Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The first anniversary of Israel’s military operation in Gaza came two weeks after a judicial arrest warrant was issued in London against former Israeli foreign minister (and current leader of the Israeli opposition) Tzipi Livni. Instead of provoking a timely debate on the serious allegations faced by Livni, the embarrassed response of British politicians to the grant of the arrest warrant ensured that Israel’s concerns about UK courts exercising universal jurisdiction over suspected Israeli war criminals took centre stage. Gordon Brown reportedly rang Ms Livni’s office to tell her she would be welcome in the UK. It is no accident, therefore, that the attorney general, Baroness Scotland, was addressing the Hebrew University on 5 January on the subject of ‘Lawfare – Time for Rules of Engagement?’
Recently, diehard supporters of Israeli policies have used this label of ‘lawfare’ as part of a concerted effort to bring into disrepute the nonviolent actions of Palestinians in seeking justice outside the Israeli legal system. Cases in third countries, whether civil or criminal, are characterised as being politically motivated ‘legal terrorism’, with no legal merit. Indeed, anyone who tries to focus on the substance of such cases is attacked as anti-semitic and/or supporting terrorism. The lawyers involved are charged with manipulating the legal systems of naïve countries that should know better than allowing pro-Palestinians (for which read ‘terrorists’) cheap publicity.
Why are foreign courts allowing such cases to get anywhere, say supporters of Israel, when people know that as a functioning democracy Israel’s legal system can be the fair arbiter of genuine grievances? The word ‘lawfare’ is thus given darker and darker connotations, with vicious attacks on anyone who supports the rule of law in all circumstances, including Justice Richard Goldstone, the Jewish South African judge who led the UN’s independent fact-finding mission on Israel’s January 2009 attack on Gaza.
Never mind that the Israeli legal system has proved itself to be subservient to the grinding machine of Israeli occupation and repression, from the illegal wall to the siege on Gaza and war crimes. The truth is that, as Palestinians increasingly seek justice abroad, Israel is increasingly threatened by the merits of the cases in question.
Until now, case after case has been defeated by successful political pressure by supporters of Israel, which has shut down access to justice and inflicted procedural defeats on Palestinians seeking a fair hearing of their grievances. Meanwhile, the alliances created by these Israeli tactics are breathtaking. For example, in a test case on the issue of sovereign immunity, Yousuf v Samantar, coming before the US supreme court in March, supporters of Israel have joined hands with the Saudi government to support a Somali defendant – a former defence minister and top official under the regime of President Siad Barre, denounced by international groups for its systematic use of torture and arbitrary arrests, and for the rape and murder of political rivals and dissidents. Their aim is to block civil claims against former government officials on procedural grounds.
Alongside the ‘lawfare’ offensive is Israel’s sustained attempt to create a broad alliance with the US, its Nato allies and powerful countries such as Russia in favour of changing the law on the use of force by states against non-state actors. Israeli leaders argue that this needs to be updated to cope with the challenges of the ‘war on terror’. Among other things, they want it to become lawful to use disproportionate force against civilians where they are proximate to what state actors identify as legitimate military and ‘quasi-military’ targets.
This is one of the major arguments being used by Israel to block the recommendations of the UN’s Gaza fact-finding mission, whose ‘Goldstone report’ came out in in September 2009. Israel’s military advocate-general, Major-General Mandelblitt, explained to a gathering of the Israel Bar that the report was ‘against all countries fighting terrorism. The report is not aimed at Israel. It is aimed at the west, at any country fighting terrorism. It is meant to tie their hands and cause them to lose wars.’ He said that by refusing to grant Goldstone’s demand for an independent investigation of the military operation in Gaza, Israel was defending the west’s war against terrorism.
Fusing attacks on ‘lawfare’ and the need for the law to support the ‘war on terror’ was a significant feature of Tzipi Livni’s response to the arrest warrant against her. She said that ‘what needs to be put on trial here is the abuse of the British legal system. This is not a suit against Tzipi Livni, this is not a lawsuit against Israel. This is a lawsuit against any democracy that fights terror.’
Universal justice will be at grave risk if such arguments hold sway. The exercise of universal jurisdiction and the arrest warrant procedure has become an increasingly important part of the protection that international criminal law was designed to create. It must have a significant deterrent effect to future regimes, which might otherwise resort to mass murder, torture and war crimes.
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency
Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy
Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.