Netanyahu: ‘Absurd’ ICC bid to arrest Israeli leaders is ‘the new antisemitism’

PM greets with ‘disgust’ comparison between Hamas and IDF; Khan’s statement took Israel by surprise, as it had been working with the ICC to schedule visit by top prosecutor

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a video address on May 20, 2024. (Screenshot/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a video address on May 20, 2024. (Screenshot/GPO)

In his first public comments on the arrest warrant sought against him by the International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday evening that the “absurd and false warrant by the prosecutor in The Hague is directed not only against the prime minister of Israel and the defense minister but against the entire State of Israel.”

“It is directed against the IDF soldiers, who are fighting with supreme heroism against the vile Hamas murderers,” he said in a video statement.

Chief prosecutor Karim Khan did not in fact issue a warrant but, rather, announced his intention earlier Monday to seek arrest warrants from the court for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, alongside Hamas’s three top leaders — Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif, and Ismail Haniyeh. It will be up to the court’s pre-trial judges to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to issue warrants.

“With what chutzpah do you dare compare the monsters of Hamas to the soldiers of the IDF, the most moral army in the world?” Netanyahu asked. “With what audacity do you compare between the Hamas that murdered, burned, butchered, raped and kidnapped our brothers and sisters, and the IDF soldiers who are fighting a just war that is unparalleled, with a morality that is unmatched?”

Netanyahu said he rejected “with disgust” Khan’s ostensible comparison, and said it is an example of “the new antisemitism” that has moved from college campuses to The Hague. The premier promised the Israeli public that the ICC would not prevent Israel from toppling Hamas and achieving “total victory.”

Asked whether the US also views Khan’s decision to be antisemitic, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller responded later Monday that this is not a conclusion that the Biden administration has reached.

Israel had been in touch with the ICC chief prosecutor’s office in recent weeks, The Times of Israel learned on Monday, and Israeli officials were expecting to host ICC officials starting Monday evening for a preliminary visit to plan an official visit by Khan. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken referenced Khan’s imminent visit in his statement Monday, saying its cancellation undermined the legitimacy and credibility of Khan’s investigation.

Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Karim Khan visits a Gaza border town attacked by Hamas, on December 3, 2023. (Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum)

Israel was ready to spend time with Khan 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. Instead it was taken by surprise by Khan’s announcement on Monday.

Khan made an unofficial visit to Israel after October 7 to meet with the families of hostages and tour some of the hardest-hit border communities.

The fact that Khan made the announcement in front of cameras further frustrated Israeli officials, as it indicated to them that he was chasing headlines.

For now, the Foreign Ministry is involved in a diplomatic blitz to ask other countries to publicly decry Khan’s decision. The ministry is convinced that other countries will issue statements similar to those that have already come from the US, Czechia, Austria, and the UK.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz is slated to fly to Paris on Tuesday to meet his French counterpart, Stéphane Séjourné; National Assembly President Yaël Braun-Pivet; Senate President Gérard Larcher; and Jewish leaders.

Katz said in a statement that he will discuss the ICC prosecutor’s decision to pursue arrest warrants against Israeli leaders, the fighting in Rafah, French attempts to broker a ceasefire in Lebanon, sanctions against Iran, and antisemitism in France.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz in Jerusalem, February 19, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Israeli politicians from across the spectrum condemned the ICC announcement on Monday, and 106 members of the Knesset signed on to a declaration against Khan’s decision to seek such arrest warrants.

The declaration averred that Israel is fighting a “just war against a criminal terror organization,” within the bounds of international law, and the “outrageous comparison” between Israeli leaders and Hamas chiefs “is an indelible historical crime and a clear expression of antisemitism.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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