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Israel scorns 'anti-semitic little Belgium'

by Conal Urquhart in Jerusalem Saturday, Feb. 15, 2003 at 6:08 AM

Israel accused Belgium of anti-semitism yesterday following a court decision which could lead to the prosecution of Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister. The Belgian supreme court ruled on Wednesday that Israeli military commanders could be prosecuted for complicity in the massacre of 800 Palestinians in Lebanon in 1982.

Israel scorns 'anti-semitic little Belgium'

Furious backlash after court rules against Sharon

Conal Urquhart in Jerusalem

Friday February 14, 2003

The Guardian

Israel accused Belgium of anti-semitism yesterday following a court decision which could lead to the prosecution of Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister.

The Belgian supreme court ruled on Wednesday that Israeli military commanders could be prosecuted for complicity in the massacre of 800 Palestinians in Lebanon in 1982.

Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's foreign minister, summoned the Belgian ambassador yesterday and told him that the action of the court was equivalent to a "blood libel" against the Jewish people. He also asked the Israeli ambassador to Belgium to return for consultations.

The Israeli justice minister described Belgium as a "small and insignificant" country while one of the country's leading rabbis accused Belgium of standing by and watching, "when Jewish blood was spilt like water and ignored victims' cries".

The blood libel accused Jews in medieval Europe of murdering Christian children and using their blood to bake unleavened bread. There is no evidence that it ever happened although the rumour led to the massacres of Jews in several European cities.

Israel's attack on Belgium is the latest dispute between Israel and Europe. In January, Mr Sharon said the EU had no relevance in proposed peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He also undermined a conference organised by the UK government on reform in the Palestinian Authority.

Mr Netanyahu told the ambassador: "Israel will not accept another blood libel against the Jewish nation.

"It's an outrageous decision and it reminds us of 'Old Europe', and all its sicknesses."

The Palestinians were massacred by a Christian militia following the retreat of the PLO's forces from Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps, outside Beirut.

Reports at the time said the Israeli army allowed the militia into the camps which they guarded while the massacre continued. The Israeli government carried out an inquiry into the massacre and Mr Sharon was forced to resign as defence minister.

The Belgian decision means that Mr Sharon could be prosecuted when he steps down as prime minister, and other commanders could be prosecuted immediately if they are extradited to Belgium.

A spokesman for the Belgian embassy in Tel Aviv said it would not comment on what was a "judicial matter".

Belgium is Israel's biggest trade partner after the United States mainly as a result of the diamond trade. In 2000 it exported £854m of goods and services to Israel and imported £2.2bn.

Meir Sheetrit, Israel's minister of justice, said Belgium was a "small and insignificant country", adding, "it is a disgrace for the legal system in that country.

"It has the clear scent of a personal hunt for Prime Minister Sharon, which originated from a deliberate Palestinian initiative.

"Legally, this is practically a world precedent, a law which allows for the prosecution of a person for alleged actions in the past. It has a clear retroactive nature to it and is, therefore, unprecedented."

The Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau, said he was outraged that Belgium was taking on the role of world policeman. "It is regretful that a state which remained quiet at a time when it should have been screaming out in the name of humanity, is now expressing itself with such a pretentious and hypocritical voice," he said.

Other countries, including Britain, have legislation to try foreign nationals for crimes that have been committed outside their territory.

Israel has tried a foreign national for crimes committed in the past in another country.

In 1960 Israeli agents abducted Adolf Eichmann, the Austrian chief of the Jewish office in the Gestapo and an important implementer of the Final Solution, from Argentina. The next year he was found guilty of crimes against the Jewish people and humanity and subsequently executed.

Senior Israeli sources said the minister's reaction and the decision to recall the ambassador was an overreaction.

A former director-general of the foreign ministry Alon Liel told Army Radio: "Recalling an ambassador is a very serious step. We have to remember that we are talking about a decision from a court, not from the Belgian government."



Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

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