Politics

Biden Blasts ICC: ‘No Equivalence Between Israel and Hamas!’ – What You Need to Know

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The Biden administration vehemently condemned the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to pursue arrest warrants for key Israeli officials and Hamas leaders, arguing that this equates a recognized state with a terrorist group. On Monday, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan revealed to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that the court is seeking warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, accusing them of war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the October 7 attack on Israel and the ensuing conflict that has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians.

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Khan’s list of targets also includes Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, along with top Hamas leaders. This announcement prompted President Biden to call the ICC’s actions “outrageous.” In a strong statement, Biden emphasized, “There is no equivalence—none—between Israel and Hamas.” During a White House event celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month, he reiterated that Israel’s actions do not amount to genocide and stressed its efforts to protect civilians.

This controversy presented Biden, a staunch supporter of Israel, with an opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to the US’s key ally. However, it also highlighted ongoing tensions. Biden recently conditioned US aid to Israel on the latter’s handling of its planned invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza, urging Prime Minister Netanyahu to consider non-military options.

The ICC’s move is unprecedented; it marks the first time the court has sought an arrest warrant for a leader of a close US ally. Netanyahu now finds himself in a group that includes Russian President Vladimir Putin and the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, both targets of previous ICC warrants.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF chief Herzi Halevi, October 23, 2023. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

The Diplomatic Ripple Effect

ICC prosecutor Khan defended the court’s decision, stating, “Nobody is above the law.” The US and Israel, neither of which are ICC members, face complex diplomatic challenges. An arrest warrant could significantly restrict travel for Netanyahu and Gallant, potentially leading to extradition efforts in any of the 124 countries party to the ICC.

The ICC’s decision has been met with criticism from the US and its allies. Britain called the efforts “not helpful” for achieving a ceasefire. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken argued that the court’s announcement could undermine peace and hostage release negotiations.

Questions about the ICC’s jurisdiction were also raised by Biden administration officials. House Speaker Mike Johnson labeled the ICC’s efforts as “baseless and illegitimate,” hinting at potential sanctions against the court. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby noted that the administration is in close contact with Congress but has not yet committed to supporting any sanctions.

Notably, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who frequently opposes Biden on Israel, supported the ICC’s actions. Sanders, a prominent Jewish politician, argued that it is crucial for the global community to uphold international law.


Democratic Divide

Despite Biden’s and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s strong condemnation, some senior Senate Democrats refrained from taking a clear stance, indicating a growing divide within the party over Israel’s war conduct. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, for instance, stated her lack of support for both Netanyahu and Hamas, suggesting a need for new leadership on both sides.

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In contrast, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio aligned with Biden, rejecting any moral equivalence between Israel’s democratic government and Hamas. The ICC’s efforts put the US in a tricky situation, as it supports the court’s investigation into Russian war crimes in Ukraine. Kirby reaffirmed the US’s backing for these efforts, emphasizing the stark difference between Russian actions and Israel’s military operations, while also urging Israel to exercise greater precision and care in Gaza.

The ICC’s controversial decision underscores the complex geopolitics at play and the fraught nature of international justice when it intersects with global alliances and conflicts.

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