Biden condemns ‘outrageous’ attempt to seek arrest warrant for Netanyahu

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defense minister Yoav Gallant during a press conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv
Warrants are being sought for Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Yoav Gallant, the defence minister - Abir Sultan / Reuters

Joe Biden has condemned the “outrageous” call for Benjamin Netanyahu’s arrest made by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

The US president said that Karim Khan’s call for Mr Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defence minister, to be arrested for war crimes had drawn “equivalence” between Israel and Hamas and Mr Biden reiterated his pledge to support the country’s security.

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said it was “shameful” that Mr Khan had applied for an arrest warrant from the ICC, arguing that the court had no jurisdiction over the war in Gaza and that Israel had not been given a chance to put its case before the call was issued.

Mr Netanyahu said he “rejects with disgust” the attempts to charge him. “No pressure and no decision in any international forum will prevent us from striking those who seek to destroy us,” he added.

Mr Khan, acting on the advice of a panel of experts including Amal Clooney, the human rights lawyer and wife of George Clooney, the Hollywood actor, issued a report on Monday morning calling for Mr Netanyahu, Mr Gallant and a series of Hamas officials to be arrested for war crimes.

He said that the Israeli prime minister had intentionally starved Palestinians in Gaza as a weapon of war, in breach of the Geneva Convention.

In a statement, Mr Biden said: “The ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is outrageous. And let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence – none – between Israel and Hamas.  We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.”

Mr Blinken added that there were “deeply troubling process questions” about Mr Khan’s investigation, adding: “This decision does nothing to help, and could jeopardise, ongoing efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement that would get hostages out and surge humanitarian assistance in.”

The UK has said it believes the call for Mr Netanyahu’s arrest will not aid its push for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Mr Khan said earlier on Monday that he had applied for warrants for Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gallant for alleged crimes that include the deliberate starvation of Palestinians as a weapon of war.

Hamas leaders including Yahya Sinwar, the terrorist organisation’s leader, have been accused of crimes including “extermination”, “rape and other acts of sexual violence” and “taking hostages”.

The decision comes after a months-long investigation into the Oct 7 attacks by Hamas and Israel’s response in Gaza.

Mr Netanyahu’s allies in the Israeli cabinet responded immediately on Monday, describing the call for his arrest as “blatant moral bankruptcy” and an act of “Jew hatred”.

Referring to Mr Nethanyahu and Mr Gallant, Mr Khan said that he believed “crimes against humanity charged were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population pursuant to state policy”.

He said that his team had assessed that the alleged crimes “continue to this day”.

The two men are accused of using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war, causing “great suffering”, “intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population”, “extermination and/or murder” and “other inhumane acts”.

On Hamas’s attack, he said that the group had committed “a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population of Israel”, including through “rape and other acts of sexual violence” and taking hostages.

The application for an arrest warrant was issued after advice from a panel of ICC experts, which included Mrs Clooney, and Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, a member of the House of Lords. Five of the experts on the panel are British.

‘Justice will prevail’

In a statement, Mrs Clooney said there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gallant “have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity including starvation as a method of warfare, murder, persecution and extermination”.

She said she hoped that “justice will prevail in a region that has already suffered too much”.

A decision on whether to issue an arrest warrant will now be taken by ICC judges. Decisions historically take some months and rarely result in an arrest.

Israel is not a member of the ICC and has called for allies to leave the court’s jurisdiction over the decision.

Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister, described the call for arrests as a “show of hypocrisy and Jew-hatred” that recalled Nazi propaganda.

“Arrest warrants against them are arrest warrants against us all,” he said.

Benny Gantz, an Israeli war cabinet minister, said the move was a “crime of historic proportion”.

“Drawing parallels between the leaders of a democratic country determined to defend itself from despicable terror to leaders of a blood-thirsty terror organisation is a deep distortion of justice and blatant moral bankruptcy,” he said.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior Hamas official, said that the call for the arrest of three of the group’s leaders “equates the victim with the executioner”.

The ICC has not always issued warrants demanded by its prosecutors, or for all charges brought against suspects. Countries have sometimes refused to enforce the warrants once they are issued.

However, the Labour Party said the UK would have no choice under the Rome Statute, the international law that underpins the court, but to comply with a warrant and detain him.

David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, said: “Labour believes that the UK and all parties to the Rome Statute have a legal obligation to comply with orders and warrants issued by the court. Democracies who believe in the rule of law must submit themselves to it.”

Mr Netanyahu said the decision was “a distortion of reality” and accused the prosecutor of spreading a “new anti-Semitism”.

He said: “With what audacity you compare between the Hamas that murdered, burned, butchered, raped, and kidnapped our brothers and sisters, and the IDF soldiers who are fighting a just war that is unparalleled in morality that is unmatched?”