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So That’s Where Amal’s Been

posted on: May 22, 2024

Photo: Wikkimedia Commons

By: Will Youmans / Arab America Contributing Writer

Few famous people have undergone such a rapid transformation in reputation as has the world’s most famous barrister, Amal Clooney. Since October, social media users from around the world asked why she, a notable international human rights lawyer of Palestinian descent on her mother’s side, had been so quiet about Israel’s escalating atrocities in Gaza.

Laila Al-Arian, the award-winning reporter, and producer, noted back in December: “As far as I can tell, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who has had a lot to say about Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Myanmar, Ukraine and Iran hasn’t broken her silence over Gaza and neither has the Clooney human rights foundation.”

The famed Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi tweeted in mid-April an article about Clooney’s silence, calling it “Moral cowardice & selective applicability of human rights. Disingenuous & self-serving.

Known for her passionate advocacy and eloquent defense of justice, Amal Clooney had taken on high-profile cases ranging from political prisoners to genocide elsewhere. Critics and supporters alike were baffled. Was she being selective in her advocacy? Had she succumbed to political pressure? Was she too cozy in the celebrity spotlight to speak out?

It just emerged this week that she has been intensively engaged on a panel to advise Karim Khan, the lead prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on potential charges against Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and leaders of Hamas, Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh.

Clooney served on an 8-person panel to review whether Khan’s applications for arrest warrants met the standard provided in article 58 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Specifically, the Panel has been asked to provide an opinion on whether there are “reasonable grounds to believe” named parties committed crimes that fall under the court’s jurisdiction.

The charges against Netanyahu and the others are serious. Clooney was among the panel reviewing harrowing evidence —documented cases of indiscriminate bombings, targeted killings, and extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure. The world watched the ICC proceedings unfold, with Amal Clooney at the forefront.

It is clear now that Clooney’s silence was not born out of indifference but of professional practice and commitment. She was working behind the scenes. Any comment she made could be perceived as prejudicial, potentially undermining the integrity of her advisement. As her co-authored piece in the Financial Times clarifies, “We felt we had a duty to accept the invitation to provide an impartial and independent legal opinion based on evidence.”

Social media commentators welcomed this announcement with celebrations, saying Clooney has redeemed herself. Many offered up apologies and urged other critics to do the same. The media figure Mehdi Hasan posted that “I’m pretty sure much of Twitter owes poor Amal Clooney a massive apology lol.”

One could argue that her silence was a strategic decision, born out of a desire to ensure that justice was served in the courtroom rather than through the media.

However, it is worth noting that even with an ICC arrest warrant, there is little prospect that Israel will cease its destruction of Gaza. The International Court of Justice’s preliminary orders and investigation have failed. Plus, the US Congress, President Biden, and Secretary of State Blinken have already reacted adversely to the ICC’s announced arrest warrants, with some US politicians going so far as to declare war on the court. Still, the ICC move undeniably strikes yet another symbolic blow to the US-Israeli war machine. Already Belgium and France announced they would honor ICC arrest warrants.

On the other hand, the panel that Clooney was part of returned a unanimous decision. Perhaps they would have done so without her on the panel. But that we will never know. Thus, the question remains: could she have had a more powerful impact by speaking out in the public sphere rather than advising within the ICC process? Someone of her celebrity stature and standing in the international law community may have been more than simply another voice in the mix.

Amal Clooney is not like other celebrities, either those who have used their platforms to break the perception that there is consensus support for Israel in the United States or those who have remained disappointingly silent, such as DJ Khaled. She made her name working directly on the sorts of issues at the crux of this bloody matter. She chose to make legal venues her arena, with all its possibilities and limitations.

William Youmans is an associate professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University and a board member of the Arab America Foundation.

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