House votes to impose sanctions on ICC officials over Israeli Prosecutor's Office

The House voted mostly along party lines Tuesday to impose sweeping sanctions on International Criminal Court officials, rebuking efforts by the court's top prosecutor to charge top Israeli leaders with war crimes in connection with the offensive against Hamas.

The bill would force President Biden to restrict entry to the United States, revoke visas and impose financial restrictions on anyone in court who is involved in attempting to investigate, arrest, detain or prosecute “protected persons” or allies of the United States . It would also target anyone providing “financial, material or technological support” to such efforts.

Biden's advisers said he is “strongly opposed” to the measure because it would impose sanctions on such a broad group of officials, including court staff members and any witnesses involved in a potential case. But it reflects bipartisan anger in Washington after the court's chief prosecutor announced late last month that he would bring charges against both Israeli and Hamas leaders.

The GOP-authored bill passed by a vote of 247 to 155, with two Republicans present and 42 Democrats crossing party lines in support.

Representative Chip Roy, Republican of Texas and author of the bill, said it was a necessary step to prevent the International Court from acting outside its jurisdiction and to address concerns that actions taken against Israeli officials could be a prelude to actions against American officials.

“What happens here will affect us and our country,” Roy said Tuesday. “This is why it is important to speak with one voice, with authority, with strength.”

Since Karim Khan, the ICC's top prosecutor, made public his call for the court's judges to bring charges, the move has met with widespread condemnation in Washington. Members of both parties argued that it overstepped the court's jurisdiction and inappropriately compared the actions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close U.S. ally, with those of Yahya Sinwar, the leader of the terrorist group Hamas, accusing both of crimes against humanity. .

“The ICC prosecutor attempted to equate self-defense decisions made by Israel's democratically elected leaders to those of Hamas terrorist leaders,” said Rep. Gregory W. Meeks of New York, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee. “There is – and I repeat – there is no moral or legal equivalence here.”

But despite bipartisan displeasure with the court's prosecutor, Meeks opposed the bill, along with most other Democrats, who had pushed for a bipartisan measure that would reflect the court's broad repudiation of the move but not resort to sanctions.

“If our goal is to change the actions of the ICC, sanctions are the wrong tool,” Meeks said. “They just won't work here. They will not convince the ICC to back down and may, in fact, push the ICC to pursue this case with even greater vigor.”

In the weeks after Khan released his decision to seek arrest warrants for both Israeli and Hamas leaders, Republicans and Democrats have worked to craft a unified response but have failed to reach disputes over how to do so.

“We worked very hard to come to a bipartisan agreement,” Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who led the talks, said Tuesday, adding that the White House had torpedoed that proposal.

Democrats disputed this account, saying no such agreement was ever reached.

“There have certainly been bipartisan conversations of a serious nature to try to get to a place where, with one voice, Democrats and Republicans can address what most of us believe was a poor decision by the ICC with respect to the state of Israel,” the representative said. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the minority leader, told reporters Tuesday. “There is still an opportunity to find bipartisan common ground and actually legislate, instead of introducing a partisan bill to the House that we all know is dead on arrival in the United States Senate.”

But Republicans, who were quick to try to divide Democrats over the Gaza war and exploit the left's divisions over Netanyahu's tactics, instead decided to move forward with their preferred measure.

“We need to act quickly because this case is already moving much faster than expected,” McCaul said before the vote.

John F. Kirby, a White House national security spokesman, told reporters last week that the White House did not believe imposing sanctions on the Court and those who support it was the right approach.

“Obviously we don't believe the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction,” he said. “But we certainly don't support these arrest warrants, and we've said so in the past. We do not believe, however, that sanctioning the International Criminal Court is the answer.”

Ahead of the bill's passage, White House officials issued a statement saying the administration “strongly opposes” the measure, but did not threaten to veto it. The statement said officials are “deeply concerned” about the arrest warrants, but that “there are more effective ways to defend Israel, preserve the United States' positions on the International Criminal Court, and promote international justice and accountability.”

Roy, aware that his legislation is unlikely to become law in its current form, said he hoped a bipartisan proposal could still emerge.

“If the Senate wants to change it, send it back to the House and try to address any of the concerns that have been raised by my colleagues across the aisle, or this side of the aisle – great,” Mr. said. Roy said Tuesday, adding, “They can send it back to us and we can send a product to the president.”

House Democrats bristled at Roy's insistence on hastily adopting a measure he knew they wouldn't support on an issue on which there is consensus to be found.

“Once again, we have a poorly drafted, poorly conceived bill that hasn't been through the committee process, hasn't been through a proper order, hasn't been carefully thought through,” Rep. Brad Sherman, Democrat of California , he said. “We cannot vote yes today on such a shaky bill and count on the Senate to clean it up.”

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