Republicans use ICC warrant for Netanyahu as a way to divide Democrats

On Monday, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan announced that the court is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as multiple leaders of Hamas.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans overwhelmingly condemned the seeking of arrest warrants. House Speaker Mike Johnson noted how the ICC has no authority in Israel or the United States, as neither country recognizes it formally.

“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,” Johnson said in a statement. “If the ICC is allowed to threaten Israeli leaders, ours could be next.”

Republicans have been preparing for this for the past month. Last month, Politico reported that Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, the most hawkish Republican Senator, led a letter with 11 other Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, warning the ICC about consequences of issuing such warrants.

“Such actions are illegitimate and lack legal basis, and if carried out will result in severe sanctions against you and your institution,” the letter said. Unsurprisingly, Cotton condemned the announcement on Monday.

“Equating Israel’s democratically elected leaders with perpetrators of the worst attack on Jews since World War Two shows what a farce the International Criminal Court is,” he said. “Mr Khan’s kangaroo court has no jurisdiction to pursue these antisemitic and politically motivated ‘charges.’”

In turn, he said that he and his colleagues “look forward to making sure neither Khan, his associates nor their families ever set foot again in the United States.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) accused the ICC of being dishonest (Getty Images)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) accused the ICC of being dishonest (Getty Images)

On the House side, Representative Chip Roy of Texas and Brian Mast of Florida — who previously wore an IDF military uniform and compared Palestinian civlians to “innocent Nazi civilians” — introduced legislation that would sanction the ICC.

These reactions are not entirely surprising. Republicans have always resisted the idea of an international order — or at least professed that the US should lead such an order, if it does exist, rather than being subject to outside rules.

But the ICC announcement also angered the White House and pro-Israel Democrats. President Joe Biden called the attempt to seek arrest warrants “outrageous“ and said, “There is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas.”

This agreement between the most hard-right Republicans and the Biden administration reveals just how deep the bipartisan conensus on Israel remains. Indeed, Biden’s former friend Senator Lindsey Graham all but accused Khan of lying to his colleagues.

As a result of all this, Republicans might be able to force the hand of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Biden administration.

For most of the 118th Congress, House Republicans brought their internecine feuds. This included their inability to vote for a speaker of the House, followed by their feuds about the debt ceiling and avoiding a government shutdown. The latter ruckus led to them ejecting the speaker, which was followed by three protracted weeks of finding a new person for the position. All the while, Democrats remained surprisingly unified.

That’s changed ever since Republicans — somewhat — got their act together and nominated Mike Johnson. Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel on October 7th, 2023 and the war in Gaza it precipitated has been a unifying force for the GOP.

For context, when Republicans voted to remove Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee for what they perceived as antisemitic comments, even Jewish Democrats who disliked her comments about Israel defended her. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida told The Independent back then: “I thought they were offensive and antisemitic at the time,” but that “if we remove people from communities every time we think what they say is offensive, then none of us will end up on committees eventually.”

By comparison, Wasserman Schultz and 21 other Democrats voted to censure Rashida Tlaib, the only other Muslim congresswoman, for her comments about Gaza later that year.

Similarly, when the House held a vote on giving aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, 37 Democrats voted against providing aid to Israel. But just last week, 16 House Democrats voted with Republicans to restrict the Biden administration’s ability to ever withhold aid to Israel.

This likely means that Republicans will take further action against the ICC. It will be merely symbolic, since the bills are extremely unlikely to make their way to the Senate, but they will once again allow for a fissure in the Democratic party, courtesy of Republicans. That puts the attention squarely on Democrats rather than the Republicans’ shambolic conference — which works very well for them.