Swiss prosecutors have not brought criminal charges against Israel’s president

31 January 2024
What was claimed

Prosecutors in Switzerland have brought criminal charges against the president of Israel Isaac Herzog for war crimes.

Our verdict

This isn’t correct. Criminal complaints have been lodged against Mr Herzog in Switzerland but prosecutors have not ruled whether to bring charges against him.

Claims circulating on social media allege that the Israeli president has been charged by prosecutors in Switzerland for war crimes.

One graphic, which has been shared on Facebook over 6,000 times, and also on Instagram, says: “Breaking. Prosecutors in Switzerland have brought criminal charges against the president of Israel for war crimes.”

However, this claim is not true.

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland has confirmed that no “criminal charges” have been brought against Isaac Herzog, who was elected as Israel’s President in 2021. 

The President of the State of Israel is the head of state and participates in formal ceremonies and official visits in Israel and abroad as a state representative.

However, while he was visiting the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland—where he spoke on 18 January—Mr Herzog was the subject of “criminal complaints”.

A caption with an Instagram post of the misleading graphic, liked more than 163,000 times, cites the Times of Israel newspaper as a source but their article correctly states the prosecutor’s office had received a criminal complaint.

A spokesperson for the Swiss Office of the Attorney General told Full Fact that the Federal Prosecutor's Office (BA) has confirmed receipt of criminal complaints, but the sender and the content had not been confirmed.

“The criminal complaints will now be examined in accordance with the usual procedure,” they added (translated from German by Google).

“The BA is in contact with the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (EDA) to examine the question of the immunity of the person concerned. We would like to point out that the receipt of a criminal complaint is not the same as the opening of criminal proceedings.”

A criminal complaint in Switzerland is usually the first stage of criminal legal proceedings in the country, and consists of a report of a crime to the authorities. The police investigate, and then refer the case to the public prosecutor.

The public prosecutor decides whether to initiate criminal proceedings and then prepares the case. The public prosecutor only files charges if the case goes to court.

In theory under international law, state officials are immune from foreign criminal jurisdiction. However, this does not apply in a number of cases including allegations of war crimes. 

South Africa brought a case alleging that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nation’s top court.  

On 26 January the ICJ ordered Israel to take all measures to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza, but stopped short of telling it to enact a ceasefire.

The ICJ adjudicates disputes between nations and gives advisory opinions on international legal issues. 

It is separate from the International Criminal Court, also located in The Hague, which can prosecute individuals for serious crimes of concern to the international community including war crimes. Countries including Israel, Russia and the US are not member states.

Misinformation can spread widely during significant global events and international news stories. You can find more of our work fact checking claims concerning the Israel-Gaza conflict here

We’ve seen a significant amount of online misinformation regarding this story including miscaptioned videos and fake articles.

Image courtesy of the Government Press Office of Israel

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