US House passes ICC sanctions bill over Netanyahu arrest warrant request | House of Representatives

The House passed legislation on Tuesday that would sanction the international criminal court after its chief prosecutor requested arrest warrants for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials.

The 247-155 vote amounts to Congress’s first legislative rebuke of the war-crimes court since prosecutor Karim Khan’s 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 with Hamas intensified.

While the House bill was expected to pass Tuesday, it was not likely to attract significant Democratic support, dulling its chances in the Senate. The White House opposes the legislation, calling it overreach.

Both the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House foreign affairs committee 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, 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.”

State department spokesperson Matt Miller reiterated the administration’s opposition to the sanctions bill.

“We have made clear that while we oppose the decision taken by the prosecutor of the ICC, we don’t think it is appropriate, especially while there are ongoing investigations inside Israel looking at somebody’s very same questions, and we were willing to work with Congress on what a response might look like, but we don’t support sanctions,” Miller said.

The House bill would apply sweeping economic sanctions and visa restrictions to individuals and judges associated with the ICC, including their family members. Democrats labeled the approach as “overly broad”, warning it could ensnare Americans and US companies that do important work with the court.

“This bill would have a chilling effect on the ICC as an institution, which could hamper the court’s efforts to prosecute the dubious atrocities that have been perpetrated in many places around the world, from Ukraine to Uganda,” said representative Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the foreign affairs committee.

The legislation reprimanding the ICC was just the latest show of support from House Republicans for Israel since Hamas killed around 1,200 people in an attack on Israel on 7 October 2023 and abducted at least an additional 250 people. Republicans have held several votes related to Israel in recent months, highlighting divisions among Democrats over support for the US ally.

Congressional leaders have invited Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress this summer, which is likely to further inflame tensions over Israel’s handling of the war. Many Democrats are expected to boycott the speech.

Both the ICC and the United Nations’ highest court, the International Court of Justice, have begun to investigate allegations that both Israel and Hamas have committed genocide during the seven-month war.

Last month, prosecutor Khan accused Netanyahu; his defense minister, Yoav Gallant; and three Hamas leaders, Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders condemned the ICC’s move as disgraceful and antisemitic. President Joe Biden and members of Congress also lambasted the prosecutor and supported Israel’s right to defend itself.

“Failing to act here in the Congress would make us complicit with the ICC’s illegitimate actions and we must not stay silent,” McCaul said. “We must stand with our allies.”

Last week, an investigation by the Guardian, the Israeli-Palestinian publication +972 Magazine and the Hebrew-language outlet Local Call revealed a covert Israeli campaign to derail the ICC’s inquiry into war crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The investigation detailed how, for close to a decade, Israel deployed its intelligence agencies to surveil and pressure senior ICC staff in an effort to thwart the court’s work, going so far as to deploy the head of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, to allegedly threaten the court’s former chief prosecutor.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *