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ICC warrants against Israeli officials: Is the US displaying hypocrisy?

While the US authorities have been vehemently condemning a prosecutor's request for ICC warrants against Israeli officials for war crimes in Gaza, they had welcomed one such warrant a year ago with much fanfare.

Us President Joe Biden exhibits hypocrisy, critics allege, while condemning the proposed ICC warrants against Israeli officials

President Joe Biden has said that the US will continue to support Israel.

The US has sharply reacted after International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan announced on May 20th that he has been seeking ICC arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defence Minister Yoav Gallant along with three leaders of the Palestinian resistance group Hamas, holding them responsible for the ongoing conflict in Gaza. 

US President Joe Biden has sharply criticised Khan’s move to issue ICC warrants against Israeli officials and has extended unconditional support to Israel. He criticised Mr Khan’s bid to equate Israel and Hamas saying “…there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas. We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security”.

Mr Biden denies that Mr Netanyahu’s government is involved in an act of ‘genocide’ in Gaza. Mr Biden’s stand has been supported by a horde of American politicians from the often-warring Democrat and Republican camps.

However, critics have highlighted that Mr Biden’s government has exhibited hypocrisy by strongly opposing the prosecutor’s step to have ICC arrest warrants against Israeli authorities. They have cited how the US conveniently supported such a warrant issued through Mr Khan’s endeavours against another head of a sovereign state in 2023.

The US’s stand on ICC warrants against Israeli officials

At the White House, the president clearly stated that Mr Khan’s application for ICC warrants against Israeli officials, including Mr Netanyahu, is “outrageous” and “shameful”. 

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated Mr Biden’s stance. He stated, “We reject the prosecutor’s equivalence of Israel with Hamas.”

Mr Blinken, calling the prosecutor’s move “profoundly wrong-headed,” said he would work with the Congress on sanctions against the ICC.

Not just Mr Biden and Mr Blinken, even most of the Republicans have been lambasting the ICC’s warrants against Israeli officials. The Republicans have taken control of the House of Representatives—the US Congress—in January 2023 and still enjoy a thin majority. 

House Speaker Mike Johnson said that the Congress is reviewing “all our options right now” against the ICC.

Republican Lindsey Graham suggested that the US should put sanctions on the ICC “not only for the outrage against Israel but to protect their “own interest in the future”. 

Some Republicans took an even harder stand on the ICC warrant issue. 

Senator Tom Cotton wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that he would “make sure neither Khan, his associates nor their families will ever set foot again in the United States”.

House Republican Conference Leader Elise Stefanik (NY) and Chip Roy (Republican-Texas) introduced a bill that proposes sanctions and revokes the visas of individuals involved in the ICC investigation or prosecution of American allies.

It’s noteworthy that neither the US nor Israel are signatories to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, and both countries do not acknowledge the court’s jurisdiction.

In contrast, Palestine, which holds the status of a non-member observer state at the United Nations, accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction in 2015. This acceptance grants the court the authority to investigate crimes committed within the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israeli reaction to the prosecutor’s request for ICC warrants

Like the US politicians, most of the Israeli politicians and far-right activists have joined a chorus on social media to condemn Mr Khan’s pursuit. They have been labelling any criticism of Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civilians as ‘anti-Semitist’.

Mr Netanyahu rejected “with disgust” the decision dictating the demand as a “new form of anti-Semitism.” 

President Isaac Herzog called the move “scandalous” and “anti-Israel”, in his X post. He also slammed the “attempt to draw parallel lines” between Hamas and Israel by the prosecutor.

Mr Gallant stated clearly that Israel doesn’t recognise the ICC’s authority.

Allegations of US hypocrisy over ICC warrants against Israeli officials

Surprisingly, in 2023, Mr Biden and the politicians from both camps of the US Congress, who are now bitterly opposing Mr Khan’s pursuit for ICC warrants against Israeli officials, were lauding the same prosecutor and the court that Washington DC doesn’t recognise.

In March 2023, Mr Khan pushed a case against Russian President Vladimir Putin in the ICC and had a warrant issued against him, accusing him of war crimes.

Russia also doesn’t recognise the ICC.

At that time, Mr Biden praised the ICC’s move to issue an arrest warrant against the Russian president calling it “a very strong position”. He told the reporters in the White House that the arrest warrant for Mr Putin for the war crimes was “clearly justified.”

“He has clearly committed war crimes,” Mr Biden said then, accusing Mr Putin against whom no strong evidence was produced by Mr Khan. 

Mr Graham, who proposes a sanction on the ICC, had lauded the ICC’s warrant against Mr Putin.

“The decision by the ICC to issue an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin is a giant step in the right direction for the international community.  It is more than justified by the evidence,” Mr Graham had said in March 2023.

Mr Graham denies that Israel is committing any war crime even though the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Actions (UNOCHA) has recorded that Tel Aviv has killed over 35,800 Palestinians in Gaza since October 7th.

Among those killed by Israel, 7,797 or 32% are children and 4,959 or 20% are women. Also, 1,924 or 8% of the victims are elderly.

At the same time, Israel’s attacks have wounded over 80,200 people until May 24th and internally displaced 1.7m people within the entrapped strip. Over 1.1m people are living at a ‘catastrophic level’ due to lack of food and humanitarian aid, the UNOCHA alleged. 

Not only did the Israeli forces kill Palestinians, but they also attacked and killed the UN relief and rescue workers, destroyed hospitals, killed healthcare workers and destroyed educational institutions and relief camps. 

Moreover, Israel has been carrying out attacks on neighbouring Lebanon and Syria by violating international law with sheer impunity.

So far the US has been ignoring these gross violations of human rights and has been promoting the Israeli cause on all international platforms. The US has passed a bill to provide Israel with $26bn-worth aid, mostly military.

Even though there was no such concrete evidence to prove that Mr Putin’s government had committed war crimes in Ukraine, Washington DC didn’t take much time to condemn him.

The US’s decision to support the ICC’s investigations into the alleged abuses by Russian forces in Ukraine was welcomed by the Democrats and Republicans alike.

In July 2023, Mr Graham, along with Dick Durbin, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Democratic chair lauded Mr Biden’s decision to cooperate with the same international tribunal that Washington DC doesn’t recognise officially.

“After pressing the Administration for months, we are pleased that the Administration is finally supporting the ICC’s investigation.  We will continue to work in the Senate to ensure those responsible for atrocities are held accountable, including by working to close the gap in U.S. law for crimes against humanity (sic),” Mr Graham and Mr Durbin had said in a statement.

In May 2023, Russia sanctioned Mr Graham for his statements on the Ukraine conflict.

It’s noteworthy that Israelis had sensed that after Mr Putin, there could be ICC warrants against top Israeli officials, including Mr Netanyahu. Eliav Lieblich, a professor at Tel Aviv University of Law, opined last year that the ICC could come after Mr Netanyahu.

In April 2024, Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, highlighted the “intellectually absurd” position of the US in a telegram post. 

She pointed out that “Washington fully supported, if not stimulated the issuance of ICC warrants” against Mr Putin, but “the American political system does not recognise the legitimacy of this structure in relation to itself and its satellites.”

It appears that the American officials’ diametrically opposite stances over the ICC warrants against Israeli officials and the warrant against Mr Putin are driven largely by Washington DC’s geopolitical interests and not by its commitment to ‘human rights’.

A journalism student interested in national and international news. She aspires to highlight the concerns of the people through her writing.

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