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Republican lawmakers blast ICC over Netanyahu warrant

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Republicans are vowing retribution after the International Criminal Court said it would seek an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his handling of the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan filed applications for warrants against Netanyahu, as well as Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, the commander of Hamas’ military wing, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri, and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Republicans on key foreign policy panels blasted the decision and warned that they would make good on threats from earlier this month to punish the international tribunal, of which neither the United States nor Israel are members, if it went after Israeli officials.

“Israel is fighting a just war for survival, and the ICC is attempting to equate Israeli officials to the evil terrorists who perpetrated the October 7th massacre,” Speaker Mike Johnson said in a Monday statement, adding: “In the absence of leadership from the White House, Congress is reviewing all options, including sanctions, to punish the ICC and ensure its leadership faces consequences if they proceed.”

Across the Capitol, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) vowed to “feverishly work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in both chambers to levy damning sanctions against the ICC.”

In a statement, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that “Khan’s kangaroo court has no jurisdiction in Israel to pursue these anti-Semitic and politically motivated ‘charges,’” adding that he looks “forward to making sure neither Khan, his associates nor their families will ever set foot again in the United States.”

Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee blasted the action as “absurd” — saying in a statement the decision to simultaneously pursue arrest warrants against Hamas leadership and Israeli officials creates a “false moral equivalency” between the two groups’ actions.

House Republicans have introduced a number of measures taking action against the ICC, though Speaker Mike Johnson’s office did not immediately comment on whether the chamber would take any of them up.

The outrage was not isolated to Republicans. In a statement, President Joe Biden called the announcement “outrageous” and added that the move “does nothing to help, and could jeopardize, ongoing efforts to reach a cease-fire agreement that would get hostages out and surge humanitarian assistance in.”

“We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security,” Biden continued.

The White House has voiced its opposition to the ICC’s investigation into Israel, as Israel isn’t a member of the court. Earlier this month, the State Department also issued a report which didn’t find that Israel had violated international humanitarian law during its war in Gaza.

Democratic lawmakers representing large Jewish American communities also slammed the decision. In a post on X, Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) slammed the warrants as “not justice but rather retribution against Israel for the original sin of existing as a Jewish State and the subsequent sin of defending itself amid the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.”

A number of progressives, however, celebrated the move. “If Netanyahu comes to address Congress, I would be more than glad to show the ICC the way to the House floor to issue that warrant. Ditto for Hamas leader,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a past head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, posted on X. A handful of progressive Democrats have previously indicated support for an arrest warrant.

An arrest warrant could be “highly problematic for the Biden administration, as it effectively puts not only Netanyahu, but also Gallant — who the Biden team has viewed as a potential moderate alternative to Netanyahu — in the same category as Vladimir Putin,” said Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute think tank.

In March 2023, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for the Kremlin leader over the forced transfer of children to Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, limiting Putin’s international travels. And Johnson has said he plans to invite Netanyahu to address Congress, raising the question of whether the Biden administration would defy the ICC during such a visit.

But the arrest warrants over the Israel-Gaza conflict haven’t been issued yet, so there’s a chance the Biden administration won’t have to deal with the issue during the war. Negotiators have been trying for months to secure a cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas, though talks have recently stalled.

After Khan’s filing, ICC judges will determine whether the evidence he provided is enough to formally issue the warrants. That process can take several months.

Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.