Biden says possible ICC arrest warrants for Israeli leaders are 'outrageous'

Washington unites to condemn ICC for implying moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel

US President Joe Biden. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest on Israel-Gaza

Washington swiftly condemned the International Criminal Court on Monday after its top prosecutor said he would seek arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said he had also requested arrest warrants for three Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes.

US President Joe Biden said the ICC's move was “outrageous” and accused the ICC of equating the actions of Israel in Gaza to those of Hamas, whose assault on October 7 led to the current conflict.

“Let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence – none – between Israel and Hamas. We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security,” Mr Biden said.

Neither the US nor Israel is party to the Rome Statute, which established the court, and both consider themselves to be outside the ICC's jurisdiction.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also criticised the court, raising questions over its process in making this application, and saying that Israel had intended to co-operate with Mr Khan before he made his announcement.

Mr Blinken said the development could jeopardise negotiations to achieve a hostage deal and a ceasefire.

Members of the US Congress also slammed the ICC, with some threatening sanctions.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson called Mr Khan's decision to seek arrest warrants for Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gallant “baseless and illegitimate”, adding that it “should face global condemnation”.

“Congress is reviewing all options, including sanctions, to punish the ICC and ensure its leadership faces consequences if they proceed,” Mr Johnson said in a post on X.

“If the ICC is allowed to threaten Israeli leaders, ours could be next.”

Senator Lindsey Graham called the decision “outrageous” and “a slap in the face” to Israel's independent judiciary.

Mr Graham said he would work “feverishly” with others in Congress to impose sanctions against the ICC.

He said he and other legislators felt “lied to” after Mr Khan had said he would hold consultations with Israel before issuing a decision.

Republicans in Congress had sent a letter to Mr Khan in which they said that any attempt to target Israel with sanctions would result in an end to US support for the court and sanctions against him, his employees and associates.

Senator Tom Cotton, a signatory to the letter, said that “Mr Khan’s kangaroo court has no jurisdiction in Israel to pursue these anti-Semitic and politically motivated ‘charges’.

“My colleagues and I look forward to making sure neither Khan, his associates, nor their families will ever set foot again in the United States.”

Senator Jim Risch called the ICC's decision “absurd”.

“The ICC, like the rest of the international community, continues to be obsessed with targeting Israel during its time of need,” Mr Risch said in a statement.

“The fact that the court applied for warrants for Hamas and Israeli officials at the same time provides a false moral equivalency between their actions.”

The strong reaction to the ICC prosecutor's decision to take action against the Israeli leaders is markedly different from the reactions of many in Washington after the court's decision to issue a warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March last year.

In that case, the US worked with the ICC to bring charges related to the abduction of Ukrainian children.

Mr Graham said at the time that the court's decision was “a giant step in the right direction for the international community”, and “more than justified by the evidence”.

“I hope the international community will continue to support the ICC in their endeavours to hold Putin accountable for the brutal invasion of Ukraine,” he said in a statement.

The US issued sanctions against Mr Khan's predecessor Fatou Bensouda and other officials in 2020, after she announced an investigation into possible war crimes committed by American forces in Afghanistan.

Updated: May 21, 2024, 8:42 AM