LONDON (JTA) — A London judge rejected a call to issue an arrest warrant against Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Barak is in Britain, where the lawsuit for an international arrest warrant was filed Tuesday.
Deputy District Judge Daphne Wickham said allegations of war crimes had been well documented, but added that ”I am satisfied that under customary international law, Mr. Barak has immunity from prosecution as he would not be able to perform his functions efficiently if he were the subject of criminal proceedings in this jurisdiction."
A British attorney had filed the lawsuit against Barak on behalf of several Palestinian families, who were victims of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, on suspicion of committing war crimes.
Barak, in the country to speak at the British Labor Party’s annual conference at an event for the Labor Friends of Israel lobby, was due to meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Tuesday and Foreign Secretary David Miliband the next day. The British Foreign office spokesman confirmed the meetings, saying the leaders were to discuss "the Middle East peace process, Gaza and Iran."
The suit was filed in relation to war crimes committed during Israel’s Gaza military offensive last winter, which Barak oversaw as defense minister. The suit was filed under the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, which gives courts in England and Wales universal jurisdiction in war crimes cases.
The accusations are based in part on the Goldstone commission’s report to the United Nations, which accused Israel of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.
Attorney Michel Massiah, who filed the suit, told Al-Jazeera Tuesday that "There are allegations of war crimes, there are families seeking redress and because these families are seeking redress, they have asked the advice of lawyers in Palestine who have asked the advice of lawyers in the United Kingdom."
"The request for an arrest warrant for the defense minister is the continuation of a campaign to dehumanize and delegitimize the State of Israel," said Ron Prosor, Israeli ambassador to Britain. "The Embassy of Israel in the UK is working together with the British government to have this unsubstantiated motion dismissed. We strive to protect the officials of the defense establishment and IDF officers. As they protect us, it is now our duty to protect them.”
Though Israeli government legal sources recommended he leave Britain immediately, Barak decided not to change his schedule, according to Ynet.