House Votes to Impose Sanctions on I.C.C. Officials Over Israel Prosecution


The House voted mostly along party lines on Tuesday to impose sweeping sanctions on officials at the International Criminal Court in a rebuke of 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 compel President Biden to restrict entry into the United States, revoke visas and impose financial restrictions on anyone at the court involved in trying to investigate, arrest, detain or prosecute “protected persons,” or allies of the United States. It would also target anyone who provides “financial, material or technological support” to those efforts.

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

The G.O.P.-written bill passed by a vote of 247 to 155, with two Republicans voting present and 42 Democrats crossing party lines in support.

Representative Chip Roy, Republican of Texas and the author of the bill, said it was a necessary step to stop the international court from acting beyond its jurisdiction and to address fears that actions taken against Israeli officials could be a prelude to actions against American officials.

“What happens here is going to be coming at us and our country,” Mr. Roy said on Tuesday. “That’s why it’s important to speak with one voice, with authority, with force.”

Since Karim Khan, the I.C.C.’s top prosecutor, went public with his request to the court’s judges to seek the charges, the move has met broad condemnation in Washington. Members of both parties have argued that it overstepped the court’s jurisdiction and inappropriately likened the actions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, a close U.S. ally, with those of Yahya Sinwar, the leader of the Hamas terror group, accusing both of crimes against humanity.

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

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

“If our goal is to change the I.C.C.’s actions, sanctions is the wrong tool,” Mr. Meeks said. “They’re simply not going to work here. They’re not going to convince the I.C.C. to back down and could, in fact, push the I.C.C. to pursue this case even with greater vigor.”

In the weeks since Mr. Khan broadcast his decision to apply for arrest warrants for both Israeli and Hamas leaders, Republicans and Democrats have worked to create a unified response. But the White House rejected a proposed compromise blessed by Speaker Mike Johnson and Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, because the administration did not want to impose sanctions on the I.C.C.

“We did work very hard to get to a bipartisan agreement, a bipartisan bill that the speaker approved and Mr. Jeffries approved,” Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who led the talks, said on Tuesday. “But when it went to the White House, it was rejected.”

Republicans, who have been quick to try to divide Democrats on the war in Gaza and capitalize on divisions on the left over Mr. Netanyahu’s tactics, decided to move ahead with their preferred measure anyway.

“We need to act quickly because this case is already advancing much faster than expected,” Mr. McCaul said ahead of the vote.

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

“We obviously don’t believe the I.C.C. has jurisdiction,” he said. “But we certainly don’t support these arrest warrants, and we have said that before. We don’t believe, though, that sanctioning the I.C.C. is the answer.”

Ahead of the bill’s passage, White House officials issued a statement saying the administration “strongly opposes” the measure but stopped short of threatening to veto it. The statement said officials were “deeply concerned” about the arrest warrants but that “there are more effective ways to defend Israel, preserve U.S. positions on the I.C.C. and promote international justice and accountability.”

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

House Democrats chafed at Mr. Roy’s insistence on rushing through a measure he knew they would not support on an issue on which there is consensus to be found.

“Once again, we have a poorly drafted, poorly thought-out messaging bill that hasn’t gone through the committee process, that hasn’t gone through regular order, that hasn’t been thought through,” Representative Brad Sherman, Democrat of California, said. “We cannot vote yes on a bill today that is this infirm and count on the Senate to clean it up.”

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