Would Benjamin Netanyahu be arrested if he traveled to Germany? – DW – 05/24/2024

Would Benjamin Netanyahu be arrested if he traveled to Germany? – DW – 05/24/2024
Would Benjamin Netanyahu be arrested if he traveled to Germany? – DW – 05/24/2024

These are exactly the headlines that the German government wanted to avoid at all costs: “Scholz’s spokesman suggests that Germany would arrest Netanyahu,” the newspaper headlined on Wednesday night. Bild, the tabloid with the largest circulation in the country. For its part, Die Welt He also wrote: “Germany would extradite Netanyahu, government spokesman hints.”

Is that really conceivable? That Germany would arrest or even extradite the political leader of the Israeli State in the event that the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?

For the leader of the strongest opposition party, CDU president Friedrich Merz, the mere idea is unacceptable: “The silence of the German government, even the suggestion by the government spokesman that Netanyahu could be arrested on German soil, means really a scandal,” Merz told the newspaper Bild.

Request for legal action against Netanyahu and Minister Gallant

On Monday (20.5.2024), the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), British lawyer Karim Khan, requested arrest warrants for alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes against Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant , as well as against three leaders of the radical Palestinian Islamic organization Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by numerous Western countries, including Germany.
Due to the great suffering of the population of the Gaza Strip since Israel responded militarily to the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7, 2023, Khan specifically accuses Netanyahu and his minister of using the starvation of the population of the Gaza Strip as weapon of war.

Khan’s applications must now be examined by the court, which will make a decision on the matter. Among the criticisms Khan has received is that he has placed the head of the Israeli government and the three Hamas leaders whose arrest he has requested on the same level.

This is an issue that particularly worries the leader of the German CDU, Friedrich Merz: “Requesting at the same time the arrest warrant against Prime Minister Netanyahu and Hamas leader Sinwar is an absurd inversion of the aggressor-victim relationship,” he declared. the Christian Democrat leader.

A tense government

Wednesday’s press conference by Steffen Hebestreit, spokesman for Chancellor Olaf Scholz, made clear how difficult it is for the German government to take a clear position in this case. Visibly tense, Hebestreit initially had to refute rumors that Scholz had been “dismayed” by the chief prosecutor’s announcement.

Hebestreit stated: “I cannot report any dismay or anger. We have made it very clear that we view the equation very critically.”

Would an arrest warrant against Netanyahu even be legal?

Should the accusations of the court based in The Hague be assessed differently because the rule of law is affected? In fact, even international judges have doubts about whether Khan can file a petition against Netanyahu.

According to international law expert Constantin Ganß in the Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel , one of the fixed rules of the ICC is that it can only act if the State in question is unwilling or unable to carry out investigations itself. In dictatorships, for example. But hardly in democratic Israel.

People in the Gaza Strip in mid-May. The ICC’s chief prosecutor accuses Netanyahu of using hunger as a weapon of war.Image: dpa/picture alliance

The dilemma of the German Government is that Germany is one of the main defenders of the International Criminal Court, which investigates crimes such as genocide or war crimes and has handed down sentences since 2002. Against individuals, not against States. In 2023 alone, the German Government transferred $20 million to the ICC. 123 countries support the organization, which is not part of the United Nations. But major states like the United States and Israel do not.

Germany and its special relationship with Israel

On the other hand, support for Israel is a reason of state for Germany, also as a result of Germany’s darker history with the murder of millions of Jews during the Nazi dictatorship. Does this also apply to Prime Minister Netanyahu personally? Hebestreit, the German government spokesman, said: “In principle, we support the International Criminal Court, and that is how it is. We respect law and order.”

However, he also criticized Khan’s actions: “The equation is that the chief prosecutor decided to give an interview to CNN, and there he mentioned the request for arrest warrants against the three Hamas leaders, as well as against the Israeli prime minister and the Minister of Defense, at the same time”.

Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador in Berlin, harshly criticized both Khan and the German government. “The reason of state is now under scrutiny, no ifs ands or buts.” Prosor described the Government’s statements as “soft” and added: “The claim that Israel has the right to self-defense loses credibility if our hands are tied as soon as we use it.”

Other reactions in other countries

In fact, other states are much clearer in their statements than Germany when asked if they would detain Netanyahu. Hungary, for example, says no. The country supports the International Criminal Court, said Gergely Gulyas, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s chief of staff. But in case of a visit to Hungary, the Israeli head of government will not be detained.

And days ago, the president of the United States, Joe Biden, described The Hague’s request as “outrageous.” However, the United States has never supported the ICC. In Germany, things are different and, therefore, much more complicated.


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