The International Criminal Court at The Hague, similar to other international initiatives, is exploited cynically despite its good intentions. The ICC is a political body operating behind a legal exterior.
It was established after diplomatic talks that culminated in the Rome Statute in 1998, and even then it was clear that Israel would become the main target of Arab states and anti-Israel groups claiming to champion international humanitarian law.
Over the past two decades, having invested tens of millions of dollars, euros and pounds, these political players have spearheaded an ongoing campaign to drag Israel through the ICC’s doors. One of the organizations leading the anti-Israel industry, Human Rights Watch, is managed by Ken Roth, an obsessively anti-Israel activist who has surrounded himself with other extremists.
Amnesty International also operated over this period, albeit less effectively. And alongside the familiar Israeli non-governmental organizations, numerous Palestinian NGOs with ties to the PLO and PFLP terrorist groups also joined this campaign over the past decade.
These groups rely on funding from European governments. Four Palestinian organizations—Al-Haq, Al-Dameer, PCHR and Al-Mezan—have received direct funding from Switzerland, Holland, Sweden and Demark to document “war crimes” and petition the ICC. Other groups involved in similar activities are funded by Great Britain, the European Union, Belgium, Germany and others.
The claims put forth by these groups receive automatic attention from the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the global media. We saw this in 2002 when Israel was accused of a “massacre” in Jenin, in the Goldstone Report after “Operation Cast Lead,” or in the report about the Gaza-fence riots. Common to all these reports and others is the ignoring of Palestinian terrorism, missile fire and exploitation of children and women, while highlighting “Israel’s war crimes.”
The Israeli government was too slow to understand the threat. The defensive approach, spearheaded by the legal experts in the Israel Defense Forces and other bodies, was predicated on attempts to prove to the ICC that the legal process in Israel makes external intervention extraneous. But because the ICC is a political body, this approach had no chance of success.
On the other hand, an aggressive political and diplomatic strategy, based on hitting the ICC’s already small budget, can still succeed. The United States, which like Israel is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, has already condemned the ICC for its anti-Israel bias, but American pressure alone won’t be enough to deter the court’s chief prosecutor.
Washington and Jerusalem need to expand the scope of the counterattack together with other democracies whose sovereignty is being threatened by the ICC. We can expect support from Great Britain, whose soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are under similar scrutiny, and Australia’s prime minister has already voiced his opposition to the attempts to investigate Israel.
The question that remains is whether Europe will come to its senses, despite its support for some of the organizations leading the campaign. If countries such as Holland, Norway and Denmark deliver a message to the ICC that its survival depends on ceasing the anti-Israel, and some would argue anti-Semitic witch hunt, they can perhaps fix some of the damage.
Gerald M. Steinberg is a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and president of the Institute for NGO Research.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.