President Biden condemns ICC warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant

The Biden administration’s anger over the decision was matched by bipartisan pushback in Congress and a furious response from Jewish groups


President Joe Biden holds a press conference following a solidarity visit to Israel, on October 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv.

President Joe Biden slammed the International Criminal Court on Monday after the body’s lead prosecutor announced plans to seek arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, calling the warrants “outrageous.” The forceful condemnation by the Biden administration joined a bipartisan chorus in Washington that quickly criticized the move by the ICC.

Biden called out ICC prosecutor Karim A. A. Khan for simultaneously announcing plans to seek arrest warrants for the Israeli leaders and Yahya Sinwar, who heads the Iranian-backed terror group Hamas in Gaza, Mohammed Deif, leader of Hamas’ al-Qassam Brigades military wing, and Hamas’ Qatar-based leader Ismail Haniyeh.

“Let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas. We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security,” Biden said in a statement.

Secretary of State Tony Blinken offered a lengthier statement on Monday, stating that the announcement of the arrest warrants “does nothing to help, and could jeopardize, ongoing efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement that would get hostages out and surge humanitarian assistance in, which are the goals the United States continues to pursue relentlessly.”

Blinken asserted that the ICC lacks jurisdiction over the Israel-Hamas war and called out the swift process that did not allow Israel a chance to respond. In fact, Blinken said, Khan was supposed to visit Israel next week, and his staff were scheduled to depart for Israel today.

“Israel was informed that they did not board their flight around the same time that the Prosecutor went on cable television to announce the charges,” Blinken said. “These and other circumstances call into question the legitimacy and credibility of this investigation.”

The administration’s unequivocal criticism of the ICC was matched by anger from leaders in both parties on Capitol Hill. Top lawmakers have, for weeks, been signaling opposition to the prospect of ICC warrants and suggesting that Congress could pursue sanctions against the ICC and its officials. Legislation implementing such sanctions has already been introduced, and the House will likely hold a vote related to the warrants this week.

“In the absence of leadership from the White House, Congress is reviewing all options, including sanctions, to punish the ICC and ensure its leadership faces consequences if they proceed,” House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) said. 

Johnson added that the “baseless and illegitimate decision should face global condemnation.” He also claimed, “It’s clear the ICC’s decision has been advanced due to the Biden Administration’s pressure campaign against Israel and its outlandish State Department investigations.”

Stefanik, who met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu around the time the ICC decision was announced, is the House Republican Conference chair.

“I completely reject the ICC prosecutor’s announcement targeting senior Israeli officials. This extreme judicial overreach abuses the authority of the ICC,” Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC) said in a statement to JI. “Furthermore, any attempt to equate the brutal terrorist group Hamas, which invaded Israel and slaughtered innocent civilians, with the Israeli government, which has the duty to defend its people, calls into question the ICC’s credibility.”

“I will continue to stand strong against efforts to single out and undermine Israel on the world stage as we work to secure the release of the remaining hostages, deliver more humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians, and defeat Hamas,” Manning continued.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) alluded to plans to pursue sanctions on the ICC prosecutor and others involved with the court.

“My colleagues and I look forward to making sure neither Khan, his associates nor their families will ever set foot again in the United States,” Cotton said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made a similar suggestion to Cotton, writing in a separate statement that he would “feverishly work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in both chambers to levy damning sanctions against the ICC.” Graham also accused the ICC of misleading him and his Congressional colleagues about the court’s plans.

“I want the world to know that I, along with my Republican and Democrat colleagues, and members of the Administration engaged the ICC on this issue weeks ago. We were told there would be discussions with Israel before any actions were taken. We stressed that the principle of ‘complementarity’ should be applied in this case. Complementarity requires the ICC to let the nation in question’s legal system move first before any action is taken by the Court,” Graham said. 

“I feel that I was lied to and that my colleagues were lied to,” he continued. “Prosecutor Khan is drunk with self-importance and has done a lot of damage to the peace process and to the ability to find a way forward.”

Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) called the decision, “retribution against Israel for the original sin of existing as a Jewish State and the subsequent sin of defending itself amid the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.”

Torres said that the decision makes it “criminal for a state like Israel to defend itself against an enemy shrewd enough to embed itself in a civilian population, as Hamas has done to an extent never seen before in the history of warfare.” He said the court should be pursuing Hamas alone.

Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the decision “absurd.”

“The ICC, like the rest of the international community, continues to be obsessed with targeting Israel during its time of need,” Risch said. “There is no cause for why the court should be investigating Israel as it is not a party to the Rome Statute and Israel has a fully functional judiciary.”

He added that issuing simultaneous warrant applications for Hamas and Israeli officials “provides a false moral equivalency between their actions” and that the decision “hurt the credibility of the court and seriously harmed legitimate accountability efforts where true war crimes are occurring, like Ukraine, Syria, and across Africa.”

A small number of anti-Israel lawmakers have expressed support for ICC arrest warrants.

“If Netanyahu comes to address Congress, I would be more than glad to show the ICC the way to the House floor to issue that warrant,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) said on X. “Ditto for Hamas leader. Ceasefire. No offensive weapons. Food, water & medicine must get through.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was the first, and so far only, senator to endorse the ICC’s move.

“The ICC prosecutor is right to take these actions. These arrest warrants may or may not be carried out, but it is imperative that the global community uphold international law,” he said. “Without these standards of decency and morality, this planet may rapidly descend into anarchy, never-ending wars, and barbarism.”

Leading Jewish communal organizations have also condemned the ICC.

“The ICC Prosecutor’s appalling and misguided decision to seek warrants for Israel’s elected leaders and defense officials is among the most perverse taken by an international body, and only serves to further undermine the court’s already fractured legitimacy,” the Jewish Federations of North America said in a statement. “The prosecutor’s decision to single out the Jewish state, which goes above and beyond the requirements of international law to protect civilians, while the court has turned a blind eye to the world’s real human rights violators, is antisemitism, pure and simple.”

AIPAC urged Congress and the administration to re-impose sanctions on the ICC and to demand that other countries reject the warrants, calling them “morally obscene.”

“Israel is a democracy with an independent judiciary that is fighting a just war in a moral way.  It is the worst case of moral equivalence to suggest that the victims of the Hamas terrorist attack should be treated the same as the barbaric perpetrators,” AIPAC said. “The United States must stand with our ally against this outrageous attempt to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state.”

The American Jewish Committee likewise condemned the decision and noted that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel.

“This effort is a moral outrage based on blatant falsehoods that will harm the Court’s credibility, completely undermine its core mandate, and embolden enemies of democracies around the world,” AJC said in a statement, saying the claims are “slanderous, factually unsupported, and contribute to a broader effort to demonize the State of Israel and the Israeli people.”

“That Khan is pursuing simultaneous warrants against Hamas leaders, thereby creating a false equivalence between leaders of a democratic country and leaders of a genocidal terror organization, is abhorrent, deeply offensive, and further points to the hypocrisy of this pursuit,” the statement continued.

JI Congressional Correspondent Emily Jacobs contributed to this report.

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