US House passes bill to sanction ICC for seeking Israel arrests warrants

42 Democrats vote with all House Republicans in favor of GOP legislation; approval less likely in Democrat-controlled Senate, amid White House opposition to sanctioning court

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. (oliver de la haye/iStock)
The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. (oliver de la haye/iStock)

Lawmakers in the US House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday to sanction the International Criminal Court for requesting arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

The vote passed 247 to 155, with all 205 voting Republicans backing the measure alongside 42 Democrats.

The vote amounted to Congress’ first legislative rebuke to the war crimes court since its stunning decision last month to seek arrest warrants for the leaders of Israel and Hamas. The move was widely denounced in Washington, creating a rare moment of unity on Israel even as partisan divisions over the war started by Hamas’s October 7 attack intensified.

The House bill would apply sweeping economic sanctions and visa restrictions to individuals and judges associated with the ICC, including their family members.

Despite the strong support in the House, the measure is expected to face a tougher time in the Democrat-led Senate.

The White House opposes the legislation, calling it overreach, and Democratic lawmakers have labeled the approach as “overly broad,” warning it could ensnare Americans and US companies that do important work with the court. It would also hamper steps taken by the tribunal that the US has supported, such as an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

An illustrative photo of lawmakers on the House floor at the US Capitol in Washington, January 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Both the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee have acknowledged the bill is unlikely to become law and left the door open to further negotiation with the White House. They said it would be better for Congress to be united against The Hague-based court.

“We’re always strongest, particularly on this committee, when we speak with one voice as one nation, in this case to the ICC and to the judges,” GOP Representative Mike McCaul of Texas, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said during House debate. “A partisan messaging bill was not my intention here, but that is where we are.”

The initial responses from the Biden administration to ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan’s pursuit of arrest warrants indicated that it might be prepared to back sanctions against him. The Republican legislation had already been circulated in the House and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the administration would work with Congress to advance a “bipartisan response” to The Hague effort.

Washington blasted the equivalency the court drew between the Israeli and Hamas leaders, said the ICC had no authority to weigh in on the matter since Israel is not a member, has its own credible legal systems to adjudicate such charges and was in the process of cooperating with Khan when he cut off contact and rushed to announce his decision.

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan (center) announces that he has requested arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Hanuyeh, May 20, 2024. (Courtesy International Criminal Court)

But last week, the White House came out against the Republican legislation.

“We don’t believe that sanctioning the ICC is the answer,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said during a press briefing.

Netanyahu fumed at the decision, saying he was “surprised and disappointed” by what he considered a flip-flop by the US.

Biden at the beginning of his term removed the sanctions imposed by his predecessor Donald Trump against senior members of the ICC.

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