Israel turns attention to new front in war: world courts

Even with rockets flying again over Israel and Gaza, Israel’s defense priorities are shifting rapidly from preventing attacks to preparing for lengthy legal battles in distant courtrooms.

Palestinians are threatening to sue Israel in the International Criminal Court, and the U.N. Human Rights Council is moving ahead in its investigations of war crimes.

While Israel’s hard-earned military superiority over its adversaries is unquestioned, Israel is concerned that its legal battles may be hopeless and that a guilty verdict has already been written. However, the Jewish struggle for justice is not new.

Israel’s current legal predicament is reminiscent of the Dreyfus Affair when, in 1894, a French military court relied upon falsified evidence to convict Capt. Alfred Dreyfus for selling military secrets. Even as Dreyfus proclaimed his innocence, a huge mob spat at him and screamed, “Death to Dreyfus! Death to the Jews!” Dreyfus was condemned to Devil’s Island.

Dreyfus’ brother worked tirelessly to find supporters who might help reopen the case. But the French public and political leadership were in no mood to listen to a Jew fighting for his brother. Dreyfus would have to wait until two non-Jews stood up for justice.

The first to help was Lt. Col. Georges Picquart, the chief of military intelligence — and an anti-Semite. When he discovered that another man was the true criminal, Picquart appealed to his superiors to prosecute the real traitor. However, corrupt leaders, determined to shield the army from public ridicule, falsely testified to ensure that the guilty party would be acquitted and that the Dreyfus case would remain closed.

Outraged at the acquittal, Émile Zola, a leading writer, joined the fight for Dreyfus by writing “J’Accuse…!” in an impassioned front-page protest. His piece sparked violent riots and turned Dreyfus into an international symbol of the failure of law and justice.

Zola’s piece attracted new supporters who pressured the military into giving Dreyfus a retrial. However, to the shock of the world, he was found guilty again, despite the evidence of his innocence. Anti-French sentiment spread quickly around the globe, convincing France’s president to offer Dreyfus a pardon.

The Dreyfus Affair remains a powerful reminder of the dangers of anti-Semitism, injustice and corruption in the legal system. Today, unbelievably, 120 years after the original Dreyfus conviction, French mobs are once again chanting “Death to Jews!” in    

the streets of Paris. Are we heading back to the darkest days of our past, when violent mobs might pressure weak legal institutions into serving as kangaroo courts of injustice? Doesn’t Israel deserve the same protections as all other nations under international law?

Like Dreyfus, Israel may face years or even decades of trials and retrials on falsified charges. Like the French mob during the Dreyfus Affair, many people today are already convinced of Israel’s guilt. As Dreyfus’ brother found out, the world may not listen to Jews alone when it comes to fighting for justice and equality. After 66 years, Israel’s right to exist as a democratic state within secure, recognized borders is still being challenged.

However, if the world will not hear our calls for justice, then shouldn’t we, like Dreyfus’ brother, engage more non-Jewish leaders to help us get the fair hearing we deserve?

To make future Picquarts and Zolas, we must transform understanding and appreciation of Israel’s case, highlight toxic and unjust bias, and help prepare the best and brightest to become impassioned supporters of justice. Future leaders must be committed to Israel’s case for the good of civilization.

The best and brightest among us need ample opportunities to ask challenging questions, debate the issues, reflect together and devise the best way to advance Israel’s case. Israel will likely gain new supporters who discover how Israel’s legal system already addresses issues in the areas of human rights and security.

Israel may emerge from its trials with a large, new following of passionate supporters from outside the Jewish community. After a fair hearing of all the evidence, it finally may be fully exonerated of all the charges levied against it since its creation.

On the other hand, Hamas should be worried. It is willfully and deliberately committing double war crimes by targeting Israeli civilians and by using Palestinian civilians as human shields. When is Hamas’ trial?

Jonathan Carey is director of the Israel advocacy group BlueStar, US-Israel Law Exchange, and LegalVision.