Updated May 20, 2024 - World

Biden says what's happening in Gaza isn't genocide amid ICC warrant request

US President Joe Biden listens to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he reads a statement in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an October summit. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden criticized the ICC's decision to seek arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant for alleged Gaza war crimes, calling the move "outrageous" in a Monday statement.

The latest: He doubled down in his support for Israel over the war in Gaza during a speech in the White House Rose Garden, saying: "What's happening is not genocide. We reject that."

Why it matters: ICC prosecutor Karim Khan's decision will likely further complicate the White House's efforts to find a diplomatic solution to end the war.

What they are saying: "The ICC prosecutor's application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is outrageous," Biden said.

  • He also criticized Khan for equating the actions of Israel with those of Hamas. Three Hamas leaders, including Gaza head Yehiya Sinwar, were charged alongside Netanyahu and Gallant on Monday.
  • "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," Biden said.
  • Secretary of State Tony Blinken also rejected the warrants and called the equivalizing of Israel and Hamas "shameful," in a statement.
  • "This decision does nothing to help, and could jeopardize, ongoing efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement that would get hostages out and surge humanitarian assistance in, which are the goals the United States continues to pursue relentlessly," Blinken's statement said.

Netanyahu also lashed out at the application for warrants, calling the move a "travesty of justice."

  • In a video released by the prime minister's office, he called the warrants for himself and Gallant a "moral outrage of historic proportions" and said it would "cast an everlasting mark of shame on the international court."
  • Kahn has created "a twisted and false moral equivalence between the leaders of Israel and the henchmen of Hamas," Netanyahu said. "This is like creating a moral equivalence after September 11th between President Bush and Osama Bin Laden, or during World War II between FDR and Hitler."

Behind the scenes: Khan's decision to seek arrest warrants undermined quiet negotiations the prosecutor himself had held with Israel and the U.S. in recent weeks to discuss the investigation, U.S. and Israeli officials told Axios.

  • Blinken said in his statement that despite Israel not being a member of the ICC, it was prepared to cooperate with the prosecutor and his investigation for the first time ever.
  • He added that Khan's staff was meant to arrive in Israel today to coordinate a visit. But around the time that the prosecutor went on television to announce the charges against Netanyahu and Gallant, Kahn's team told the Israelis that they did not board their flight, Blinken said.
  • "These and other circumstances call into question the legitimacy and credibility of this investigation," Blinken said.

The other side: Two Israeli officials confirmed Blinken's statement and said the U.S. and the UK were involved in organizing Kahn's visit.

  • They added Netanyahu agreed for the first time to engage with the prosecutor's office and to allow Kahn to enter specific areas in Gaza and Israel as part of his investigation.

Go deeper: ICC faces reprisal threats from Congress over potential Netanyahu arrest warrant

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Biden's comments in the White House Rose Garden.

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