The Protocols of the Elders of Meron: Judge Frederik Harhoff points to Jewish intrigue at the ICTY – Guest Post by Marko Attila Hoare.

This a guest post by Marko Attila Hoare.


The explanation of the background to this case is complex but necessary. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has had a bumpy journey since its foundation in 1993. It has long been condemned by Serb and to a lesser extent Croat nationalists, as well as by left-wing and right-wing hardliners in the West, as a political court set up to serve the interests of the Great Powers. But until recently, it has been supported by liberals in the former Yugoslavia and in the West and beyond, as a positive and necessary exercise in international justice – albeit one that has not produced very satisfactory results. In recent months, however, a realignment has taken place: former supporters of the ICTY have begun to condemn it in the same ‘anti-imperialist’ terms used by the nationalists, and to present its judgements as the work of Great Power intrigue. Their anger has focused above all on the figure of Judge Theodor Meron, President of the ICTY. Meron is a Polish Jew by birth and a Holocaust survivor, who emigrated to Israel, was educated at the University of Jerusalem, and served as legal advisor to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada and to the UN, before emigrating to the US. Meron is no Zionist hawk; in 1967, he wrote a memo for Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol advising against the building of settlements in the newly occupied West Bank and Golan Heights. Yet with a sad inevitability, his Jewish and Israeli background have taken on a sinister prominence in the current campaign against him.

As the ICTY is not a kangaroo court, it naturally has acquitted some of its defendants, including some high-profile suspects such as former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, former Bosnian army commander Sefer Halilovic and Bosnian commander in Srebrenica Naser Oric, as well as Miroslav Radic, a Yugoslav army officer accused over the 1991 massacre of Croats at Vukovar hospital. These acquittals excited varying degrees of anger in the former Yugoslavia, but relatively little controversy in the West. However, this began to change in November of last year, when the ICTY Appeals Chamber – a five-judge body presided over by Meron – overturned the convictions of the two Croatian commanders, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, for war-crimes against Serbs during Croatia’s Operation Storm in 1995. This was immediately followed by the acquittal of the former Kosovo Albanian rebel commander Ramush Haradinaj by the ICTY Trial Chamber.

These acquittals were naturally denounced by Serbia’s leaders, including its president and prime minister, as evidence of the ICTY’s political or ‘anti-Serb’ character. Vuk Jeremic, the Serbian statesman then serving as president of the UN General Assembly, responded to the Gotovina-Markac acquittals by summoning a special session at the General Assembly to examine the ICTY’s record, in a naked attempt to undermine it. Such behaviour from Serbian politicians was par for the course. Yet on this occasion, they were prominently joined by pundits in the West – not only those who had long accused the ICTY of being an anti-Serb institution, but also others who were angry at the acquittals for overturning their favoured narrative, according to which Croatia had been just as guilty as Serbia of ethnic cleansing and war-crimes.

The Gotovina-Markac acquittals thereby united mainstream liberal Western commentators and Serb nationalists in condemnation of the ICTY under Meron’s leadership. Bizarrely, these critics were then joined by some Bosnians (particularly Bosniaks – Bosnian Muslims) and friends of Bosnia, after the Appeals Chamber in February 2013 overturned the conviction of Momcilo Perisic, former Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff, for aiding and abetting Bosnian Serb crimes at Sarajevo and Srebrenica. The ICTY’s already shaky reputation among Bosniaks was then further grievously damaged by the ICTY Trial Chamber’s acquittal in May of this year of two senior officials of the Serbian interior ministry, Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, for war-crimes in Croatia and Bosnia. The acquittals of Perisic, Stanisic and Simatovic mean that no official of Serbia has been found guilty by the ICTY of war-crimes in Bosnia. For many Bosniaks and others, joining the anti-Meron chorus became irresistible.

From this diverse alliance against Meron and the ICTY, a narrative has emerged: the acquittals form part of a sinister pattern. Meron is the puppet-master who has manipulated other judges into securing the acquittals. Even though he was only one judge among five in the Appeals Chambers that acquitted first Gotovina and Markac, then Perisic, and even though he was not even a member of the Trial Chambers that acquitted Haradinaj, Stanisic and Simatovic, Meron has nevertheless been imbued with the power to manipulate his fellow judges into doing his bidding. He is said to be doing this at the bidding of the United States, which allegedly fears the consequence for its own soldiers and officials of senior Serbian and Croatian war criminals being convicted. The Wikileaks cables have been cited to demonstrate Meron’s connection with the official US – even though the contents of the cables do not provide any evidence that he followed US policy []. Facts that go against the Meron conspiracy theory have been brushed aside: the fact that, far from seeking to sabotage the ICTY, the US has long been its strongest supporter in the international community; the fact that under Meron’s presidency, the ICTY has also recently secured key convictions, including of senior Bosnian Serb intelligence officer Zdravko Tolimir, and of six senior Bosnian Croat officials. Most recently, Meron presided over the Appeals Chamber judgement that reinstated one charge of genocide against Radovan Karadzic.

In the absence of any evidence to support either aspect of the conspiracy theory – that Meron manipulated his fellow judges to secure acquittals, and that he did so at the bidding of the US – his critics were delighted when another senior judge at the ICTY, Frederik Harhoff, wrote what was effectively an open letter (Danish original), (imperfect English translation), dated 6 June and emailed to 56 friends and colleagues, apparently confirming it. Citing the acquittals – of Gotovina, Markac, Perisic, Stanisic and Simatovic – Harhoff wrote:

‘You would think that the military establishment in leading states (such as USA and Israel) felt that the courts in practice were getting too close to the military commanders’ responsibilities.’

Thus, in an astonishing non sequitur, not just the world’s superpower, but Israel made an appearance as the guilty party responsible for the acquittals. Harhoff continued:

‘Have any American or Israeli officials ever exerted pressure on the American presiding judge (the presiding judge for the court that is) to ensure a change of direction? We will probably never know. But reports of the same American presiding judge’s tenacious pressure on his colleagues in the Gotovina – Perisic case makes you think he was determined to achieve an acquittal – and especially that he was lucky enough to convince the elderly Turkish judge to change his mind at the last minute. Both judgements then became majority judgements 3 -2.’

Thus, Harhoff again implied Israel was behind the acquittals, and linked it specifically to the Jewish, formerly Israeli presiding judge, Theodor Meron, whom he accused of ‘tenacious pressure on his colleagues’. Harhoff’s claims have been thoroughly deconstructed and exploded, in particular by legal experts Luka Misetic and Bogdan Ivanisevic*
but to summarise: he admitted that ‘we will probably never know’ if his claims are accurate, in other words that he has no evidence to support them; his grasp of his facts is so weak that he wrongly claimed that Perisic was acquitted by a 3-2 majority in the Appeals Chamber, when it was actually 4-1; and he portrayed Meron as manipulating the ‘elderly Turkish judge’ Mehmet Güney, even though the latter, born in 1936, was six years younger than Meron himself, who was born in 1930.

Turning to Stanisic and Simatovic, who were acquitted by a Trial Chamber that was presided over by Dutch judge Alphons Orie and of which Meron was not even a member, Harhoff continued:

‘Was Orie under pressure from the American presiding judge [Meron] ? It appears so! Rumour from the corridors has it that the presiding judge demanded that the judgement against the two defendants absolutely had to be delivered last Thursday – without the three judges in the premium authority having had time to discuss the defence properly – so that the presiding judge’s promise to the UN Security Council could be met.’

Naturally, Harhoff did not suggest that the Dutch judge acquitted Stanisic and Simatovic on orders from the Netherlands. No, he suggested that the Dutch judge acquitted them ‘under pressure from the American presiding judge’ – a Jew and former Israeli official who was not even on the panel. And Harhoff based these conclusions on nothing more than ‘rumour from the corridors’.

Harhoff was the first of Meron’s critics explicitly to play the Israeli card. Following the acquittal of Perisic, Dzenana Karup-Drusko, editor-in-chief of the leading Bosnian news magazine BH Dani, had published a critique of Meron, whom she described as ‘an American of Jewish extraction’, whose verdict established a precedent meaning that ‘it was now almost impossible to indict almost any commander of NATO, or of the Russian or Israeli army, for example’. But Karup-Drusko did not suggest that Meron was acting at the behest of Israel. Nor did she portray him as a puppet-master manipulating the other ICTY judges. Harhoff therefore broke new ground.

Harhoff’s aspersions against the reputations of his colleagues – not just Meron, but Orie, Güney and by implication all those involved in the acquittals – although wholly unsubstantiated by any actual evidence, then became the basis for an article in the New York Times by Marlise Simons on 14 June, which claimed they ‘raised serious questions about the credibility of the court’, and concluded that ‘Judge Harhoff’s letter, which echoes protests by many international experts, seems likely to add a fresh bruise to the tribunal’s reputation.’ A few days later, Rwanda used Harhoff’s assault on Meron to demand the latter’s resignation, since it was unhappy with the role he had played in the ICTY’s sister body, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in acquitting or reducing the sentences of some Hutu-extremist prisoners. The Rwandan newspaper New Times claimed on 20 June that ‘a confidential letter by a Danish judge, Frederik Harhoff that leaked to the media’, revealed that the ‘embattled’ Meron had ‘exerted “persistent and intense” pressure on his fellow judges to allow suspects go free.’
Also on 20 June, a petition was published by prominent Bosnian intellectuals and activists directed at Meron, stating:

‘Following the letter by your colleague Judge Frederik Harhoff, we, the war crime victims in BiH, consider it your moral obligation to tender your resignation from all of the functions performed by yourself in the ICTY… You, Mr. Meron, have misused your position by influencing your colleagues, and thereby you have cruelly violated the Statute of the Tribunal, the implementation of which exactly you were to supervise, and the disrespect of which by your colleagues also you were to sanction. Therefore, we find it your moral duty, moreover as a Holocaust victim, to leave the Hague Tribunal.’

On 25 June, an open letter signed by well over a hundred individuals and NGOs, either from the Yugoslavia or specialising in it was submitted to UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, claimed that the

‘general public in the former Yugoslavia and particularly those in communities that were affected by war, view Judge Harhoff’s allegations as evidence of a mockery of justice by the most important UN tribunal’, and urged Ban ‘to use your authority to order a prompt and thorough inquiry, to establish beyond doubt if there has been a violation of articles 12 and 13 of the ICTY Statute, which guarantees the independence, impartiality, integrity and high moral character of judges serving at the ICTY.’

Thus, Harhoff’s rumour had quickly hardened into the mainstream version of events, and was providing ammunition for those with an interest in bringing Meron down. Nor did the story go unnoticed by anti-Zionist critics of Israel. Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss took Harhoff’s claims at face value, arguing ‘Is this the US imperial state or the Israel lobby at work? My suspicion is of course the Israel lobby’. Alison Weir of Intifada – Voice of Palestine interpreted the Simons article rather freely when she wrote that

‘The New York Times reports that an Israeli diplomat turned U.S. citizen – and now president of the war crimes tribunal at the Hague – has been pressuring the court to acquit officials accused of war crimes.’

The moral of this story is: if you want to create your own conspiracy theory that other people will believe but which isn’t supported by any evidence, it really helps if the person you finger as the leading villain happens to be a Jew. Most members of the anti-Meron campaign are neither anti-Semites nor motivated by anti-Semitism; perhaps none of them are. Many if not most of them are motivated by fully justified outrage at the meagre results of the ICTY and a principled desire to see justice served. Yet they are basing their campaign on allegations, by Judge Harhoff, that at the very least feed off familiar anti-Semitic themes of alleged Jewish power and manipulative behaviour; themes that strike a chord among the wider public, which explains the vibrancy of the campaign. If it does not already, this is something that should seriously concern them.

*Bogdan Ivanisevic’s deconstruction of Harhoff’s letter appeared on his Facebook page; the link in this article is to his earlier defence of Meron.

Marko Attila Hoare is a Reader at Kingston University specialising in the history of South East Europe. He is the author of four books: The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War: A History (Hurst, London, 2013); The History of Bosnia: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day (Saqi, London, 2007); Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943 (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006); and How Bosnia Armed (Saqi, London, 2004). He is currently working on a history of modern Serbia.

13 Responses to “The Protocols of the Elders of Meron: Judge Frederik Harhoff points to Jewish intrigue at the ICTY – Guest Post by Marko Attila Hoare.”

  1. David Hirsh Says:

    Really interesting and important piece Marko. Thanks so much.

  2. Marko Attila Hoare Says:

    Thank you, David.

  3. Jeanette Karlslund Says:

    While I am not that familiar with the authors work, I do know that he has great standing amongst some, particularly amongst those interested in the Balkans. However I must say that he does seem to be going out of his way to portray any critism of Theodor Meron as some kind of anti-Semitism.

    Recently I read a piece by David Rohde of The Atlantic and Reuters about Theodor Meron, called ; “How International Justice Is Being Gutted”

    In it Rohde points to the fact that some tribunal officals are saying :
    “In interviews, two former tribunal officials said the decisions reversed years of progress in the field and endangered the recent war crimes convictions of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. They said they feared that the United States and Israel pressured judges to reverse precedents that could limit both countries’ counter-terrorism operations.
    “We are taking steps back,” said one of the former officials.”

    As well as pointing to the fact that :
    “Before the acquittals were issued, the CIA and some former American military officials submitted letters of support for some of the defendants, citing their close work with the United States during or after the conflict. But U.S. officials denied pressuring Meron or other judges to make the rulings. The two former tribunal officials said there was no evidence that Meron acted at the behest of American or Israeli officials. Instead, they argued, the judge was implementing his conservative view of international humanitarian law.”

    Kenneth Roth the executive director of Human Rights Watch says that : he disagreed with the aiding and abetting ruling, but believed it was an attempt to protect the court from attacks from the American right.

    “My guess is that the tribunal was trying to narrow the concept of aiding and abetting,” Roth said, “to avoid far right fears in the United States that U.S. military aid would lead to criminal liability if the recipients unexpectedly committed war crimes.”

    So there does seem to be a lot of critism on the latest set of verdicts. Any none of those seem to mention Israel or any form of anti-Semitism.

  4. Jeanette Karlslund Says:

    I almost forgot that I also read a piece by Eric Gordy who is a teacher of teaches politics and sociology of Southeast Europe at University College London.

    In his New York Times article he points to the fact that:
    “Stanisic and Simatovic had the largest hand in creating, training, arming, financing and directing several of the paramilitary groups responsible for a large number of crimes in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The tormented reasoning of the tribunal’s 800-page verdict offers some fascinating reading: It affirms that crimes were committed and describes them in excruciating detail. It names the victims, names the perpetrators, and in most cases details the connections between the accused parties and the direct perpetrators. Then it declines to convict, on the ground that the evidence does not show that the support provided to the criminals was “specifically directed towards the commission of the crimes.”

    How did the tribunal get to the point where, dropping the ambition to bring justice to victims, peace to the region, and a measure of truth to the story of the violence in the former Yugoslavia, it is now exonerating people who directed large covert enterprises to commit crimes?

    The answer lies partly in the decision in February by the appeals chamber to acquit Gen. Momcilo Perisic, the Yugoslav army chief of staff who was accused of facilitating crimes committed by the Bosnian Serb army. The prosecution argued that by arming, financing and providing officers and intelligence to the force, Perisic had made genocide and crimes against humanity possible. The appeals chamber found that absent specific evidence that Perisic intended that the assistance be used to commit crimes, his conviction could not be upheld.

    This is the “specific direction” standard introduced this year by the presiding judge, Theodor Meron, an American, and cited as the principal authority in Thursday’s decision to acquit.

    In a related decision last November, the appeals chamber decided to acquit Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, two Croatian generals accused of compelling the Serb civilian population to flee Croatia by the use of indiscriminate military force. In essence the appeals chamber (also chaired by Judge Meron) found that there exists no legal standard that allows courts to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate military targets.
    These dramatic reversals follow on a decade of ICTY jurisprudence that sought to establish the rule of law over military and paramilitary activity in armed conflicts. Along with several other convictions, the first-instance convictions of Perisic, Gotovina and Markac looked like landmarks in the delineation of command responsibility and the protection of civilians.”

    • Marko Attila Hoare Says:

      It is entirely legitimate to criticise a judicial verdict you think is wrong, and by no means all criticism of Meron is motivated by anti-Semitism; some of it may be valid. I was specifically criticising those who a) accuse Meron of acting in the service of US/Israeli/Great Power diplomacy; b) accuse him of improperly manipulating other judges into acquitting suspects – even when he wasn’t himself a member of the panel – in order to serve the interests of the US/Israel/Great Powers; and c) call for his resignation on the basis of these smears.

      No evidence to support either accusation has ever been produced. Opinions of anonymous ICTY officials are not evidence. The only bit of supposed ‘evidence’ to which the conspiracy theorists can point to is the Harhoff letter, which has definite anti-Semitic overtones. And Harhoff’s letter is not just one expression of opinion among many; it is the centrepiece of the entire campaign against Meron.

      For the record, I consider the three acquittals for which Meron was responsible – Gotovina, Markac and Perisic – to be judicially valid. I don’t consider the acquittals of Stanisic and Simatovic to be judicially valid, but they weren’t acquitted by Meron. And I believe they simply represent a bad judgement on the part of two individual judges, rather than reflecting a sinister conspiracy.

      Eric Gordy has done good work deconstructing and criticising the Stanisic-Simatovic judgement, for which I applaud him. He is not in any way motivated by anti-Semitism and has never blamed Israel for Meron’s actions. However, he has been responsible for pushing two unsustainable theories: a) that the acquittals all form part of a single, politically motivated pattern; and b) that they are the expressions of Great Power policy. In my analysis of the Perisic verdic, I explained why the first of these theories does not work:

      Bogdan Ivanisevic, in the article to which I linked above, explains why the second of these theories does not work:

      A further critique of his New York Times op ed can be read here:

  5. Marijana Says:

    Great article, I had actually thought that Meron was Spanish (due to the name ‘Meron’) ! Anyway, it’s amazing what people will believe simply at face value to support their own ideological agenda. Most of those on the far-left and far-right do not really care about the former Yugoslavia or its peoples, and have little genuine interest in our history. They simply use it to score cheap points (usually against ‘US imperialism’) and to fufil their ideological agenda.

    • Lynne T Says:

      I do not know the origins of “Meron” as a name, or of the ethnicity of the judge, but there are certain Spanish, Portuguese and Italian names that indicate Jewish origins dating to Inquisition times, typically place names such as Catalano or Spagnolo, but there are others.

      • Marijana Says:

        Yeah, it’s interesting, many placenames and surnames in the Balkans have Turkish origins dating back to the Ottoman times (as much as some may wish to deny it).

        But yeah, I feel a little silly, Theodor is hardly a Spanish name!

  6. Noga Says:

    Many if not most Sephardic Jewish names are much older than Inquisition times.
    “Meron” is the name of a village and a mountain in the Galilee where according to popular legend the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is located. Since the article mentions that Meron is a Polish Jew I am speculating that he or his father probably changed their name upon arriving in Israel from a Polish family name to a Hebrew one. It used to be a very commonplace thing to do, picking as a family name some geographical location in Israel. Thus you have Golan, Galilee, Yarkon, etc.

  7. F. Lopez Says:

    I agree that Harhoff’s letter smacks of anti-Semitism, but you’re forgetting that he’s a professional judge and as such he is competent to determine the weight and the credibility of “rumour from the corridors”.

    You and I can not second guess the credibility of those rumors because we don’t know what their source is. It would be like second guessing the testimony of one of the ICTY’s protected witnesses since we don’t know who they are either. For all we know, the source of the rumors could have been credible.

    While it’s true that hearsay of the sort that Harhoff relies on to accuse Meron of pressuring his fellow judges isn’t admissible evidence in most courts, it is admissible at the ICTY.

    If a low-level Bosnian Serb commander were to testify that he had heard rumors around the corridors of the main staff that Gen. Mladic wanted to “exterminate” Bosniak civilians you can bet your bottom dollar that the Tribunal would use that as evidence to convict Mladic of genocide.

    Harhoff is simply drawing an inference in the absence of direct proof, much like the ICTY itself has done with the issue of genocidal intent. He hears rumors that judges are being pressured, he sees WikiLeaks cables about Meron’s visits to the US Embassy, and he sees verdicts that he doesn’t like, so he infers that those verdicts must be the result of political pressure applied to the judges.

    By nature, evidence that a kangaroo court is handing down politically motivated verdicts as a result of pressure applied to the judges is not usually susceptible to direct proof because only the judges themselves have first-hand knowledge of their own mental state, and they are unlikely to testify that they issued a politically motivated verdict. Where direct evidence of political pressure is absent, the existence of such pressure may still be inferred from the circumstances involved. (Sound familiar to the Tribunal’s jurisprudence regarding genocidal intent?)

    If that sort of logic is good enough to make findings regarding an issue as serious as genocidal intent, then it’s good enough to determine whether the ICTY’s verdicts are politically motivated or not.

    And for the record I’m not taking a position on whether there was any genocide in Bosnia or not, and I’m not taking any position on whether the ICTY’s verdicts are politically motivated or not. What I am doing is criticizing the judicial process and the ICTY, and noting the ironic position that the Tribunal’s supporters find themselves in.

    • elvedin Says:

      Good work Marko!

      As a Bosnian I am very sad about ongoing political involvement of some powers in verdicts of ICTY.

      But, has it been something new? Of course, not. Please, just remember the Verdict of ICJ from 2007 in the case of Genocide in Bosnia. That was also a politically shaped verdict.

      But, what I want to point out is that I am afraid that we more and more rely on evidences from court verdicts than facts and evidences from a research.

      Somehow, I am getting impression that evidences from court verdict have casted shadow on huge evidence from the field and research. Every day, we are able to find more and more researchers look only for evidence from court verdicts.

    • Suada Says:

      Yes, the ICTY can make inferences due to evidence available (as any court can), but these need to be the only reasonable inference based on the totality of evidence available, and can’t be silly conspiracy theories (as your inferances are). For example, the ICTY inferred the genocidal intent of Zdravko Tolimir based on; his close and extensive involvement in the planning and implamentation of the Srebrenica and Zepa murder and ethnic cleansing operations, his active involvement in attempts to conceal the aforementioned operations despite his extensive knowledge of them, his close involvement with other members of the JCE, his promotion of the pervasive use of derogatory and dehumanising language when referring to Bosnian Muslims and Croats (and his use of such terms himself, even in formal communication with the RS president and his superiors), his contempt for human life and his depraved state of mind at the time of the offences (evidenced for example in his order on 21 July 1995 to ‘destroy’ groups of fleeing civilian refugees). Can you give any example where the ICTY had inferred genocidal intent simply due to “rumors”?

  8. FulanoZutano Says:

    MAH’s dedication to the cause of “human rights” has always been suspect. He is an admirer of the deceased dictator and war criminal Marshall Tito who bears responsibility, inter alia, for the larger-than-Srebenica massacre at Kocevski Rog in 1945.

    All of his flapping about anti-semitism is a typical red herring. It is as clear as day to even the most obtuse commentator how the legal precedent of acquittal in the case of Perisic clearly favours the unindicted war criminal political and military leadership of both America and Israel, past and present. Remember – Serbs can always be forgiven provided the judgment serves a “nobler cause”, eg. the War on Terror. That is the stark reality of international “justice”.

    Finally, it would be interesting to know when MAH plans to ship out to Syria to liberate the victims of Assad. I’ve read many brave words but frankly talk is cheap. Dates please.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s