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‘No equivalence’: Biden defends Israel after ICC requests arrest warrants

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US president insists Israel and Hamas cannot be compared after ICC seeks warrants over alleged Israeli war crimes.

United States President Joe Biden has defended Israel against war crimes charges in the world’s top courts.

Biden’s remarks came after Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), said he was seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant over alleged war crimes committed during the war in Gaza.

“Let me be clear, we reject the ICC’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders,” Biden said at a Jewish American Heritage Month event at the White House on Monday, the same day Khan announced he was applying for the arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Gallant, as well as Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes.

“There is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas,” Biden added. Hours earlier, he had issued a strongly-worded statement saying that the ICC warrants were “outrageous”.

Israel is also facing a separate case on alleged genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which was brought by South Africa.

Biden said that Israel is not committing genocide in Gaza.

“Contrary to allegations against Israel made by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), what’s happening in Gaza is not genocide. We reject that,” Biden said in his speech.

In January, the ICJ ruled there was a plausible risk of genocide in Gaza, ordering Israel to take a series of provisional measures, including preventing any genocidal acts from taking place.

While Biden’s defence of Israel was met with warm applause at the White House event, his election campaign has been marred by pro-Palestinian protests across the US, with some antiwar advocates labelling the president “Genocide Joe”.

Panel of experts

The ICC prosecutor outlined specific charges against Netanyahu and Gallant, including “starvation of civilians as a method of warfare” and “extermination”, although he said his full investigation was ongoing.

Khan also applied for arrest warrants for three Hamas leaders – Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri (also known as Deif) and Ismail Haniyeh – for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including extermination and murder, the taking of captives, torture, rape and other acts of sexual violence.

The charges were supported by evidence prepared by a panel of experts that included international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.

In a statement issued on the report prepared by the experts, Clooney wrote, “I do not accept that any conflict should be beyond the reach of the law, nor that any perpetrator should be above the law.”

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney helped prepare an expert report on evidence of suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity in Israel and Gaza for the ICC chief prosecutor [File: Heinz-Peter Bader/Getty Images]

Some US Republican lawmakers were even more forceful in their criticism of the ICC prosecuting Israel on Monday.

“My colleagues and I look forward to make sure neither Khan, his associates nor their families will ever set foot again in the United States,” Republican Senator Tom Cotton wrote on X.

The ICC is the world’s first permanent international war crimes court and its 124 member states are obliged to immediately arrest the wanted person if they are on a member state’s territory.

The US is not a member of the ICC and its “biggest leverage” could be to pressure its allies – mostly European nations which are signatories to the ICC – to not act on the warrants, said Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro, reporting from Washington, DC.

Differences between the ICC and ICJ

Israel is not a member of the ICC. Nor are China and Russia.

International reactions to the ICC prosecutor’s plan to issue arrest warrants have been mixed.

In comments delivered to the United Nations Security Council, Switzerland’s UN envoy Pascale Baeriswyl said his country “fully supports the court and stresses the importance of respecting its independence”.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2023 over alleged war crimes in Ukraine, but Monday’s step marked the first time the court has sought to intervene in the conflict in the Middle East.

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