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House votes to sanction ICC for case against Israeli leaders

House votes to sanction ICC for case against Israeli leaders

The bill, which is unlikely to pass the Senate, would punish US allies and famous lawyer Amal Clooney

Reporting | QiOSK

In a 247-155 vote, the House passed a bill today that would impose sanctions on anyone who has assisted the International Criminal Court in its investigation of Israel’s conduct in Gaza, a group that could include U.S. allies like Germany and Japan that fund the tribunal.

The bill, titled the Illegitimate Court Counteraction Act, aims to punish the ICC for its chief prosecutor’s recent decision to seek arrest warrants against several leaders from Israel and Hamas, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. More than 40 Democrats joined Republicans to back the proposal despite opposition from the Biden administration.

The bill, which faces an uphill battle in the Democrat-controlled Senate, would also sanction immediate family members of those targeted. The sanctions include bans on entering the U.S. and doing business with American companies or citizens.

“We cannot stand by and allow the court to do what it’s doing,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a lead sponsor of the legislation. Roy argues the proposal would send a strong message to the international community that the United States will not allow politicized cases against itself or its allies.

“This is a kangaroo court,” said Rep. Guy Reschentaler (R-Pa.), another sponsor of the bill. “To defend it is to defend an institution that is anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-semitic.”

The vote came just a day after the Biden administration announced that it opposed the bill. “There are more effective ways to defend Israel, preserve U.S. positions on the ICC, and promote international justice and accountability, and the Administration stands ready to work with the Congress on those options,” the White House said in a statement, leaving open the possibility of a compromise on sanctions against the court.

Human rights advocates urged members to vote against the bill. Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of DAWN, called it “a shameful attempt to obstruct justice and undermine the rule of law to shield Israeli leaders from accountability.”

“Members of Congress should vote no on this bill and refuse to act like a bunch of lawless mafiosos threatening judges and prosecutors in a court of law,” Whitson said.

Democratic opponents of the proposal say it is overly broad and would prevent any meaningful cooperation with the court in other cases, including pending war crimes charges against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As written, the legislation would force the president to impose sanctions against everyone from ICC prosecutor Karim Khan to famed international lawyer Amal Clooney, who endorsed Khan’s decision to bring charges and advised the prosecutor’s office in the investigation.

The latter target would be particularly uncomfortable for President Joe Biden, who is set to appear at a campaign fundraiser hosted by actor George Clooney, Amal’s husband, later this month. (Clooney himself would face sanctions under the bill if he wasn’t an American citizen.)

The bill drew more support from Democrats than many observers expected, though most members fell in line following the Biden administration’s intervention against the proposal. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) — an emphatically pro-Israel lawmaker — said that, while the ICC case is “outrageous,” the proposal only “masquerades as pro-Israel.”

“I wanted to cosponsor this bill when I read the title,” Sherman said, noting that he would support narrower sanctions against the ICC. “Unfortunately I read the bill.”

But other pro-Israel Democrats were not convinced by the administration’s arguments against the bill. Reps. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), Shri Thanedar (D-Mich.), and Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) were among those who broke with the White House to vote for the proposal.

Republican supporters of the bill said they were disappointed that the bill failed to earn broad bipartisan backing despite widespread anger in Congress about the ICC’s decision. “A partisan messaging bill was not my intention here,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said. “But that’s where we are right now.”

The back and forth over the sanctions bill highlights Washington’s complex relationship with the ICC. While the U.S. is a signatory of the agreement underlying the court, American officials have never ratified the treaty due to fears that U.S. soldiers would fall under its jurisdiction.

This case is the first time that the ICC has pursued charges against the leader of a close U.S. ally. A 2002 law allows the U.S. to use “all means necessary” to secure the release of U.S. or allied personnel who are detained at the Hague.

Former President Donald Trump imposed sanctions against several ICC officials over an investigation into U.S. conduct in Afghanistan, but Biden quickly reversed those measures when he took office in 2021. At the time, the Biden administration called the sanctions “inappropriate and ineffective.”

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), the lead Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, argued that sanctions are “simply not going to work here.”

“This bill will bluntly curtail the United States’ ability to engage the court to advance our interests,” Meeks said, adding that the legislation “would have a chilling effect on the ICC as an institution and hamper the court’s efforts to prosecute serious atrocities.”

Some Democrats noted that the bill would expose the U.S. to allegations of hypocrisy given the broad support that American officials have given the ICC in its investigation into alleged Russian atrocities in Ukraine.

“I am already being challenged to explain U.S. double standards every time I meet with representatives of foreign governments,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). “What better gift to China and Russia than for us to undermine the international rule of law.”

“It's not gonna do anything to bring an end to the conflict, but it will damage our relationships with our allies,” argued Rep. Mary Scanlon (D-Pa.) during a Monday hearing. “It will damage our status on the world stage, and it apparently can provide some cover for Putin, among others.”

The bill will now head to the Senate, where it will likely fall flat, according to Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “That does not mean there won’t be efforts to bring up that or other versions of it, but I don’t think it will pass,” Van Hollen said during a Monday event at the Center for American Progress.

Friemann/ Shutterstock

Reporting | QiOSK
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