Mexican judge recuses herself; French judge to step in

ICC prosecutor says no evidence Israeli courts genuinely probing alleged crimes in Gaza

Karim Khan’s office says dialogue will continue with Israel as case moves forward, despite canceled visit to the region; White House to work with Congress on bipartisan response

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan looks on during an interview with AFP at the Cour d'Honneur of the Palais Royal in Paris on February 7, 2024. (Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)
International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan looks on during an interview with AFP at the Cour d'Honneur of the Palais Royal in Paris on February 7, 2024. (Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)

The office of International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan said Tuesday he had recommended issuing arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant because he had not seen compelling evidence that Israeli courts were probing alleged violations of international law in Gaza.

Khan’s office was responding to a question by Israel’s Channel 12 news as to why he had taken the step of seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Gallant for charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza.

“Despite significant efforts by the prosecutor’s office, he did not receive information from Israel that proves genuine legal processes are taking place to check or investigate the stated crimes,” his office said.

According to the ICC’s charter, and the principle of complementarity, the court cannot hold trials for nationals of countries that have independent judiciaries that are able and willing to conduct investigations and legal proceedings into the purported crimes the court is concerned with.

Speaking to the Kan public broadcaster on Tuesday, an unnamed ICC official expressed similar skepticism about the Israeli court system’s abilities and activities, highlighting an absence of “real action at the local level to address the crimes which were allegedly committed, over which the judges were asked to issue a warrant.”

Israel had been in touch with the ICC chief prosecutor’s office in recent weeks, The Times of Israel learned on Monday, and had been ready to spend time with Khan — who had been expected to make an official visit — in order to show the prosecutor how its decisions are made, where legal experts fit into the decision-making process, how strikes are approved in the IDF, what Israel is doing around humanitarian aid, and more.

In light of Khan’s canceled trip, Netanyahu accused the chief prosecutor of being misinformed about Israel’s humanitarian efforts in the Gaza Strip, where it has been waging war with Hamas after the October 7 massacre carried out by the terror group in southern Israel.

“The whole thing of a deliberate starvation policy is ridiculous. It’s put forward by a guy who doesn’t check his facts,” Netanyahu told MSNBC in an interview on Tuesday. “He’s receiving it from the UNRWA and other anti-Israeli agencies and from Palestinian sources.”

Khan is a “rogue prosecutor who’s out to demonize the one and only Jewish state,” Netanyahu alleged.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant attend a press conference at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, October 28, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

Regarding his decision to cancel his scheduled trip to Israel ahead of his announcement, Khan’s office told Channel 12 that he is willing to continue negotiating and holding talks with Israel even as the process to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to issue warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant moves forward.

The decision will be made by the court’s panel of three pre-trial judges.

Judge steps down

On Tuesday, one of the three judges originally assigned to the panel was reported to have recused herself due to a conflict of interest.

According to the report, Maria del Socorro Flores Liera of Mexico declined to take part in the hearings as her husband, a senior Mexican diplomat, has taken part in formulating accusations against Israel. Instead, she will be replaced by French judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, who will join Iulia Motoc of Romania and Reine Alapini-Gansou of Benin.

The decision to appoint a French judge to the pre-trial panel has left Israel wary, Channel 12 reported, after France failed to condemn the announcement by Khan.

Unlike many of Israel’s Western allies, which rushed to condemn the apparent equation between Israel’s democratically elected officials and the Palestinian terror group’s leadership — as Khan also requested arrest warrants for Hamas’s senior leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — France said on Monday night that it “supports the International Criminal Court, its independence and the fight against impunity in every situation.”

“As far as Israel is concerned, it will be up to the court’s pre-trial chamber to decide whether to issue these warrants, after examining the evidence put forward by the prosecutor,” it added.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz speaks at an event in Paris on May 21, 2024 (Israeli Embassy in France)

French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné later clarified the country’s stance, saying in Parliament on Tuesday that “these simultaneous requests for arrest warrants should not create an equivalence between Hamas and Israel.”

Following Séjourné’s statement, Foreign Minister Israel Katz asked him at an event in Paris marking 75 years of relations between Israel and France to “announce loud and clear that the decision of the chief prosecutor is unacceptable to you and the French government — regardless of the authority of the court.”

“This is what our friends around the world did, and this is what I expect from our friend, the French government,” Katz added.

US senators pledge action against ICC

The US, for its part, continued to roundly condemn the ICC prosecutor’s move against Israel’s leaders after President Joe Biden called the decision “outrageous” on Monday and pledged to “always stand with Israel against threats to its security.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned during congressional testimony on Tuesday that Khan’s arrest bid for Israeli leaders could set back efforts to reach a ceasefire deal in Gaza.

Lamenting that previous “extensive effort” had failed to secure a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in return for the release of the Hamas-held hostages, Blinken said that the US believes “there’s still a possibility” to procure a deal.

“But it’s challenged by a number of events and I have to say, yes the extremely wrongheaded decision by the ICC prosecutor yesterday — the shameful equivalence implied between Hamas and the leadership of Israel — I think that only complicates the prospects for getting such an agreement,” he said.

Blinken added that US President Joe Biden’s administration would be prepared to work with Congress “on a bipartisan basis to find an appropriate response” to the ICC effort against Israel.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs to examine proposed budget estimates and justification for fiscal year 2025 for the Department of State, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on May 21, 2024. (Jim Watson / AFP)

To that end, a bipartisan group of US senators has pledged to take action against the ICC in defense of Israel, saying in a statement that it 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.”

The statement was issued by Democrats Ben Cardin (Foreign Relations Committee chair), Richard Blumenthal, Jeanne Shaheen and John Fetterman along with Republicans Lindsey Graham, Jim Risch, Katie Britt and John Thune.

At the same time, House Republicans are working to pass legislation that would sanction ICC officials involved in the targeting of Israel. While it is likely to pass in the House, such legislation would face a more difficult path in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Acknowledging the US’s swift defense of Israel in the wake of Khan’s announcement, Gallant thanked the Biden administration and “bipartisan members of the Senate and House, for supporting Israel and for calling out the ICC’s outrageous and shameful political stunt.”

“Standing with Israel is standing for freedom – and against terrorism and tyranny,” the defense minister wrote on X.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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