Censored: Keir Starmer’s Emails About Israeli War Crimes Case

The Crown Prosecution Service won’t release files on how the Labour leader blocked a former Israeli official’s arrest over alleged war crimes in Gaza in 2008, John McEvoy reports.

The U.K. Labour Party leader in his London office, October 2023. (Keir Starmer, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

By John McEvoy
Declassified UK

  • The coalition government changed U.K. law in 2011 to enable Israeli ministers accused of crimes to visit Britain without fear of prosecution.

  • Declassified asks the CPS to conduct an internal review into its decision to censor the Starmer emails.

In October 2011, Keir Starmer, now the leader of the Labour Party, was asked by a human rights group and law firm to issue an arrest warrant for former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who was visiting London, over alleged war crimes.

Starmer was then director of public prosecutions (DPP) at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). But two days later, he blocked the application for Livni’s arrest, citing a Foreign Office decision to grant her visit “special mission” status.

Declassified recently submitted a freedom of information (FOI) request asking for all communications to and from Starmer’s office regarding the case.

These files could shine a crucial light on the discussions which led to Livni’s escape from prosecution.

However, the CPS has censored a number of key emails, claiming that the release of such information would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.

Starmer’s role in the Livni case requires closer inspection in light of the Labour Party’s ongoing support for Israel’s brutal war on Gaza.

One of the redacted emails released to Declassified following its freedom of information request.

Tzipi Livni

Livni was the Israeli minister of foreign affairs between 2006 and 2009, and a member of Israel’s war cabinet during the brutal bombing of Gaza between December 2008 and January 2009, known as Operation Cast Lead.

According to a U.N. report, “numerous serious violations of international law… were committed by Israel during the military operations in Gaza”, which killed around 1,400 Palestinians, 333 of whom were children.

Those crimes included “the direct targeting and arbitrary killing of Palestinian civilians”, as well as a “deliberate and systematic policy… to target industrial sites and water installations”.

The U.N. report specifically cited Livni as saying: 

“Israel is not a country upon which you fire missiles and it does not respond. It is a country that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild – and that is a good thing”.

Prior to this, Livni had declared:

“I am a lawyer… But I am against law — international law in particular. Law in general”.

Livni in 2009 with supporters from a youth group. (Sandy Teperson, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0)

In December 2009, Westminster Magistrates’ Court issued an arrest warrant for Livni over war crimes allegedly committed during Operation Cast Lead.

With disregard for the separation of powers between government and the judiciary, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband both phoned Livni to apologise for the incident.

Brown subsequently pledged to make procedural changes to “universal jurisdiction legislation” in England and Wales, whereby a person committing serious crimes overseas can be prosecuted in another country. 

This was intended to allow Israeli officials to visit Britain without fear of prosecution.

Changing the Law 

In June 2011, Starmer met with Israeli state attorney Moshe Lador in London. 

It is unclear whether they discussed the planned modification to universal jurisdiction legislation, which was implemented three months later by the coalition government amid an Israeli diplomatic offensive.

The new legislation meant that the consent of the DPP was required before such arrest warrants could be issued, and a higher evidential threshold would have to be met to do so.

“These changes were intended to prevent the arrest of suspected war criminals from ‘friendly’ states”, argued Daniel Machover and Raji Sourani, who were both involved in Livni’s case.

The law was changed with Israeli officials in mind. 

“We cannot have a position where Israeli politicians feel they cannot visit this country”, declared then Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Hague, by then former U.K. foreign secretary, meeting Livni, then Israeli justice minister, in London, May 15, 2014. (Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

The Jewish Leadership Council, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the parliamentary Friends of Israel groups helped “to ensure the safe passage of the bill” through parliament, it was reported.

The bill also passed thanks to Lord Palmer, a supporter of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel group, who decided to suspend his other commitments and cast the decisive vote in the upper chamber.

‘Special Mission’

Crown Prosecution Service, London. (Jwslubbock, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

On 6 October 2011, Livni visited Britain once again. 

CPS emails seen by Declassified indicate that Livni’s itinerary involved meeting with then Prime Minister David Cameron and Hague to discuss the new law “governing arrest warrants for war crimes”.

Two days before her arrival, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and law firm Hickman & Rose requested on behalf of a civilian Palestinian victim of Israeli attacks that Starmer, then DPP, authorise Livni’s arrest.

The application was supported by “extensive evidence indicating Ms Livni’s individual criminal responsibility” for war crimes committed in Gaza, and was compatible with the new legislation.

Starmer deliberated on the evidence for long enough that the Foreign Office was able to retroactively attribute “special mission” status to Livni’s visit, designed to grant her temporary diplomatic immunity.

Precisely why the CPS was not able to reach a “concluded view” on the strength of the evidence against Livni before the Foreign Office’s intervention remains unclear. 

Israeli damage to Gaza, January 2009. (DYKT Mohigan, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

If there was insufficient evidence to justify an arrest, it is difficult to see why the Foreign Office intervened in the first place.

It is possible that the Attorney General’s office, which consults with ministers and then determines whether issuing such arrest warrants would be in the national interest, encouraged Starmer not to pursue the case.

When Starmer was probed by MPs about whether the attorney general could judge that a case is “a bit embarrassing” and thus suggest that an arrest warrant is blocked, Starmer responded: “That is a hypothetical and I do not think I can answer”.

“The answer is yes then”, retorted Clive Efford MP.

Starmer’s Emails

Starmer’s emails may well hold answers to these questions.

However, most of the files requested by Declassified have been either redacted or retained. Only one of the emails released by the CPS shows a sender receipt from Starmer himself.

Stephen Parkinson, the current DPP, was asked to provide his “reasonable opinion” on whether the release of these emails would or would be likely to prejudice or inhibit “the effective conduct of public affairs”. Parkinson judged that it would.

Declassified has asked the CPS to conduct an internal review into this decision.

As Oliver Eagleton argued in his book The Starmer Project, it was also within Starmer’s power to challenge the Foreign Office’s “unprecedented and legally dubious” move “by pressing ahead with the application” for Livni’s arrest.

Starmer nonetheless refused to put his stamp of approval on the arrest warrant, and Livni walked free.

A CPS spokesperson said at the time: “The DPP has refused to give his consent to the private prosecutor to make an application to the court for an arrest warrant. In considering this application, he has consulted the Attorney General, but the decision is his”.

The U.K. government has continued to offer diplomatic immunity to Israeli officials amid the ongoing genocide in Gaza.

On 6 March, the Foreign Office granted a “special mission” certificate to Israeli War Minister Benny Gantz, who was visiting Britain for meetings with U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron.

John McEvoy is an independent journalist who has written for International History Review, The Canary, Tribune Magazine, Jacobin and Brasil Wire.

This article is from Declassified UK.

6 comments for “Censored: Keir Starmer’s Emails About Israeli War Crimes Case

  1. March 28, 2024 at 21:41

    This is Israel’s and the collective West’s business-as-usual perception thus inevitable non-intervention. Palestinians are considered disposable. Generally, Israel and Westerners, including our legacy news-media, have been getting accustomed to so many Palestinian deaths over many decades of violent struggle with Israel.

    Besides having to suffer and brutally die from manmade famine, there have been tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians killed by Israeli assaults. There has been a very-long-term oppressive Israeli occupation.

    For decades they have been perceived thus treated as not being of equal value to those within Israel. This may help explain the relative poverty, with Palestinian children picking through the mountains of Israeli waste basically dumped on territory annexed or on the way to being annexed. Ergo, their great suffering and deaths are somehow less worthy of our actionable concern.

    The mainstream news-media I consume daily, even the otherwise progressive outlets, are largely replacing daily Gazan deaths and suffering with relatively trivial domestic news, especially as leading stories.

    Without doubt, growing Western indifference towards the mass starvation and slaughter of helpless Palestinian civilians will only further inflame long-held Middle Eastern anger towards us. Some countries’ actual provision, mostly by the U.S., of highly effective weapons used in Israel’s onslaught will likely turn that anger into lasting hatred that’s always seeking eye-for-an-eye redress.

    Still, the Biden administration and too-many Democratic senators and congressional representatives want it both ways: to unconditionally heavily arm the Israeli state against Palestine AND to keep the Palestine-/human-rights-supporting voters active and onside. But I doubt that Arabic/Palestinian/Muslim voters will collectively compromise and sell their souls by giving Biden a pass on his blatant bloodying hypocrisy towards the current mass slaughter of Palestinians by Israel.

    U.S. Republicans, meanwhile, went into their ‘Christian’ mode by withholding their political support for helping literally starving Palestinian children.

  2. Rebecca
    March 28, 2024 at 04:29

    Not only do Zionist criminal fanatics openly flout national and international laws, so do justice-hating lawyers like Starmer who support them. There is, it seems, no bar below which he will not stoop to further his extreme ideology. Israel is central to capitalist imperialism so its vicious criminals must be pampered and given an immunity from the consequences of actions which, if perpetrated by Russians or Chinese, would result in arrests, sanctions, even military responses. The British people a.k.a. the working class must turn away from Labour in forthcoming elections and choose socialist candidates to show our solidarity with the people of Palestine.

    • March 28, 2024 at 21:50

      Like the Cheney-Bush U.S. administration immediately post-9/11, the 10/7 attack conveniently enables the Israeli Netanyahu government to justify extreme emergency war measures then force through his/its ‘democratic reforms’ and commit who-knows-what-more atrocities against Palestine, including cleansing and food-starving its long-time Palestinian residents.

      Thus, one has to wonder whether the 10/7 ‘surprise’ attack was truly unexpected [albeit, the attack may have been harder than insiders had anticipated].

      It seems a bit convenient for Israeli power interests; notably, western world governments and especially our mainstream news-media basically all fell into line. Also, not widely publicized is that there are considerable fossil fuel reserves beneath long-held Palestinian land that are a plausible motivator for war.

      Plus, Netanyahu’s military-officer brother was killed during an attack against Palestinian and German hostage-takers in 1976. He may want more blood for that. And now, who’s plausibly going to stop the Israel Defense Forces and Prime Minister Netanyahu, especially with their state-of-the-art mostly-American weaponry?

      Non-combatant Palestinians’ great suffering and deaths are deemed less worthy of actionable Western [our] concern as each day passes along with news-media mentions of civilian death-tolls. Atrociously, the worth of such life can/will be measured by our news-media according to the overabundance of protracted conditions under which it suffers.

  3. Michael
    March 27, 2024 at 21:18

    It’s so very sad to see that the UK doesn’t believe in the Rule of Law. The UK and the US are both complicit in the atrocities being committed by Israel against the Palestinian people. The UK & US should be prosecuted for war crimes. They disgust me.

  4. robert e williamson jr
    March 27, 2024 at 17:09

    Just so happens that this ignoring the (rule) of law thing is of great interest to me currently.

    Now I read this here, SEE: Livni ; “I’m a lawyer … But I’m against law – Internationals law in particular. Law in general.”

    What she is actually saying is, I’m against law, all law unless i find it favorable to me and my clients. This speaks “in general” to the Israeli governments view of all law in my opinion. And the CIA.

    I recently finished Jeff Morley’s SCORPION DANCE. Toward the end of the book, pages 250 – 251. Chapter 26 The Puritan Ethic, the section starting on page 250 “Hired to Lie”. Mort Haperin former aid to Hank the Shank Kissinger wrote an article for the New Republic March 1976. Quoting the book “For 20 years there was an agreement between Justice and the CIA never to prosecute CIA people,” Halperin wrote. ” To break it retroactively seems unfair. Helms was hired to lie for his country, and no one told him that that did not include lying to Congress.”

    Does anyone here know if this agreement (promise in writing ?) has ever seen the light of day?

    • March 28, 2024 at 21:45

      After decades of following politics and global affairs, it still bewilders me how some politicians live with themselves, let alone sleep well at night and even attend religious services in good conscience. …

      Politics is ‘the art of compromise’
      politics at its moral peak
      though this moral peak
      indeed lies below a dead sea’s level,
      but the compromise of ethics
      and integrity is politics at
      its moral natural state
      —a state in which the media beast
      must be fed, will feast from
      the politicians’ tin can
      filled with naught but the spin man
      of the political animal.

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