Spain has become a haven for anti-Israel lawfare.
Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who makes no secret of his dislike of Zionism, is well known in Spain for his anti-Israel and anti-Jewish outbursts. At a dinner party in the Moncloa Palace (the Spanish White House) in 2005, for example, Zapatero addressed his guests by launching into a tirade of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric that ended with the phrase: "It is understandable that someone might justify the Holocaust."
Now, Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jiménez, who took office on October 21, has decided to keep in place the anti-Israel "lawfare" policies of her predecessor, Miguel Ángel Moratinos. The disclosure came after Justice Minister Francisco Caamaño Domínguez and she refused to grant diplomatic immunity from arrest or interrogation to former Shin Bet Chief MK Avi Dichter (Kadima party), who was planning on taking part in a seminar on the Middle East peace in Madrid on October 29-30.
Dichter is being accused of "war crimes and crimes against humanity" by pro-Palestinian activists who are using -- some are saying: abusing -- Spanish courts to prosecute more than a dozen Israeli political and military leaders by means of the legal concept called "universal jurisdiction."
Dichter was forced to cancel his trip to Spain at the last minute over fears he would be arrested and possibly imprisoned by Spanish authorities. Dichter faces legal action in Spain over complaints against him for his involvement in the assassination of Salah Shehadeh, a top Hamas militant, in 2002, when Dichter was head of the Shin Bet security agency, and for his involvement in Operation Cast Lead during the winter of 2008-2009, when Dichter was Israel's Minister of Public Security.
A Spanish non-governmental organization called The Madrid Coalition, together with another group called the Assembly of Cooperation for Peace, invited Israeli and Palestinian representatives to take part in a seminar focusing on the Middle East peace process and the so-called Arab Peace Initiative. The conference organizers invited a small group of Knesset members from Israel to take part in the event, and Dichter was set to lead the delegation. Senior officials from the Palestinian Authority, including Mohammed Dahlan, a senior Fatah security operative, were also invited. Dahlan has been accused of torture during the repression of the Hamas movement during the 1990s, shortly after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.
Dichter responded sharply to Spain's actions, sending Jiménez a protest letter, which noted that: "It is absurd that representatives from the Palestinian Authority, who worked within the Palestinian security mechanism with God knows what kind of record, meet with no difficulties when they arrive in Spain. The Spanish must take responsibility for the situation and I am optimistic that we will find a solution."
Dichter told the Spanish center-right newspaper El Mundo: "It is not my personal problem, but rather one of how an Israeli deputy can be detained for an operation against an arch-terrorist such as Shehadeh. I regret the deaths of civilians, but it is not easy to act against terrorists who hide among the population."
The open-ended interpretation of universal jurisdiction has led to massive abuses of the Spanish legal system by groups that are out to pursue a political agenda, and by media-savvy activist judges, who are more interested in scoring political points than in upholding the law. At one point in mid-2009, judges at the Spanish National Court were pursuing more than a dozen international investigations into suspected cases of torture, genocide and crimes against humanity in places as far-flung as Tibet and Rwanda. But most of these cases had little or no connection with Spain.
Zapatero has also sought to restore Spain's traditionally strong ties with the Arab world by ingratiating himself with Israel's enemies. During the Second Lebanon War, for example, Zapatero participated in an anti-Israel rally where he wrapped himself in a Palestinian kaffiyeh (scarf) and gratuitously accused Israel of using "abusive force that does not protect innocent human beings." Just for good measure, Zapatero then dispatched Moratinos to Syria, a move the Israeli foreign ministry said proved that the Spanish government was "closer to Hezbollah terrorists than to the Israeli government."
Zapatero, who refuses to visit Israel (even as the two countries commemorated 20 years of diplomatic ties in 2006), also refers to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a "cancer" that is metastasizing into all the other conflicts in the region. As a disciple of postmodern moral equivalency, Zapatero naturally believes the "cancer" is Israel, not Islamic terrorism.
The anti-Israel rhetoric in Spain has become so pronounced in recent years that lately even newspapers traditionally favorable to Israel have been switching sides. In August 2009, the center-right newspaper ABC published a "moral equivalency" article titled "Iran and Israel: Obama's Ticking Time Bomb." Quoting anonymous sources, the article gives readers the impression that Israel is somehow more dangerous than Iran.
And in July 2009, the center-right newspaper El Mundo refused to publish a letter submitted by the Israeli ambassador to Spain, who was attempting to refute a string of inaccuracies in a story the newspaper published about Israel.
The problem of unequal application of the law in Spain, as practiced in one-sided "lawfare" against only Israel, is not new. In July 2010, three Spanish activists who were on board the Gaza aid ships that were raided by Israeli commandos on May 31 filed a lawsuit against Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, six members of his cabinet and a senior military officer for "war crimes and crimes against humanity."
Laura Arau, David Segarra and Manuel Espinar Tapial, who lodged the complaint at Spain's National Court (Audiencia Nacional), claim they claim they were illegally arrested in international waters, tortured and forcibly removed to Turkey. The 86-page lawsuit was filed on behalf of the three plaintiffs by a non-governmental organization called the Arab Cause Solidarity Committee, which is based in Madrid.
In addition to Netanyahu, the lawsuit names as defendants Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman, Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya'alon, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, minister-without-portfolio Benny Begin, and Navy Vice Admiral Eliezer 'Chiney' Marom.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs were "illegally detained, forcibly moved into Israel and deported to Turkish territory outside the provisions of international law." However, most of the rest of the complaint is framed within the broader context of the overall Palestinian cause, which reveals the politically motivated nature of the lawsuit.
The Spanish National Court is now deciding whether or not the lawsuit is admissible. In June 2009, the Spanish parliament passed a law to limit judges from pursuing cases of torture or war crimes committed abroad under the concept of universal jurisdiction. Spanish law previously enabled investigators to probe alleged human rights crimes regardless of where they were committed or where the defendants lived.
Under the new restrictions, cases involving universal jurisdiction can be pursued in Spanish courts only if they involve Spanish citizens. The lawyers in this latest case argue that the Spanish court has jurisdiction precisely because the three plaintiffs are Spanish citizens.
In April 2010, the Spanish Supreme Court upheld a decision by the Spanish Court of Appeals against conducting an investigation of seven current or former Israeli officials over the air attack in Gaza that killed Shehadeh. It remains unclear why Jiménez refused to guarantee Dichter's immunity in this case.
As for Moratinos, he was summarily removed from his post after Zapatero, plunging in popularity as he fights an economic crisis, announced a surprise cabinet shake-up on October 20.
During Moratinos' six-year tenure as foreign minister, relations between Spain and Israel slumped to their lowest level since bilateral relations were established in 1986. So low, in fact, that Israel now has better ties with Arab countries like Egypt, Jordan or Morocco than it does with Spain.
Moratinos often raised eyebrows over his consistently antagonistic stance toward the Jewish state. Arguably the most damaging initiative in his long-running political and ideological confrontation with Israel involves a plan for the European Union to recognize a Palestinian state — possibly as early as October 2011 — even if negotiations for a permanent settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are not concluded.
Since becoming foreign minister in 2004, Moratinos also tried to maintain the fiction that Spain is uniquely qualified to be an impartial mediator in the Middle East, even while Zapatero repeatedly made headlines for his fixation with the Palestinian "resistance."
If her handling of the Dichter case is any indication, Jiménez has signalled that she has no intention of changing the anti-Israel policies set in place by her predecessor Moratinos, and sanctioned by her boss, Zapatero himself.