TABLET MAG – Europe is to Tzipi Livni what an ostentatious mansion is to a certain kind of rapper: a natural habitat, a status symbol, a promise of redemption. As a young woman, Livni was recruited by the Mossad and tasked with pretending to be the proprietress of a Paris apartment that doubled as a secret safe house. No slouches at judging character, the Mossad’s spymasters realized that Livni was precisely the sort of anodyne presence Europeans imagine as the platonic ideal of an Israeli: well-mannered, well-meaning, and inoffensive, promising in every gesture and every word the imminent emergence of a new Denmark on the shores of the Mediterranean.
Throughout her political career, Livni has played more or less the same role she did as a young secret agent: She was the one the Israeli government dispatched to Davos in 2008 to share the stage with then Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad; the one who negotiated peace with Abu Mazen; the one who sauntered from forum to forum in capitals the world over to represent the spirit of Israeli reasonableness.
She was supposed to embark on just such a good-will mission earlier this month, this time to an international conference in London, when she was informed by Scotland Yard’s war crimes unit that she was wanted for questioning regarding her service as foreign minister during Israel’s 2008-2009 war on Hamas in Gaza.
It wasn’t Livni’s first run-in with British law: In 2009, she was forced to cancel a visit to London after a local judge, consenting to an appeal by pro-Palestinian activists, issued a warrant for her arrest. The ensuing scandal drove the British government to apologize and promise to change the laws to prevent such unpleasantries from recurring. But the recent effort to seize Livni—by Scotland Yard, no less—proves British officialdom is still thick with civil servants bent on prosecuting a liberal Israeli politician who served as her nation’s top diplomat during a military conflict started by a terrorist organization.
How to respond to such folly? By now, it’s getting a bit exhausting to point out that representatives of Africa’s genocidal regimes, Asia’s tyrannies, and the Middle East’s murderous and repressive states can all visit London unharassed, while emissaries of the Jewish state are perpetually coming under attack.
Similarly, enumerating the astonishing breadth of British assaults on the liberty, limbs, and lives of men and women from Rhodesia to Rishikesh would be too easy. But a glance at more recent violations committed under the banner of the Union Jack is more telling. Should Israel—or, for that matter, the United States—follow Scotland Yard’s lead and summon British officials for questioning concerning their role in, say, the execution of an unarmed and wounded Taliban fighter in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, by a Royal Marines sergeant in December of 2013? Should we seek to indict the Oxford-knotted dons of British diplomacy for that afternoon in September of 2003 in Basra, Iraq, when the men of the First Battalion of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment arrested a 26-year-old hotel receptionist named Baha Mousa, detained him, and tortured and beat him so badly that he died several days later with fractured ribs, a broken nose, and 93 other injuries?
The answer, to all but a heated gaggle of self-righteous ninnies, should be obvious. As those of us who’ve fought them know all too well, wars are complex, and they generate conditions that cause even the best among us to do regrettable things. When these things cross the line of the permissible, when unnecessary violence flares out, thriving democracies have mechanisms in place to punish those responsible and address whatever root systemic issues. This is what Israel routinely does to discipline its small minority of wayward soldiers, and what Britain does as well: Almost three years to the day after Mousa’s death, his jailor, Corp. Donald Payne, pleaded guilty to treating his prisoner inhumanely. He was sentenced to a year in prison and immediate expulsion from the army. A further public investigation found no evidence of an “entrenched culture of violence” among the Lancashire Regiment. This is how mature and well-functioning justice systems operate. The recent display by Scotland Yard is something very different, a politically motivated bit of folly that further proves, if any further proof were needed, how dangerous, delusional, and deprived the regressive anti-Israel crowd has grown.
But let us not spend too much time lamenting this recent calamity. Like all teachable moments, this one, too, brings with it an uncommon clarity: The officials who sought to indict Livni cared little for any distinction between a dovish diplomat and a hawkish ex-general, for the intricacies and complexities of the conflict, for the gray zones in which adults live and practice politics. To the self-appointed, stiff-upper-lipped agents of the Enlightenment, all Israelis are alike, and all culpable in crimes. There’s a name for such an attitude, but there’s hardly use in crying anti-Semitism. In making a mockery of the very values they are supposed to represent, Livni’s prosecutors, like too many educated people from the West End to the Upper West Side, have sentenced themselves to irrelevance
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