Biden condemns ICC bid to arrest Israeli leaders, sparking global outcry

A panel of ICC judges will determine whether to issue arrest warrants for any of the suspects. President Biden criticized the ICC’s actions as “outrageous.”

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Human rights defenders around the world have accused U.S. President Joe Biden of double standards following his condemnation of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to seek arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes committed during the October 7 attacks and subsequent conflict in Gaza.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, announced that the court has formally applied for arrest warrants targeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for alleged “crimes of causing extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, including the denial of humanitarian relief supplies, [and] deliberately targeting civilians in conflict.” Additionally, charges against Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh, and Mohammed Deif include “extermination, murder, taking of hostages, rape, and sexual assault in detention.”

A panel of ICC judges will determine whether to issue arrest warrants for any of the suspects. President Biden criticized the ICC’s actions as “outrageous,” stating, “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.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed these sentiments, condemning the ICC’s “shameful… equivalence of Israel with Hamas.”

Critics quickly denounced Biden’s response. Mark Kersten, an assistant professor of international law at the University of the Fraser Valley, remarked, “What’s outrageous is Biden’s utter disregard for victims of war crimes. But let’s be clear: Biden will feel he must attack the ICC because it directly implicates his own decision-making to repeatedly defend atrocities and their authors.” Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now, argued that “there’s certainly no quantitative equivalence between Hamas and Israeli officials in terms of the sheer number of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including humans murdered, homes demolished, hospitals bombarded, journalists executed, aid workers snuffed, land stolen, children starved, men tortured… I could go on and on.”

Furthermore, Whitson pointed out that “‘equivalence’ between two actors has zero bearing on who should be arrested and prosecuted. The ICC has prosecuted individuals for a single offense irrespective of how it compares to other crimes committed by other actors at the same time.”

The controversy has also drawn criticism from international figures. Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who heads the leftist Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, stated on social media, “Biden just declared the International Criminal Court null and void because it dared pursue Israel’s war crimes which Biden is actively and enthusiastically enabling. In the tradition of George W. Bush, the U.S. president has declared the U.S. a rogue state.”

According to Israeli officials, 1,139 Israeli soldiers and civilians and foreign nationals were killed during the Hamas-led attacks on October 7, with some victims allegedly killed by so-called “friendly fire.” Israel’s retaliatory war on Gaza, which is the subject of a genocide case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), has resulted in the deaths of at least 35,562 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and nearly 80,000 wounded, according to Palestinian and international officials. Additionally, at least 11,000 Palestinians are missing and presumed dead, buried beneath the rubble of destroyed homes and buildings.

Approximately 2 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been forcibly displaced, with hundreds of thousands facing famine and widespread starvation due to the blockade of aid shipments. Israeli soldiers and settlers have been accused of attacking both humanitarian workers and Palestinians attempting to receive essential supplies. Nearly 1 million Palestinians have fled Rafah as Israeli forces invade and bombard Gaza’s southernmost city.

The United States, which provides Israel with billions of dollars in military aid and diplomatic cover, has reportedly been working with Israel to thwart the ICC’s efforts. Earlier this month, a dozen Republican U.S. senators threatened retaliation against the ICC if it issued arrest warrants for Israelis. “Target Israel and we will target you,” they wrote in a letter that drew rebuke from Khan’s office.

Under the American Service Members’ Protection Act, also known as the Hague Invasion Act, the president is authorized to use “all means necessary and appropriate” to secure the release of American or allied personnel held by or on behalf of the ICC. U.S. and Israeli officials often note that neither country is party to the Rome Treaty that established the ICC. However, the court “has jurisdiction in relation to crimes committed on the territory of Palestine, including Gaza,” as well as “over crimes committed by Palestinian nationals inside or outside Palestinian territory.”

Under former Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, the ICC in 2021 launched a formal investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes and apartheid in the illegally occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Both Israeli and Hamas officials have reacted angrily to Khan’s recent move, with Netanyahu calling the application “absurd” and the “new antisemitism,” while Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri lamented that it equates “the victim with the executioner.”

South Africa, which filed the ICJ case now joined by over 30 nations, welcomed Khan’s announcement. President Cyril Ramaphosa asserted that “the law must be applied equally to all in order to uphold the international rule of law, ensure accountability for those that commit heinous crimes, and protect the rights of victims.”

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