court concerns

Lawmakers push back against potential ICC arrest warrants for Israeli leaders

‘It’ll be the end… [the ICC will] be done with America, for good,’ Sen. Dan Sullivan says, as others float potential sanctions and other penalties


Nawaf Salam (R), President of the Court, gestures during a hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, on February 21, 2024.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are raising concerns about the possibility of International Criminal Court arrest warrants targeting Israeli officials over the war in Gaza, with some floating retaliatory measures including possible sanctions.

“I’ve been very skeptical of the ICC, I’m still skeptical,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) told Jewish Insider. “But here’s the thing, if they do this, I guarantee you that will be the end of any American support for the ICC ever, and that’s not a threat.”

“Now they’re [the ICC] going to prosecute them [the Israelis]?,” Sullivan continued. “Remember, there was an amendment that provided them a little bit of money to help with regard to Ukraine. It’ll be the end. This guy is smart, the prosecutor. I can’t believe he would be that stupid. It’ll be done with America, for good.”

Sullivan explained that the ICC prosecutors describe themselves as ”the court of last resort,” stepping in “when you can’t trust the court in the court system where these so-called crimes are happening” — something he said is not the case in Israel.

“The Israelis are firing the guys who were responsible for that World Central Kitchen [incident],” Sullivan said. “That’s the epitome of a country that acknowledges they made a mistake. Some of these guys’ military careers are done, which is pretty brutal.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, likewise emphasized to JI that action by the ICC against Israel would be out of line with the ICC’s function and mission.

“Israel has a complementary system. So I don’t think it’s an appropriate consideration. I hope they’re not considering it,” he said. “It’s wrong, it should not happen.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, “It’s my view that the ICC was not created for a purpose like this. Russia has no rule of law. It’s a dictatorship. If you oppose [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, you fall out of a window. Their elections are a joke. Israel has one of the most vibrant democracies and independent judiciaries on the planet, so any action against Israel I think would be well outside the role of the ICC.”

“I think the ICC has an important role when it comes to ungoverned spaces and dealing with thugs,” Graham continued. “But if you’re going to start challenging mature democracies with some uber prosecutor, you’ll lose me and it will destroy the ICC.”

Asked what Congress could do to respond if the ICC were to still go ahead with the warrants, Graham replied: “Sanctions. There are a lot of things. … You’d see a really strong bipartisan action here.”

Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) also noted that neither Israel nor the U.S. are ICC members, meaning that they should fall outside the court’s jurisdiction.

“This is just another example of a biased, antisemitic organization going after the good guys when they’re ignoring what’s going on with the bad guys,” Ricketts continued, alleging that the ICC is not considering prosecuting Hamas. Reports have indicated that the court is preparing arrest warrants for some Hamas leaders as well.

Asked whether he’d support sanctions against ICC officials if they do issue warrants — a proposal that’s been floated in the past when the ICC has considered prosecuting Israeli leaders — he said that no options should be left off the table.

Cardin wasn’t willing to endorse such a threat at this point, and said he’d prefer to wait to see how the ICC acts.

Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) said he “suspect[s] there’s a whole range of different options” for how best to respond. “I’m gonna have to assess our options,” he said. 

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the House Democratic leader, told JI it would be “an irresponsible step” for the ICC to issue warrants against Israel, but said he’d defer to the administration on how to respond.

Axios reported Thursday that lawmakers spoke with the senior ICC officials earlier this week to voice concerns about the potential arrests.

Numerous other lawmakers have been reticent to speak out on the situation, citing the uncertain and still-developing situation.

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