Using the Law to Wage War

Published: March 4th 2010

Ambassador Dore Gold


One of the central legal issues in the age of terrorism is lawfare, or the use of law as a weapon of war.


“Lawfare really is terrorist groups exploiting international human rights law for their own advantage,” said Ambassador Dore Gold, who served as Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations from 1997 to 1999 and is currently President of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs.


Gold – one of the featured speakers at the Lawfare Project’s upcoming conference in New York City on March 11, entitled “Lawfare: The Use of The Law as a Weapon of War” – called the Goldstone report a “classic example” of lawfare.


He explained that the Goldstone commission was spoon-fed material by Hamas’s legal arm, a team of lawyers retained by Hamas for just such purposes.


The Goldstone report “makes a biased determination that Israel was guilty of war crimes while letting Hamas completely off the hook,” said Gold, an internationally recognized expert on Middle East affairs. “Hamas used international law to advance its interests and tie the hands in the future of the Israel Defense Forces.”


In the last few years, Hamas has also retained the help of British lawyers in London to seek the arrest of Israeli generals and politicians travelling to the U.K., using the country’s universal jurisdiction law to allege war crimes violations.  


“They have essentially abused the British legal system by allowing these lawyers who work for terrorist groups to use universal jurisdiction to stop Israeli officers who defend the Jewish state instead of stopping genocidal murderers who might come from Africa who are visiting London,” Gold told Shalom Life.


He stressed that universal jurisdiction, with all that it entails, is a key issue. An important question posed by the Lawfare Project is whether the concept of universal jurisdiction goes against the interests of national security – “If Universal Jurisdiction is a concept that should be retained, what limits should be applied?”


Futhermore, the Lawfare Project’s website states that lawfare can be used to:


“Thwart free speech about issues of national security and public concern; de-legitimize the sovereignty of democratic states; and frustrate the ability of democracies to defend themselves against terrorism.”


Gold said that several European countries are examining their laws in order to combat exploitation by lawfare. Currently, the British government is seeking a change to its law of universal jurisdiction, following a precedent set by former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler, who is chairing the New York Lawfare conference. As Minister of Justice, Colter changed the law so that attempts to arrest visiting non-Canadian officials could not proceed without the approval of Canada’s attorney general.


“Hopefully, in the future, any arrest action taken against a visiting Western former officer will require the intervention first of the British attorney general,” said Gold.


On Thursday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown laid out plans to end politically-charged groups from exploiting British law in order to secure warrants for the arrest of foreign officials visiting the U.K.


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