House passes controversial bill targeting ICC officials over Israel: 42 Democrats join GOP

Critics warn that the legislation, which passed 247-155, could undermine the court's independence and be weaponized to silence free speech in the United States.

Image Credit: Rachel Schilke/Washington Examiner

Human rights defenders have decried the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage of a bill that would sanction International Criminal Court (ICC) officials over the tribunal’s pursuit of arrest warrants for Israeli leaders. Critics warn that the legislation, which passed 247-155, could undermine the court’s independence and be weaponized to silence free speech in the United States.

The Illegitimate Court Counteraction Act (H.R. 8282), sponsored by far-right Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), received support from 42 pro-Israel Democrats and all but two Republicans who voted “present.” “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,” said House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.).

However, Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.) argued on the House floor that “we need the ICC” because of the atrocities committed in Gaza. “In the last 241 days, thousands have been victims of unimaginable atrocities, and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s violations of international law have threatened the peace of the world,” she said.

Since October 7, when a massive attack by Hamas-led militants left more than 1,100 Israelis and foreign nationals dead and over 240 others hostages, Israeli forces have killed or injured upwards of 130,000 Palestinians in Gaza. This includes at least 11,000 people who are missing and believed dead, buried beneath the rubble of bombed-out buildings. The forced displacement of around 2 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million people and the famine-inducing siege have also been cited in a genocide case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) warned that passing H.R. 8282 would fuel international allegations of U.S. hypocrisy. “I am already being challenged to explain U.S. double standards every time I meet with representatives of foreign governments,” he said. “What better gift to China and Russia than for us to undermine the international rule of law.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also expressed concerns in a letter to Congress. “This legislation raises serious First Amendment concerns, as it would chill U.S. persons from engaging in constitutionally protected speech under the threat of civil and criminal penalties,” the ACLU wrote, adding that the bill would “undermine the rule of law and the independence of the ICC.”

The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a Quaker organization, echoed these concerns. “Sanctioning ICC officials would undermine the court’s independence and the global community’s ability to uphold international law,” FCNL said on social media. “Sanctions would obstruct support for other important ICC investigations, including into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This vital accountability mechanism must be allowed to impartially seek justice.”

Last month, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan announced he was seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for alleged crimes, including causing extermination, using starvation as a method of war, and deliberately targeting civilians. Khan is also seeking warrants for Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh, and Mohammed Deif for alleged crimes such as extermination, murder, and taking hostages.

Despite the controversy, congressional leaders have invited Netanyahu to Washington, D.C., to address a joint session of Congress. The prime minister has reportedly accepted the invitation, though no date has been set.

U.S. President Joe Biden has faced accusations of double standards for condemning the ICC’s targeting of Israeli leaders while applauding its March 2023 arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova. The White House said it “strongly opposes” the ICC sanctions bill, but Biden has not indicated whether he would veto the legislation if it passes the Senate.

The vote has already had political repercussions. The youth-led progressive group Path to Progress announced it would not endorse Reps. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) in their respective U.S. Senate races due to their approval of the bill.

This is not the first time Congress has targeted the ICC. In 2002, lawmakers passed the American Servicemembers Protection Act, authorizing the president to use “all means necessary and appropriate” to secure the release of American or allied personnel held by the ICC. In 2020, former President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on ICC officials in retaliation for a probe into alleged war crimes by American troops in Afghanistan.

Last month, ICC Prosecutor Khan condemned “all attempts to impede, intimidate, or improperly influence” ICC officials. Later, Israeli media and international outlets revealed that the head of Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, had spent nearly a decade attempting to intimidate then-ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda into dropping an investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes.


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