US votes to sanction ICC over Israel

Lawmakers want to “punish” the court for the Gaza war crimes probe

The US House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to punish the International Criminal Court for even thinking of charging Israeli leaders with war crimes in Gaza.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan has sought arrest warrants for Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as three top leaders of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. While the court has not yet approved the request, American lawmakers have moved to make sure it doesn’t.

“The idea that they would issue an arrest warrant for the prime minister of Israel, defense minister of Israel at the time where they’re fighting for their nation’s very existence against the evil of Hamas as a proxy of Iran is unconscionable to us,” Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, said on Tuesday. “And as I said a couple of weeks ago, the ICC has to be punished for this action.”

The proposal passed with 247 votes in favor and 155 opposed. Every Republican and 42 pro-Israel Democrats voted yes. The rest of President Joe Biden’s party voted no, however, because they were opposed to the sanctions that were at the heart of the Republican proposal.

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Sponsored by Texas Republican Chip Roy, the bill would see the US impose travel and financial sanctions against ICC officials, giving the US president unilateral authority to end them if the court stops investigating Americans or their allies, or “permanently ends” investigations into protected individuals.

Some Democrats warned that the sanctions could impact some of Washington’s allies which – unlike the US – have ratified the Rome Statute and accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction.

“It would sanction the leaders of some of our strongest allies: the UK, Italy, Germany, Japan. That’s dangerous stuff,” said Congressman Gregory Meeks, the New York Democrat who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “It’s so broad that it becomes very dangerous for us.”

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Supporters of the bill from both parties have said that passing it would “send an important message” to the world that the US stands with Israel. It is unlikely to become law without Biden’s approval and support from Democrats in the Senate, however.

US outrage over the mere possibility the ICC could charge the Israeli leadership has drawn accusations of hypocrisy, as Washington cheered the court last year when it went after Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There is Roman law, there is common law. And there is American law – decadent arthouse, transitioning into liberal postmodern bipolarity,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Telegram, commenting on the House vote.

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