Biden denounces ICC for ‘outrageous’ implication of equivalence between Israel and Hamas

The Biden administration on Monday forcefully denounced efforts by the International Criminal Court to seek arrest warrants for top Israeli officials and Hamas leaders, saying the court’s efforts put the terrorist organization and a top US ally on equivalent footing.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview on Monday that the international tribunal is seeking arrest warrants for officials including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their respective roles in the October 7 attack on Israel and the subsequent war that has left tens of thousands of Palestinians dead.

The prosecution team is also seeking warrants for Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, along with top Hamas leaders, Khan said.

In a statement Monday, Biden called the ICC’s efforts “outrageous.”

“Let me be clear,” the president said in the statement, “whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence – none – between Israel and Hamas.”

Speaking at a White House reception marking Jewish American Heritage Month later Monday, Biden reiterated his stance that the ICC’s pursuit of an arrest warrant is without merit.

“It’s clear Israel wants to do all it can to ensure civilian protection,” Biden said. “Let me be clear: What’s happening is not genocide.”

Khan’s pursuit of the warrants gave Biden – a longtime supporter of Israel and its right to exist – a chance to speak strongly in favor of the US’ top Middle Eastern ally at a time of tense relations between the president and Israeli leadership. In an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett earlier this month, Biden put conditions on US aid to Israel for the first time over Israel’s planned invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza. Biden has also had multiple frank phone calls with the Israeli prime minister in recent months as he tries to cajole Netanyahu into pursuing options that don’t involve a military operation in a population center.

The announcement marks the first time that the ICC has sought an arrest warrant for the leader of a top US ally, and places Netanyahu in the company of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the late Libyan despot Moammar Gadhafi – both of whom were subjects of arrest efforts by the ICC.

Khan, the ICC prosecutor, batted down criticisms over the tribunal’s efforts to secure the warrants. “Nobody is above the law,” he told Amanpour.

Neither the US nor Israel are members of the ICC. But if the court were to grant an arrest warrant for Netanyahu or Gallant, the decision would make it extremely difficult for either Israeli leader to travel to any of the 124 countries that are party to the court’s laws, including top US allies such as Britain and Germany, which would compel member nations to cooperate with efforts to extradite those subjected to the warrants.

News that the ICC is seeking warrants for the Israeli leaders led to condemnation from the US and some of its allies. Britain said the court’s efforts were “not helpful” in reaching a pause in fighting. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States “fundamentally rejects” the court’s announcement, saying it “could jeopardize” efforts to reach a ceasefire and hostage release deal between the warring parties.

Biden administration officials also questioned whether the ICC had the jurisdiction to seek those arrests.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, describing the ICC’s efforts as “baseless and illegitimate,” said House GOP leaders would look at sanctions in response to the court’s decision. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the Biden administration plans to stay in close touch with members of Congress but stopped short of committing support for any Republican effort to levy new sanctions on the ICC.

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — who caucuses with Democrats even as his position on Israel is frequently at odds with Biden’s — said he supported the ICC’s decision. Sanders is one of the country’s most prominent Jewish politicians and has been critical of Israel’s war effort.

“The ICC prosecutor is right to take these actions,” Sanders said in a statement, adding it is “imperative that the global community uphold international law.”

Despite strong condemnation of the ICC efforts from Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, several senior Senate Democrats pointedly refused to take a position, underscoring the growing rift within the party over Israel’s handling of the war.

Asked if she agreed with the ICC decision, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan told CNN’s Manu Raju: “I would say that I’m not supportive of Netanyahu or Hamas, and I think we’d be able to move forward a lot better if both were to go.”

But others aligned themselves with Biden.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, who faces a tough reelection in Ohio, criticized the ICC prosecutor. “I don’t see any moral equivalence between the democratic government of Israel and a terrorist group like Hamas, none,” he told CNN.

The condemnation of the ICC’s efforts puts the United States in a delicate position. The United States is supporting a separate effort by the ICC to document and investigate Russian war crimes related to its continued operations in Ukraine.

Kirby said the US would continue to support those efforts.

“I would remind everybody that it is an actual war aim of Mr. Putin to kill innocent Ukrainian people,” Kirby told reporters Monday. “I mean, he’s deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure with the aim of killing innocent civilians.

“That is not what the IDF is doing,” Kirby added.

Still, Kirby acknowledged, the United States continues to urge the Israeli government to be “more discriminative, more targeted, [and] more precise” in its Gaza operations.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Nikki Carvajal, Haley Talbot, Morgan Rimmer and Kristin Wilson contributed to this report.

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