Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the International Criminal Court’s rejection over the weekend of a request to investigate the actions of American soldiers in Afghanistan was good news for Israel, and thanked US President Donald Trump for vowing to defend Israelis investigated by the court.
Speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said the original purpose of the Hague-based court was to try genocides and ethnic violence in states without proper legal systems, unlike democracies such as the US and Israel.
ICC prosecutors have been investigating Israel over its settlement policy in the West Bank as well as the conduct of its forces during the 2014 war against Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
“They are picking on the US and Israel, democracies — which by the way aren’t members of the ICC — but we definitely have the best justice systems in the world. They are exceptional, because there are very few like them,” Netanyahu said, according to a statement from his office.
“To put on trial US or Israeli troops, or the State of Israel and the United States, is absurd. This is the opposite of the original purpose of the International Criminal Court,” he added.
Netanyahu called the ICC decision to not investigate the US a “correction of injustice” and said it would affect how Israel is treated internationally.
“I thank the US, President Trump and the Trump administration for standing firmly with the citizens of Israel and IDF soldiers,” he said. “Like on previous occasions, it has been proven that Israel has no better friend than the United States, and we very much appreciate the support in this field as well.”
On Friday, Trump declared victory after the ICC rejected a request to investigate US personnel for actions in Afghanistan.
“Since the creation of the ICC, the United States has consistently declined to join the court because of its broad, unaccountable prosecutorial powers; the threat it poses to American national sovereignty; and other deficiencies that render it illegitimate,” the White House said in a statement it attributed to Trump.
“Any attempt to target American, Israeli, or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response.”
It was the second time that the Trump administration extended its vow to protect allies from the court, and explicitly to Israelis. Last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said ICC officials who prosecute Americans or Israelis would be denied entry into the US.
The ICC is known to be considering whether to act on a request by the Palestinian Authority to investigate Israeli officials for war crimes. Like the US, Israel is not a member of the court and thus its citizens are susceptible to court action only if they are in countries that belong to the ICC.
The United States has never been a member of the ICC. The Clinton administration in 2000 signed the Rome Statute that created the ICC but had reservations about the scope of the court’s jurisdiction and never submitted it for ratification to the Senate, where there was broad bipartisan opposition to what lawmakers saw as a threat to US sovereignty.
When president George W. Bush took office in 2001, his administration promoted and passed the American Service Members Protection Act, which sought to immunize US troops from potential prosecution by the ICC. In 2002, John Bolton, then a State Department official and now Trump’s national security adviser, traveled to New York to ceremonially “unsign” the Rome Statute at the United Nations.
Since its creation, the court has filed charges against dozens of suspects including former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed by rebels before he could be arrested, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of charges including genocide in Darfur and was ousted last week in a military coup. Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, who was among the first rebels charged by the court in 2005, remains in power. The court has convicted just eight defendants.
The court has been hobbled by refusal of the US, Russia, China and other major nations to join. Others have quit, including Burundi and the Philippines.