At Conference on Nazi Legacy, U.s., Israeli Policies Are Issues

Questions about the U.S. refusal to endorse an International Criminal Court, Israeli settlement policies and the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were all raised at a recent conference on the legacy of Nazi abuse of the law.

The Berlin conference’s main agenda items were issues such as the legal ramifications of the Nuremberg Trials and how Jewish claims for postwar restitution have been used by other groups seeking compensation for historical wrongs.

The international legal scholars attending the conference also shone a spotlight on recent U.S. and Israeli legal tactics.

Canadian Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour took issue with the U.S. rejection of the International Court.

“I think the position of the United States is very difficult to comprehend in legal terms,” said Arbour, who participated on a panel discussing “The Nuremberg Transition: Crime, Punishment and the International Protection of Basic Human Rights.”

Because the International Court could address the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel has refused to sign on to the court.

Israeli Supreme Court Justice Gabriel Bach said he was concerned about “the possibility of political abuse of the international court,” particularly regarding such controversial matters as the settlements.

“There are political arguments against the Israeli settlement policy,” said Bach, “but this has never been recognized as a criminal offense. The forcible transfer and deportation of people is an offense, I understand. But if people buy land, like they did in Sinai, then if there is a peace settlement, the people can be withdrawn.

“There is a serious danger this court would be used by certain of Israel’s enemies in order to harm the state and the government,” he said.

But attorney Richard Tarasofsky said that was unlikely to happen.

“Only in very rare instances,” if the court found that a national “investigation was not done in good faith or was inadequate, would the International Court take over,” Tarasofsky said.

Hubert Rottleuthner said he knew some questions raised at the conference would not be “politically correct.” Rottleuthner, who recently stepped down as dean of the law school at Berlin’s Free University, believes the internment of Al-Qaida prisoners in Guantanamo Bay is analogous to imprisonment in early Nazi concentration camps.

“Injustice does not come overnight. It is a step-by-step process,” said Rottleuthner, who teaches the sociology of law and spoke about Nazi Germany and the rule of law at the seminar.

The idea for the program came from former New York State Chief Justice Sol Wachtler, a professor at the Touro Law Center in New York.

Wachtler — who lectured on the U.S. Constitution to lawyers in postwar Germany — pushed for the conference in Berlin as a way to mark the 60th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, where Nazi leaders laid out their plan to exterminate European Jewry.

The conference was jointly sponsored by the Touro Law Center in New York, the Free University of Berlin and Touro’s Institute on the Holocaust and the Law.

Among the other speakers at the seminar were Israel Singer, president of the World Jewish Congress, and Abraham Foxman, executive director of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League.

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