UNITED STATES NEWS

House passes proposal sanctioning top war-crimes court after it sought Netanyahu arrest warrant

Jun 4, 2024, 7:00 PM

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, front, attends a wreath-laying ceremony marking Holocaus...

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, front, attends a wreath-laying ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, in Jerusalem, Israel, on May 6, 2024. (Amir Cohen/Pool Photo via AP, File)

(Amir Cohen/Pool Photo via AP, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House passed legislation Tuesday that would sanction the International Criminal Court for requesting arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials.

The 247-155 vote amounts to Congress’ first legislative rebuke of 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 with Hamas intensified.

While the House bill was expected to pass Tuesday, it managed to attract only modest Democratic support, despite an outpouring of outrage at the court’s decision, 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 in question 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 Rep. 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 U.S. 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 numerous atrocities that have been perpetrated in many places around the world, from Ukraine to Uganda,” said Rep. 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 the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that ignited the war. Republicans have held several votes related to Israel in recent months, highlighting divisions among Democrats over support for the U.S. 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, ICC’s prosecutor, Karim 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.

Israel is not a member of the court, so even if the arrest warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution. But the threat of arrest could make it difficult for Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

“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.”

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House passes proposal sanctioning top war-crimes court after it sought Netanyahu arrest warrant