Meny Mazuz, Israel's Attorney General, has decided not to prosecute Israeli filmmaker Muhammed Bakri for his slanderous film "Jenin Jenin". The film contains outright lies about the actions of IDF troops during the battle of Jenin in 2002, when the whole world was convinced Israel had massacred large numbers of Palestinian civilians, until it turned out they weren't dead. A group of troops, mostly reservists, has been trying ever since to have Bakri punished for the lies he disseminated in his film.
The story is not unsimilar to the one I mentioned yesterday, where some creep in the UK wishes to defame dead soldiers as part of a political stunt. Except that in the British case, the national consensus from the Prime Minster down is that the defamation cannot be allowed; in Israel meanwhile, where 13 IDF troops died in Jenin precisely because Israel refused to fight the way her detractors accused her of fighting, the government isn't willing to block the defamer's right of free speech. The most the Attorney General is willing to do is support the reservists if they take their case to a civil court - a support which has no legal standing and hardly any moral significance. In essence what Mazuz is saying to the soldiers is "I agree with you but freedom of speech is more important, no matter how infuriating the lies it enables."
He's right, of course. Yet another case where Israeli democracy is at least as robust as that of our detractors.
In another corner of the internal Israeli discussion about legality at war (not to be mistaken for morality at war, of course), the previous head of the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak, insists Israel must fight its wars within the strictures of international law - nor does he think this should be particularly hard to do. As a matter of fact, he advocates Israel's joining the International Criminal Court. (The Chinese, Russians and Americans haven't, among others. Powerful nations don't, it seems). I don't know about joining the ICC, but General Ashkenazi, the top general of the army is moving towards an ever-greater integration of legal advisers into the units of the IDF.
Will such a measure help Israel in the future? Well, yes and no. On the purely legal level, yes: the more robust Israel's legal system is, the less case there is for action against it in the international legal venues (that's why Barak is sanguine: he sees the legal implications). On the level of international discourse, of course such a measure won't help. Israel isn't castigated for what it does; it's castigated for what it is. Shimon Stein explains how Europeans and Israelis live in different universes; the only way this can be resolved is for Israel to have European-style peace with its neighbors.
Most Israelis would love to have European-style peace with their neighbors. Who wouldn't? Well, the neighbors aren't interested, for starters. Aluf Benn, a lefty but well informed columnist at Haaretz, knows fully well that peace can't be had anytime soon; he agrees on this point with our outspoken foreign minster Avigdor Lieberman. Where he disagrees, however, is the implications. Benn thinks we need to do our best and always seek peace, and take care not to poke external observers in the eye all the time.
If peace can't be had, and the Europeans won't see things our way in any case, how bad is the situation? Perhaps not so bad. The British Attorney General, whose name - Baroness Scotland - is far more imposing than Meni Mazuz, explained yesterday in a public lecture in Jerusalem that
"The government is looking urgently at ways in which the UK system might be changed to avoid this situation arising again," Scotland said. "Israel's leaders should always be able to travel freely to the UK."Here's a suggestion: arrest warrants might be decided upon by the public prosecution (i.e. the Attorney General's office), not by some judge in some obscure English town. That can't be construed as anti-democratic, I'd think.
Yet why is it so important for the British that Israeli officials be able to travel to London? There are all sorts of reasons, but they boil down to power and the wielding of it. The Europeans can protest otherwise as much as they will, the fact is that the world is, always has been, and will always continue to be run by people who wage situations and make decisions about them with the understanding that these decisions will inevitably have implications. The ability to make that kind of decision is called power; and the wielders of it bear the responsibility of using it to further the interests of a constituency. That's one of the differences between them and, say, university professors, activists, and bloggers. What does Baroness Scotland know that we don't?
Scotland's assurance comes as the Guardian learned that the Israeli military had cancelled a visit by a team of its officers to Britain after fears they risked arrest on possible war crimes charges.What sort of implications might result by not having Israeli officials ever come to the UK? Well, here's a possible one. Apparently the Israelis are about to activate a new security system for airports; one even better, cheaper, and more efficient than the one they've already got, which is already the world's best. You need to read the item behind that link with care, however: the new system will not replace the human intervention which is the hallmark of the present system; it will merely pare off Israeli citizens (Jews and Arabs equally, of course), who clearly don't need to be interviewed; this will leave more time to focus on all the others.
Unfortunately, Israel is very good at such things as combating terrorists and protecting civilians. Or rather, it's not unfortunate at all; it's the need for the expertize that's unfortunate - but lately, the British have the same need. As do the Germans, French, Spaniards, and the American's have an urgent need for it. If you bore responsibility and power, would you want to be in a situation where you couldn't talk to some of the world's top experts, out of some sort of spite or other childish sentiment? No? Baroness Scotland neither, apparently.
Nor will you allow a boycott of those experts to go too far, either.
The Jews had millennia of powerlessness, and were not loved for it nor was it an especially pleasant exercise. Now they've got power, and they're intensely disliked for it by some. Given the alternative, it's better to have the power.