Herzog: Move will 'embolden terrorists around the world'

Outcry in Israel as ICC prosecutor seeks warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant

Foreign Ministry to establish command center to counter move; Gantz says decision a ‘deep distortion of justice’; ex-PM Bennett calls on countries to cut their funding of court

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF chief Herzi Halevi, October 23, 2023. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF chief Herzi Halevi, October 23, 2023. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Israeli officials and politicians across the board reacted with anger and outrage on Monday after the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor announced that he was seeking arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant over the war in Gaza, along with three Hamas leaders.

Coalition and opposition lawmakers alike condemned the implicit comparison between Israeli leaders and Hamas terrorists, with several right-wing figures decrying the decision as antisemitic, and others on the left blaming Netanyahu for the situation. The prosecutor, Karim Khan, said he was also applying for arrest warrants against Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s ruler in Gaza; the terror group’s military chief, Mohammed Deif; and the leader of the organization, Ismail Haniyeh.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz issued a statement calling the sought-for ICC warrants an “unrestrained direct attack” on the victims of Hamas’s October 7 onslaught and the hostages still being held in Gaza.

“At the same time that the murderers and rapists of Hamas are committing crimes against humanity against our brothers and sisters, the chief prosecutor [of the ICC] mentions in the same breath the prime minister and defense minister of Israel alongside the abominable Nazi monsters of Hamas — a historic disgrace that will be remembered forever by history,” added Katz.

Katz said he immediately instructed the Foreign Ministry to open a specialized “command center” in order to “fight back against the decision, which was intended first and foremost to tie the hands of the State of Israel and deny it the right of self-defense.”

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel that Khan’s “baseless blood libel against Israel has crossed a red line in his lawfare efforts against the lone Jewish state and the only democracy in the Middle East.”

“The blood libel will not deter Israel from defending itself and accomplishing all its just war objectives,” the official said.

President Isaac Herzog said the court’s move was “beyond outrageous,” adding that it “shows the extent to which the international judicial system is in danger of collapsing.”

President Isaac Herzog at a Memorial Day ceremony in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 12, 2024. (Maayan Toaf/GPO)

“Taken in bad faith, this one-sided move represents a unilateral political step that emboldens terrorists around the world,” said Herzog in a statement, “and violates all the basic rules of the court according to the principle of complementarity and other legal norms.”

He called any attempts to draw parallels between Hamas leaders and Israel’s democratically elected government “outrageous.”

“We will not forget who started this war, and who raped, butchered, burned, brutalized, and kidnapped innocent citizens and families,” he pledged, adding that he expects “all leaders in the free world to condemn outright this step and firmly reject it.”

War cabinet Minister Benny Gantz — a former defense minister and former IDF chief — slammed the decision, declaring that the IDF is complying with international law in its fighting in Gaza and calling the decision “a crime of historic proportions.”

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz attends a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“The State of Israel is waging one of the most just wars fought in modern history following a reprehensible massacre perpetrated by terrorist Hamas on the 7th of October,” Gantz said in a statement.

“While Israel fights with one of the strictest moral codes in history, while complying with international law and boasting a robust independent judiciary – drawing parallels between the leaders of a democratic country determined to defend itself from despicable terror to leaders of a bloodthirsty terror organization is a deep distortion of justice and blatant moral bankruptcy,” Gantz said.

“The prosecutor’s position to apply for arrest warrants is in itself a crime of historic proportions to be remembered for generations,” Gantz added.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin said Khan’s move was one of the “biggest moral disgraces in human history.”

The comparison between Israeli leaders and Hamas terrorists, Levin added in a statement, “is a clear expression of modern antisemitism and hatred of Jews. Israel will continue to fight its justified defense war against terror, in the most moral way and according to international law.”

Justice Minister Yariv Levin arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, meanwhile, dismissed the ICC prosecutor’s decision, declaring that Israel will “not accept a comparison to Hamas.”

“It is not possible to issue arrest warrants against Netanyahu, Sinwar and Deif. There is no such comparison, we cannot accept it and it is unforgivable,” he said, calling the decision “a terrible political failure.”

Lapid said he expects the “American administration to condemn the arrest warrants. I believe they will stand behind us.”

Head of opposition MK Yair Lapid leads a meeting of his Yesh Atid party at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 20, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former prime minister Naftali Bennett issued a statement calling on nations to stop funding the ICC and shut the court down entirely.

“The prosecutor’s request is a moment of shame for the ICC and the world community,” said Bennett. “It also provides a huge boost to global Jihadi terror.”

Bennett said that any court that “compares the executor of a deliberate murderous attack that included raping women and burning babies with those who are defending themselves against it, is better off not existing. It’s time for the decent nations to defund the ICC.”

Shas chair Aryeh Deri, an observer in the war cabinet, called Khan’s request for ICC arrest warrants a “despicable display of moral bankruptcy, hypocrisy and antisemitism.”

Far-right ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir both accused the ICC’s chief prosecutor of antisemitism.

“We have not seen such a show of hypocrisy and hatred of Jews like that displayed by the court in the Hague since Nazi propaganda,” said Smotrich. “The Nazis also spoke in the name of ‘morality’ and there was nothing there besides antisemitism.”

File – Far-right leaders Itamar Ben Gvir (2-R) and Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ben Gvir called on Israel to halt its participation in the “antisemitic” international court proceedings in the Hague.

“The prime minister and the defense minister need to ignore the antisemitic prosecutor and order a stepped-up assault against Hamas until they are completely destroyed,” he said.

New Hope party chief Gideon Sa’ar, who sits in the opposition, said the ICC prosecutor’s move was “a clear testament to the moral bankruptcy of international judicial institutions.”

Comparing Netanyahu to the leaders of Hamas is “scandalous,” said Sa’ar in a statement, adding that it seeks “to undermine the most basic right of Israel – the most threatened and attacked country in the world – to defend its people.”

Labor lawmaker Gilad Kariv wrote on X that “anyone who puts Netanyahu and Gallant on the same seat together with Sinwar and Deif will be remembered in the history books as one who destroyed international law and perverted morality.”

Kariv, however, criticized the prime minister as well, saying that his leadership has “led the State of Israel to a diplomatic tsunami that will be very difficult to recover from, and caused serious harm to national security.” Israel, he added, must fight against the potential ICC arrest orders, “but Netanyahu is not the right leader to do so.”

Labor party leader MK Merav Michaeli leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 18, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Outgoing Labor chief Merav Michaeli said, “It is simply a scandal to put the Israeli leadership in the same category as a vile, cruel terrorist organization. This is something we cannot accept under any circumstances.”

But she blamed Netanyahu, under whose leadership, “Israel is deteriorating into a dangerous and severe political nadir like no other,” she said.

“It is dangerous for Israel’s national security, for ensuring the existence of the State of Israel. This is directly related to the refusal to discuss the results of the war in Gaza, in what is known as the day after,” she continued, adding that “every day that Netanyahu is in power… he puts decades of Zionism, security, and building the State of Israel down the drain.”

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