Germany says bid creates 'false impression of equivalence'

Biden calls ICC prosecutor’s decision to seek arrest warrant for Netanyahu ‘outrageous’

Blinken says ‘shameful’ move jeopardizes truce talks; GOP senator, House speaker suggest ‘damning sanctions against ICC’; South Africa, Bernie Sanders and Belgium praise Hague

US President Joe Biden (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)
US President Joe Biden (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Israel’s closest allies on Monday criticized the decision of International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan to seek arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant alongside three leaders of the Hamas terrorist organization.

US President Joe Biden called the decision “outrageous.”

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

In his own statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration “fundamentally rejects” Khan’s decision and questioned the legitimacy and credibility of his investigation, noting that the prosecutor had been set to visit Israel shortly to hear its arguments but instead went on TV to announce the charges.

“We reject the prosecutor’s equivalence of Israel with Hamas. It is shameful. Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization that carried out the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and is still holding dozens of innocent people hostage, including Americans,” Blinken said.

The secretary of state reiterated the long-held US stance that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in no small part due to the fact that Israel — and the US — are not members of the court.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) stands with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (L) at the Kerem Shalom border crossing with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on May 1, 2024. (Evelyn Hockstein / POOL / AFP)

“The ICC was established by its state parties as a court of limited jurisdiction. Those limits are rooted in principles of complementarity, which do not appear to have been applied here amid the prosecutor’s rush to seek these arrest warrants rather than allowing the Israeli legal system a full and timely opportunity to proceed,” Blinken said.

“In other situations, the prosecutor deferred to national investigations and worked with states to allow them time to investigate. The prosecutor did not afford the same opportunity to Israel, which has ongoing investigations into allegations against its personnel,” he continued.

“There are also deeply troubling process questions,” Blinken said on Monday. “Despite not being a member of the court, Israel was prepared to cooperate with the prosecutor. In fact, the prosecutor himself was scheduled to visit Israel as early as next week to discuss the investigation and hear from the Israeli government. The prosecutor’s staff was supposed to land in Israel today to coordinate the visit. 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.

“These and other circumstances call into question the legitimacy and credibility of this investigation,” he added. “Fundamentally, this decision 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.”

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan announces that he has requested arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Hanuyeh, May 20, 2024. (Courtesy International Criminal Court)

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the ICC chief prosecutor’s pursuit of arrest warrants against Israeli leaders “emboldens” the leadership of Hamas, which could harm the ongoing efforts to secure a hostage deal.

He said that the court doesn’t have jurisdiction to target Hamas leaders either, arguing that they can instead be held accountable by the IDF on the battlefield or by being brought before an Israeli court.

As for holding Israeli officials accountable for alleged crimes committed during the Gaza war, Miller noted that the IDF has ongoing internal investigations, including criminal ones, into suspected inappropriate conduct by individual soldiers during the war.

Miller called into question the “legitimacy and credibility” of the ICC prosecutor’s case, given his decision to issue an announcement while those investigations are still ongoing.

The ICC is supposed to be a “last resort” if a country isn’t properly holding itself accountable and this does not currently apply to Israel, Miller says, adding that Washington’s issue with the ICC prosecutor’s decision is not just a jurisdictional one but a process one as well.

The State Department spokesperson declined to say whether the US is considering sanctions against the ICC following today’s decision.

On Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that the decision by the ICC prosecutor is unhelpful.

“This action is not helpful in relation to reaching a pause in the fighting, getting hostages out or getting humanitarian aid in,” the spokesperson said.

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaves 10 Downing Street to go to the House of Commons for his weekly Prime Minister’s Questions in London, May 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

The spokesperson said the ICC did not have the jurisdiction to request the arrest warrants: “The UK, as with other countries, does not yet recognize Palestine as a state and Israel is not a state party to the Rome Statute,” which outlines the ICC’s areas of jurisdiction, the spokesperson said.

Asked if the police would arrest Netanyahu if he came to Britain, the spokesperson said he would not comment on what he called “hypotheticals.”

British deputy foreign minister Andrew Mitchell later told parliament that the ICC’s decision would not have an immediate impact on the government’s approval of licenses so companies can sell weapons to Israel.

“The fact that the prosecutor has applied for arrest warrants to be issued does not directly impact, for example, on UK licensing decisions, but we will continue to monitor developments,” Mitchell said.

Germany also said Monday that the prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants for both Israeli and Hamas leaders created a “false impression of equivalence.”

“The simultaneous application for arrest warrants against the Hamas leaders on the one hand and the two Israeli officials on the other has given the false impression of equivalence,” a spokesman for the German foreign ministry said in a statement.

The sentiment was echoed by Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, who told a TV station Monday that is seemed “truly singular, I would say unacceptable, to equate a government legitimately elected by the people in a democracy with a terrorist organization that is the cause of everything that is happening in the Middle East.”

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala called the ICC prosecutor’s decision “appalling and completely unacceptable.”

“We must not forget that it was Hamas that attacked Israel in October and killed, injured and kidnapped thousands of innocent people,” he wrote on X. “It was this completely unprovoked terrorist attack that led to the current war in Gaza and the suffering of civilians in Gaza, Israel and Lebanon.”

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said in a statement that Vienna supports the independence of the ICC, but “the fact, however, that the leader of the terrorist organization Hamas, whose declared goal is the extinction of the State of Israel, is being mentioned at the same time as the democratically elected representatives of that very state is non-comprehensible.”

Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer (right) speaks at the Federal Chancellery while Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban looks on in Vienna, Austria, July 28, 2022. (Alex Halada/AFP)

On the other side of the fence, South Africa welcomed Khan’s announcement.

“The law must be applied equally to all in order to uphold the international rule of law, ensure accountability for those that commit heinous crimes and protect the rights of victims,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office said in a statement.

Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib posted on X that Brussels supports the work of the ICC.

“Crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrators,” she wrote. “The fight against impunity wherever crimes occur is a priority for Belgium.”

Lahbib added that Khan’s request for arrest warrants against both Israeli and Hamas leaders “is an important step in the investigation of the situation in Palestine.”

Also praising the decision was US Senator Bernie Sanders, who said on X that both the Israeli leaders and Hamas heads were “credibly accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

However, many other US lawmakers spoke out in support of Israel and against the ICC prosecutor’s decision, including some Democrats.

House Speaker Mike Johnson said Congress could vote on a bill sanctioning the ICC over the move, Axios reported.

Sen. Jim Risch, the senior Republican on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that “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.”

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham wrote on X that the “outrageous decision is truly a slap in the face to the independent judiciary in Israel, which is renowned for their independence.”

Graham vowed to “feverishly work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in both chambers to levy damning sanctions against the ICC.”

The senator said that he had engaged with the ICC recently and was told that there would be additional meetings and consultations that would take months, but instead the ICC prosecutor announced the request for warrants on Monday: “I feel that I was lied to and that my colleagues were lied to. 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.”

US Senator Lindsey Graham (L) meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the latter’s office in Jerusalem on January 4, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

In a joint statement, Nevada Democratic Senator Jackie Rosen and Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio expressed “outrage” over what they called a “shameful political move by the ICC, which seeks to undermine Israel as it defends itself.”

They called on Biden to “to take swift and forceful action in response to this attack on our democratic ally.”

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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