18 May 2024 | 07:12 PM

Livni cancels SA trip after arrest threats

Key Takeaways

Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, a key member of the Israeli Cabinet that ordered the 2009 invasion of the Gaza Strip, has pulled out of a second international speaking tour following threats that she might be arrested or investigated for war crimes.

Livni, who was due to arrive in South Africa on Friday, has rescheduled her trip, said Zev Krengel, of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.

The board was to have hosted her and insists the postponement is a result of industrial action at the Israeli embassy.

The Hawks meanwhile, say they have no basis on which to arrest her.

In 2009 Livni cancelled a tour to the United Kingdom after a warrant for her arrest was issued by the Westminster Magistrate’s Court.

Last Friday the Palestine Solidarity Alliance (PSA) and the Media Review Network (MRN) applied to the National Prosecuting Authority to have Livni arrested under international law.

On Wednesday, hours after it was announced that Livni would not be coming, the Hawks said that they had decided not to arrest her, although she could still be investigated on arrival in South Africa.

“We don’t have sufficient information to arrest Livni,” said spokesperson McIntosh Polela.

“The application made to us is based on assumptions, not facts.”

Yousha Tayob, the attorney acting for the PSA and MRN, said that the organisations intended taking the Hawks to court to have the decision reviewed.

Krengel insisted that Livni’s visit had merely been postponed due to a wage-related strike by diplomats at the Israeli embassy in Pretoria.

Activists, however, believe that the main factor in her withdrawal was the possibility that she could face arrest, or a citizen’s arrest, on setting

foot on South African soil.

Livni, foreign minister at the time, was a staunch defender of Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli military’s offensive in Gaza in December 2008. The invasion lasted for 22 days, during which 1 400 Palestinians were killed, including more than 700 civilians. Thirteen Israeli soldiers died in the conflict.

Livni is now in opposition in Israel’s Knesset, as leader of the Kadima party.

Daniel Kamen, spokesperson for the South African human rights organisation, Open Shuhada Street, said Livni had a case to answer.

Said Kamen: “The United Nations Human Rights Council fact-finding mission, led by South African Judge Richard Goldstone, found evidence that the Israeli military committed war crimes [during the Gaza offensive].

“These included deliberate attacks on the civilian population, the use of prohibited weapons such as white phosphorous, and the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields.

“As the minister of foreign affairs at the time, Livni is implicated in these war crimes.”

The Goldstone report also singles out Livni saying: “[Israel] is a country that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild — and this is a good thing.”

Tayob said that as a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court South Africa was obliged to arrest Livni.

“If Omar al-Bashir came to South Africa we would have to arrest him, so why shouldn’t we do the same with Livni?”

Krengel, however, said that Livni had “an excellent track record in working for a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Middle East conflict”.

With the application for Livni’s arrest, the two organisations have also called for 72 South African men and women to be prosecuted under the Foreign Military Assistance Act of 1998 for serving in the Israeli Defence Force.

The Act states that no South African may serve in a foreign army currently in conflict.

Polela said that this investigation is continuing.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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