Israeli politician cancels visit to Britain

LONDON—An Israeli government minister canceled a visit to London over fears he might be arrested on suspicion of committing war crimes, a British-Israeli group said Tuesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor is the latest in a string of Israeli officials to avoid Britain over the threat of legal action, and the British government said it would introduce legislation to close a loophole that has strained relations between the two countries.

Meridor had been due to give a speech Monday organized by the Britain and Israel Communications and Research Center, a pro-Israel group.

The group’s chief executive, Lorna Fitzsimons, said “Israeli law officers did not think they should take the risk of allowing him to come.”

Israeli media reported that Meridor, who is also Israel’s intelligence and atomic energy minister, was thought to face potential legal action over Israel’s commando raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in May, in which nine Turkish activists were killed.

Meridor refused to comment.

Several Israeli officials have been threatened with legal action in Britain under the contested legal principle of “universal jurisdiction,” which says that some crimes are so serious they can be prosecuted locally, even if they are alleged to have been committed elsewhere.

Pro-Palestinian organizations have used the principle to pursue Israeli officers who have taken part in operations against Palestinian militants in which civilians have been killed.

The campaign has resulted in no arrests but has caused tension between Britain and Israel.

Last year, Palestinian activists tried unsuccessfully to have Defense Minister Ehud Barak arrested during a visit to Britain. Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni later canceled a visit to London after being warned she might be met with an arrest warrant.

When Britain’s new Conservative-led government took office in May, Foreign Secretary William Hague promised to “act speedily” to clarify the law.

“We cannot have a position where Israeli politicians feel they cannot visit this country,” he said then.

In a statement Tuesday, the Foreign Office said the government was “committed to correct an anomaly that allows people to be detained even where there is no realistic chance of prosecution and ensure that the U.K.’s systems cannot be misused or lead to unintended but serious consequences for international relations.”

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