Universal jurisdiction” sounds like a term plucked from obscure international law journals, but it has pernicious and profoundly antidemocratic consequences in the real world. A British arrest warrant, issued over the weekend in London for former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, shows precisely why.
The warrant charged Ms. Livni—the current leader of the Knesset opposition—with war crimes allegedly committed by Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip last winter. Ms. Livni and other Israeli leaders have always staunchly defended their operation against Hamas, and the arrest warrant was withdrawn Monday when it became clear Ms. Livni would not be in Britain as previously scheduled. But the fallout from this misguided warrant will linger long after it fades from the headlines.
Universal jurisdiction originated centuries ago to deal with hostes humani generis (“the enemies of all mankind”) such as pirates or slavers, who were not under any state’s control but legitimately concerned them all. It has grown explosively in recent years, as self-styled human-rights advocates have pushed to criminalize national actions that they find offensive.