Abuse of the law for political motives: ‘Lawfare’ is the new form of warfare against Israel

UK barrister, Natasha Hausdorff

By Bonny Feldman

Israel’s opponents have embarked on a different approach to damage the country. The method is one called ‘lawfare’ – the abuse of the law for political means.

Visiting English barrister and Head of UK Lawyers for Israel, Natasha Hausdorff, recently visited South Africa as a speaker for Limmud Cape Town Conference. She offered a hard-hitting analysis of the attitude of international bodies to the State of Israel during a talk she gave at a breakfast event organised by the SAZF Cape Council.

Hausdorff explained how assaults against Israel have shifted in recent years. While violence was the focus of attacks on Israel for many decades, both full-scale warfare and violence through terror attacks have not achieved the goal of eliminating the Jewish homeland. And so, Israel’s opponents have embarked on a different approach to damage the country. The method is one Hausdorff called ‘lawfare’ – the abuse of the law for political means. She believes that the cases brought before these international bodies are based on falsehoods and the manipulation of international law.

The term reflects an approach in which cases are brought to international bodies such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), purportedly based on law. In many of these instances, according to Hausdorff, there is no factual basis in law for the cases. They are political, not legal, issues.

However, whether or not the case eventually proceeds and is successful, the benefits to those bringing the cases – for instance, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) – are in the public relations field. The media attention generated is such that Israel is depicted negatively, so there is a victory for those bringing the cases.

In addition – and perhaps equally worrying – is that lawfare creates ‘pseudo international law that operates on a double standard concerning the Jewish state’. The acceptance and usual basis for making new law is being cast aside as new law is developed from what should never have been accepted as fitting within the realm of international law in the first place. In other words, the base of the law is legally invalid, yet the base is being used to develop new regulations.

Where the ICC is concerned, Hausdorff raises questions about jurisdiction. She explains that where the Palestinian Authority has brought cases, the fact that the court accepts the cases means it is not correctly applying the rules around jurisdiction. The plaintiff must be a state to bring an action, but the Palestinian Authority does not meet the requirements to be classified as a state. As such, its actions should not be heard.

Hausdorff also refers to the UNHRC and its Standing Agenda Item 7, defined as covering ‘Human rights violations and implications of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and other occupied Arab territories.’ No other country in the world – except Israel – is subjected to a stand-alone focus on the body’s permanent agenda, ensuring its prominence and the notoriety of its target at every council meeting.

A further focus of concern is the UN blacklist, a database of firms identified by the UN as contributing to human rights abuses. But, Hausdorff explains, it singles out Israeli companies and is geared to damage the country’s economy. Most of the businesses listed on this database are from Israel, yet numerous companies based in other countries with abysmal human rights records have been excluded.

Hausdorff, a potent advocate for Israel, also presented at the Limmud event held a few days after this breakfast event.

• Published in the October 2023 issue – Click here to start reading.

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