Push to sanction ICC over Israel warrants wins bipartisan support

Secretary of State Tony Blinken said he’s willing to work on an ‘appropriate response’ at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing

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Secretary of State Tony Blinken arrives for a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on May 21, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they’re interested in pursuing the possibility of sanctioning the International Criminal Court and its officials in response to the ICC prosecutor’s decision to seek arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant — as the Biden administration is signaling a willingness to take action.

Secretary of State Tony Blinken told lawmakers on Tuesday that he’s willing to work “on a bipartisan basis” with Congress to develop “an appropriate response” to the ICC decision, without specifying what that might entail. He described the ICC prosecutor’s decision as “wrong-headed” and said it harmed hostage talks.

Some on Capitol Hill, on a bipartisan basis, are pushing for the U.S. to impose sanctions on the court and its officials.

Republicans in the House are working on legislation to impose sanctions, and discussions were underway on the House floor on Tuesday evening, while Senate Republicans, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jim Risch (R-ID), are working on legislation of their own and hoping to gather Democratic support.

Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) told Jewish Insider he’s been “part of this conversation” and “very clear, [sanctions] should be a part of our conversation, 100%.”

“Their ruling was trash and there probably should be some kind of consequences, and there’s really no kind of credibility left,” Fetterman continued. “They have incinerated their own relevance.”

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) said he hasn’t seen specific legislation but that he’s “open to listening to ideas about” sanctioning the ICC.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told JI he is working with the Biden administration on ways to respond beyond rhetorical measures. He said he believes President Joe Biden and Blinken are amenable to taking action, but was not sure what it would look like.

“I want to see what action we can take that can push them [the ICC] in that direction [toward rescinding the warrant request]. I don’t know what that is, and that’s why I’m asking the administration for some help in trying to figure out what would be the most constructive path,” Cardin said. 

“I can’t specifically answer which outlet is the best way to be effective,” he said when asked about Graham’s sanctions proposal, adding that much depends on how “the ICC operates and what could motivate them” to reverse course. 

Cardin spoke to JI hours after he and Graham released a bipartisan statement condemning the ICC over the warrants and vowing to continue their efforts to push the ICC to walk back its plans. 

“These actions by the ICC jeopardize efforts to bring about sustainable peace in the Middle East. It puts at risk sensitive negotiations to bring home hostages, including Americans, and surge humanitarian assistance,” the group wrote. “We will continue to work in a bipartisan manner to strenuously object to the ICC’s actions against our ally, Israel, and take appropriate steps to help Israel and protect American personnel from future ICC action.”

Sens. John Thune (R-SD), Katie Britt (R-AL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Risch and Fetterman also signed onto the statement. 

Graham has been vocal about his desire for the U.S. to impose sanctions on ICC officials in response to the warrants, accusing the court of misleading him and his colleagues about the status of their proceedings.

Cardin said that Graham “understands” that he’d like to work with the Biden administration privately in order to “find some common ground” on a path forward. 

Some pro-Israel House Democrats said they’re also interested in potential sanctions.

Rep. Greg Landsman (D-OH) said he would support sanctions, explaining, “what the prosecutor did is absurd and will undermine the credibility of the ICC.” But he urged Republicans to work on the issue in a substantive manner and look for a Democratic co-sponsor, instead of pushing a bill with little chance of becoming law.

Landsman said he found Blinken’s comments “very encouraging” and that the White House and House Democrats are “sending the right signals. It’s a question of whether or not the speaker says to his members, ‘Make this bipartisan.’”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) said he needs to see exactly what the sanctions would involve, but “those who have dramatically undermined the efforts for peace in the Middle East” — referring to leaders of the ICC involved in seeking the warrants — ”should not be eligible to get visas to visit our country.”

Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC) said that “to compare Netanyahu and Gallant to Hamas is absolutely absurd” but that she’d have to examine a specific sanctions proposal. (The ICC sought arrest warrants for Hamas leaders as well.) She expressed some hesitance about imposing sanctions for the warrant request before the warrants are approved.

The proposal to sanction the ICC is also facing some resistance among liberals on the Hill.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said he was “pretty blown away by the equivalence argument suggested” in the ICC’s announcement, which he said “misses the mark.” But he was dismissive of the notion of sanctions, saying, “I don’t even know what that means” to sanction the ICC.

The ICC was subject to sanctions under the Trump administration.

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