Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday condemned the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to launch a probe into alleged war crimes as “undiluted antisemitism”
He described the ruling, which would see the Hague investigate alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as “absurd” and “the height of hypocrisy.”
“Without any jurisdiction, it decided that our brave soldiers, who take every precaution to avoid civilian casualties against the worst terrorists in the world who deliberately target civilians, it’s our soldiers who are war criminals,” Netanyahu said, referencing the court’s decision to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes in the 2014 conflict against the Hamas terror group in Gaza.
If Israel is convicted of war crimes, Netanyahu, Israeli defense ministers and other high-level officials could be subject to international arrest warrants upon travel abroad.
In February, the ICC ruled it has the jurisdiction to investigate such crimes, prompting an outcry from Israel.
“They said that when we build a house in our eternal capital of Jerusalem, it’s been our capital for 3,000 years, that too is a war crime,” Netanyahu went on.
He noted that the court was first “established to prevent the repetition of the Nazi horrific crimes committed against the Jewish people.”
Yet now the same court “is now turning its guns against the one and only state of the Jewish people. It’s targeting Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said.
He went on to slam the ICC for “turning a blind eye to Iran, Syria and the other dictatorships that are committing real war crimes left and right.”
“We will never stop fighting this injustice. We will speak the truth in every forum, in every country, on every stage until this outrageous decision is reversed and becomes null and void,” the Israeli premier concluded.
Outgoing Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement Wednesday: “The decision to open an investigation followed a painstaking preliminary examination undertaken by my office that lasted close to five years.”
The Palestinian Authority welcomed the decision, which it said was in step with “Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability.”
“This is a long-awaited step that serves Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability, which are indispensable pillars of the peace the Palestinian people seek and deserve,” the PA foreign ministry said in a statement.
Bensouda said the investigation, which will cover crimes committed 13 June 2014, “will be conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour.”
“The ICC is not a panacea, but only seeks to discharge the responsibility that the international community has entrusted to it, which is to promote accountability for Rome Statute crimes, regardless of the perpetrator, in an effort to deter such crimes,” she wrote.
“In meeting this responsibility, the Office focuses its attention on the most notorious alleged offenders or those alleged to be the most responsible for the commission of the crimes.”
Her main concern, she wrote, “must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides.”
In September 2020, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on senior ICC officials, including chief prosecutor Bensouda, on charges of “illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction.”
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday said several hundred Israelis, himself included, could be caught in the ICC’s crosshairs and be subject to arrest.
“I was never afraid to go across enemy lines. I will continue to stand wherever I have to,” he answered, when asked if he harbored fears of being arrested.