Vice Premier and ex-IDF chief cancels U.K. visit over arrest fears
Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon recently canceled a planned trip to Britain for fear of being arrested there.
Ya’alon was invited to London to attend a fund-raising dinner for Benji’s Home, a group home for soldiers with no family in Israel. The project is the initiative of the parents of Maj. Benji Hillman, who was killed in the Second Lebanon War.
Ya’alon was asked to attend the dinner by the British branch of the Jewish National Fund, which is helping the Hillmans raise money for the project, and said he would if the Foreign Ministry’s legal department okayed it. As chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces in 2002-5, Ya’alon is one of several current and former senior officers whom pro-Palestinian groups have sought to put on trial over the assassination of senior Hamas terrorist Salah Shehadeh in July 2002. The attack also killed 14 civilians.
When Ya’alon consulted the Foreign Ministry’s legal team, they warned that the groups might ask a British court to order his arrest should he visit Britain. They also opined that despite being a minister, he would not enjoy diplomatic immunity, and therefore, the court might accede.
As a result, Ya’alon informed JNF Britain that he would not be able to attend the dinner.
Last week, when Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited London, pro-Palestinian groups sought his arrest for alleged war crimes during January’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. However, the court ultimately decided not to hear the request immediately, enabling Barak to leave London in peace.
In 2004, when pro-Palestinian groups sought the arrest of then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz during a visit to London, a judge ultimately ruled that he did have diplomatic immunity, and could therefore not be arrested.
During last week’s incident with Barak, Britain’s Foreign Office asked the court to uphold this precedent. But since the hearing was postponed, whether it will do so remains unknown.
Ya’alon told Haaretz that in light of the legal advice he has received, he has refrained from visiting England in recent years so as not to play into the hands of groups fomenting what he termed anti-Israel propaganda.
“This is a campaign whose goal is to delegitimize the state – first via the suits that have already been filed against senior officers over the Salah Shehadeh incident, and then in legal efforts to use the Goldstone report to harm those involved in Operation Cast Lead,” he said.