The Forward brings word that our friends in the Israel lobby have some strange new bedfellows in the form of a former Somali cabinet minister accused of atrocities and other human rights violations. The minister is being tried in U.S. courts for his alleged crimes. Jewish groups like ZOA, Agudath Israel, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, American Jewish Congress, and the ADL argue in friend of the court briefs that our judicial system should have no jurisdiction:
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments March 3 in the case of Yousuf v. Samantar, in which a group of Somalis is seeking financial damages from Mohamed Ali Samantar, Somalia’s former defense minister. He also served as prime minister from 1987 to 1990. Samantar was a top official in the regime of President Siad Barre, a socialist-leaning dictatorship that was denounced by international groups for its systematic use of torture and arbitrary arrests, and for the rape and murder of political rivals and dissidents.
Among the five Somalis suing Samantar are a student who was allegedly detained and raped 15 times by a military man, a former officer who alleges he survived a mass execution and a businessman who claims he was tortured for months by the regime Samantar helped lead. Two of the plaintiffs are now American citizens. The case was filed under the Torture Victim Protection Act.
…Pro-Israel activists, fearing a precedent that will allow others to pursue legal action against Israel for alleged war crimes — as has happened in Europe — have filed briefs opposing their suit.
What is passing strange about the lobby’s position is that it argues regarding Palestinian terror that U.S. courts SHOULD have jurisdiction. So somehow it will argue that the Somali represented a government which should have sovereign immunity while the Palestinians didn’t and don’t. But what should be difficult for the Supreme Court justices to swallow is conceding that raping and massacring citizens should be construed as a legitimate government policy. I think they’d really have to stretch the definition of what is acceptable behavior by a government or its officials. It would be something like arguing that no officials responsible for Abu Graibh should be prosecuted because the acts committed there were official U.S. policy.
The Forward reporter notes the oddness of the current Israel lobby legal position:
Fighting to maintain immunity for foreign officials seems to place Jewish activists far from positions they have taken in the past. Supporters of Israel actively backed legislation that paved the way for relatives of terror victims to sue terror organizations and their sponsors in American courts. Over the years, these lawsuits have yielded several rulings against Hamas, Fatah and Iran for compensation reaching hundreds of millions of dollars.
The chief U.S. firm trolling for Jewish terror victims in order to pursue claims against Arab banks and other deep pockets has cogently articulated the reason for opposition to this suit:
“There will be a rash of lawsuits of this kind against Israel” if the court rules for the plaintiffs, warned Alyza Lewin, an attorney with the firm of Lewin & Lewin, which has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of Samantar and against making foreign officials vulnerable to civil lawsuits.
…“You’d have the entire Middle East conflict here in the U.S.” if Samantar won, agreed Marc Stern, co-executive director of the American Jewish Congress. Stern, who also filed a brief on this issue, claimed that allowing civil suits would “require Israelis to recount in an American court years after the event why every rocket was fired and why each attack took place.”
Of course, that’s a gross exaggeration. What Lewin and Stern fear is that Israeli impunity might end here in U.S. courts and that Israeli officials might have to face justice in the heart of the most powerful nation on earth. That’s enough to strike fear in the heart of the lobby and IDF officers who might be the first to sit in the dock of justice.
Oh, and speaking of strange bedfellows–Saudi Arabia has joined the lobby in filing an amicus brief. So Abe: how does it feel to be in bed with Saudi royalty and a Somali torturer? A bit uncomfortable perhaps? Or have you no shame and feel no pangs of conscience about this? Not to mention that the lobby finds itself on the opposite side of the fence from international human rights groups who welcome the Somali suit. But the lobby is so often on the side of the devils, rather than angels in human rights matters like these.