operation Cast Lead.
As a rule, even though there is no explicit warning against doing so, most defense establishment officials are avoiding travel to problematic destinations in Europe, such as the Scandinavian countries, Britain, and Spain.
A senior official in the political establishment said to Ynet on Monday that the Israeli government is broadly prepared for dealing with the phenomenon, but agreed that the current situation following the publication of the Goldstone Report is intolerable.