Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Donald Trump on Thursday for announcing economic sanctions against International Criminal Court workers in response to an investigation of American troops for possible war crimes, likening the probe to those of Israeli soldiers and saying the move again showed the US president was a friend of Israel.
Netanyahu, delivering comments in English at the start of a press conference dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, said the “politicized court” was “obsessed with conducting witch hunts against Israel, the United States and other democracies that respect human rights.”
Calling it “corrupt and biased,” Netanyahu said the court charges that “Jews living in their historic homeland constitutes a war crime.”
Publishing the decision to introduce sanction and travel restrictions against court workers directly involved in investigating American troops and intelligence officials for possible war crimes in Afghanistan, the White House said earlier in the day that the court “targets and threatens United States personnel as well as personnel of our allies and partners.”
The executive order authorized the secretary of state, in consultation with the treasury secretary, to block financial assets within US jurisdiction of court personnel who directly engage in investigating, harassing or detaining US personnel. The order authorizes the secretary of state to block court officials and their family members involved in the investigations from entering the United States.
Several right-wing MKs also praised Trump for the move.
Knesset speaker Yariv Levin of Likud said in response that the decision was “of strategic importance to Israel’s security,” adding that Trump has proved “he is one of the greatest friends Israel has ever had.”
“The court in The Hague is the opposite of a court of justice. It is a body that works with a bias against Israel in an illegitimate way,” Levin said in a statement.
MK Ayelet Shaked of Yamina, a former justice minister, also welcomed the sanctions, writing on Twitter, “The International Criminal Court is being misused by the Palestinians and others to pursue political campaigns against democracies, while distorting international law.”
The International Criminal Court is being misused by the Palestinians and others to pursue political campaigns against democracies, while distorting international law.
— איילת שקד ayelet shaked (@Ayelet__Shaked) June 11, 2020
Fellow Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich said Trump was “a true friend of the State of Israel, standing alongside the State of Israel at every juncture.”
“The International Court of Justice in The Hague is no more than an anti-Israeli political show. Thank you Mr. President,” Smotrich wrote on Twitter.
The ICC is currently considering whether to open a criminal investigation into suspected war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned the court last week of “consequences” if it moves forward with an investigation against Israel.
Angering Israel, the court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced earlier this year that she believes the ICC can try Israel for war crimes, reiterating her position that Palestine is a state for the purposes of transferring criminal jurisdiction over its territory to The Hague.
Israel, which like the US is not a member of the court, argues that Palestine is not a sovereign state and therefore cannot transfer criminal jurisdiction over its territory to the Hague. Netanyahu has repeatedly denounced the ICC and declared thwarting a possible war crimes probe one of his new government’s top priorities.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a Thursday statement that the court continues to pursue politically motivated investigations against the US and its partners, including Israel. Despite repeated calls by the United States and its allies, the ICC has not embraced reform, she added.
“The International Criminal Court’s actions are an attack on the rights of the American people and threaten to infringe upon our national sovereignty,” McEnany said. “The ICC was established to provide accountability for war crimes, but in practice it has been an unaccountable and ineffective international bureaucracy that targets and threatens United States personnel as well as personnel of our allies and partners.”
The Hague-based court was created in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in areas where perpetrators might not otherwise face justice. It has 123 state parties that recognize its jurisdiction.
The United States has never been a member of the International Criminal Court. Administrations of both parties have been concerned about the potential for political prosecutions of American troops and officials for alleged war crimes and other atrocities. The US has extracted pledges from most of the court’s members that they will not seek such prosecutions and risk losing US military and other assistance.
However, ICC prosecutors have shown a willingness to press ahead with investigations into US service members and earlier this year launched one that drew swift US condemnation.
Agencies contributed to this report.