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February 12, 2021 3:42 pm

ICC Decision on Israel ‘Obstructs the Path to Peace,’ Say Top US Jewish Leaders

avatar by Yoni Wilkenfeld

The International Criminal Court, The Hague, Netherlands. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A ruling by the International Criminal Court on investigating war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank threatens “real-world consequences” for Israeli officials, according to a top American Jewish leader in an interview with The Algemeiner. 

The Feb. 5 decision at the ICC, in The Hague, Netherlands, ruled that it had jurisdiction to investigate alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories, six years after the office of the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, opened an investigation.

“It’s not the first round; there is there is a long history of the court trying to intervene,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Now we’re in this new phase, which is a very serious one.”

Hoenlein warned that if the case moves forward, Israeli officials could face possible arrest or other consequences abroad — concerns that have previously kept figures like former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni from visiting the United Kingdom.

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He and William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents, detailed the organization’s efforts to influence the body moving forward, in a Wednesday interview.

“We have activated the Conference to communicate with the delegations of every UN member state in New York to advocate against this politically motivated violation,” said Daroff. “We’re communicating as well with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urging him to publicly oppose it. And we’re also expressing intense opposition directly to the ICC itself.”

“Our view is that this inflammatory action by the ICC needlessly obstructs the path to peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” he continued.

In 2019, Bensouda asked the court, of which Israel is not a member, to confirm that it had jurisdiction in the Palestinian territories. Countries including Austria, Australia, Germany, and Brazil have opposed its decision, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called “pure antisemitism.”

“The United States has always taken the position that the court’s jurisdiction should be reserved for countries that consent to it, or that are referred by the UN Security Council,” said US State Department spokesman Ned Price in a statement after the ruling.

In 2020, the Trump Administration imposed sanctions on ICC officials, including Bensouda, over the Israel case and another investigation into possible war crimes by American forces in Afghanistan. In January, the Biden Administration said it would review those sanctions, and has also announced that the US would rejoin the UN Human Rights Council, from which Trump withdrew in 2018.

Hoenlein told The Algemeiner that he hoped the new administration’s decision to reengage with international bodies would give the US more “leverage” to reform them.

“We have to deal with the reality, and the reality is they are engaging,” said Hoenlein. “If they’re going to go in, they should leverage it to get real reforms in these agencies, because we want them to be effective. Jews were at the forefront of the efforts to create the UN —  and stand by the principles on which it was founded. The problem is that we see those principles being violated.”

“The idea behind International Criminal Court is something that the Jewish community was supportive of going back to the post World War Two era,” added Daroff.  “What this prosecutor and these judges are doing is really destroying what legitimacy the ICC has, by going beyond its mandate, to become obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

“Unfortunately, this could be yet another nail in the coffin of the ICC, that is completely motivated by ideology and politics in a way that moves us further away from peace and further away from stopping international crime, and the international genocidal activities that the ICC should be focused on,” he said.

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