Rep. Chip Roy

Congressman Chip Roy (R-Texas)—seen here speaking at a June 4, 2024 hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.—is the lead sponsor of a bill to sanction International Criminal Court officials over the tribunal's pursuit of arrest warrants for Israeli leaders.

(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

42 House Dems Help GOP Pass Bill Targeting ICC Officials Over Israel

The ACLU warned the legislation would "harm free speech protections" and "undermine the rule of law and the independence of the ICC."

Human rights defenders on Tuesday decried the U.S. House of Representatives' passage of a bill that would sanction International Criminal Court officials over the Hague tribunal's pursuit of arrest warrants for Israeli leaders—legislation critics warned would undermine the court's independence and could be weaponized to silence Americans' free speech.

House lawmakers voted 247-155 in favor of H.R. 8282, the Illegitimate Court Counteraction Act. Forty-two pro-Israel Democrats joined all but two Republicans who voted "present" in approving the bill, which was sponsored by far-right Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas).

"The idea that they would issue an arrest warrant for the prime minister of Israel, defense minister of Israel, at the time where they're fighting for their nation's very existence against the evil of Hamas as a proxy of Iran is unconscionable to us," said House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), according toThe Hill. "And as I said a couple of weeks ago, the ICC has to be punished for this action."

However, Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.) said on the House floor ahead of Tuesday's vote that "we need the ICC" because "in the last 241 days, thousands, thousands have been victims of unimaginable atrocities, and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's violations of international law have threatened the peace of the world."

Since October 7, when a massive attack by Hamas-led militants left more than 1,100 Israelis and foreign nationals dead and over 240 others hostages, Israeli forces have killed or injured upward of 130,000 Palestinians in Gaza, including at least 11,000 people who are missing and believed dead and buried beneath the rubble of hundreds of thousands of bombed-out buildings. Israel's forced displacement of around 2 million of Gaza's 2.3 million people and its famine-inducing siege have also been cited as evidence in a genocide case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said passing H.R. 8282 would fuel international allegations of U.S. hypocrisy.

"I am already being challenged to explain U.S. double standards every time I meet with representatives of foreign governments," McGovern said on the House floor ahead of the vote. "What better gift to China and Russia than for us to undermine the international rule of law."

The ACLU warned Tuesday in a letter to members of Congress that the bill "would harm free speech protections and the rule of law."

"This legislation raises serious First Amendment concerns, as it would chill U.S. persons from engaging in constitutionally protected speech under the threat of civil and criminal penalties" and "undermine the rule of law and the independence of the ICC," the group added.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a Quaker organization, said on social media Tuesday that sanctioning ICC officials "would undermine the court's independence and the global community's ability to uphold international law."

"Sanctions would obstruct support for other important ICC investigations, including into Russia's invasion of Ukraine," FCNL added. "This vital accountability mechanism must be allowed to impartially seek justice."

Last month, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan announced he was seeking warrants to arrest Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for alleged "crimes of causing extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, including the denial of humanitarian relief supplies, [and] deliberately targeting civilians in conflict."

Khan is also seeking arrest warrants for Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh, and Mohammed Deif for alleged crimes including "extermination, murder, taking of hostages, rape, and sexual assault in detention."

A panel of ICC judges will decide whether to issue the warrants.

Meanwhile, congressional leaders have invited Netanyahu to Washington, D.C. for the rare honor of addressing a joint session of Congress. The prime minister has reportedly accepted the invitation, although no date has been set for his speech.

U.S. President Joe Biden was accused of double standards for condemning the ICC's targeting of Israeli leaders—whose conduct is under investigation in the ICJ genocide case—while applauding its March 2023 arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Commissioner for Children's Rights Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova for alleged crimes committed during the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The White House said Monday that it "strongly opposes" the ICC sanctions bill, but Biden has not said whether he would veto the legislation in the unlikely event it is taken up—and passed—by the Senate.

Tuesday's vote has already had consequences, as the youth-led progressive group Path to Progress said it would not endorse Reps. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) as expected in their respective U.S. Senate races due to their approval of the bill.

This isn't the first time that Congress has targeted the ICC. In 2002, lawmakers passed and then-President George W. Bush signed the American Servicemembers Protection Act, also known as the Hague Invasion Act because it authorizes the president to use "all means necessary and appropriate" including military intervention to secure the release of American or allied personnel held by or on behalf of the ICC.

In 2020, the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump—who is expected to challenge Biden in November's election—imposed sanctions on then-ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and Phakiso Mochochoko, the court's prosecution jurisdiction division director, in retaliation for a probe of alleged war crimes committed by American troops in Afghanistan.

Last month, Khan condemned "all attempts to impede, intimidate, or improperly influence" ICC officials. Later in May, the Israeli media outlets +972 Magazine and Local Call, along with Britain's The Guardian, revealed that the head of the Mossad, Israel's main foreign intelligence agency, spent nearly a decade attempting to intimidate Bensouda into dropping an investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes.

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