May 24, 2024 - Politics & Policy

ICJ becomes Congress' latest bipartisan target

Former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, wearing a black coat and standing in front of the Capitol.

Former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Photo: Graeme Sloan/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The International Court of Justice is the latest international judicial body facing intense fire from pro-Israel members of Congress in both parties for directing Israel to halt its military operation in Rafah.

Why it matters: It comes after lawmakers spent the week deliberating on how best to retaliate against the International Criminal Court for seeking arrest warrants against senior Israeli officials.

  • The order ratchets up international pressure on Israel to curb the fighting in Gaza.
  • Several European countries this week recognized the Palestinian state – furthering the U.S.'s isolation on the world stage in its staunch support of Israel.

Driving the news: The ICJ, a United Nations body that adjudicates disputes between member states, said in its order that Israel "must immediately halt its military offensive" in Rafah that could result in the "physical destruction" of the Palestinian people.

  • Friday's order was the court's first on the war in Gaza, Axios' Barak Ravid reported.
  • It comes as part of South Africa's case accusing Israel of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention, which Israel has rejected.

What they're saying: "I reject the premise that Israel has acted contrary to the UN's Genocide Convention," former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement.

  • Hoyer said the Israelis "continue to give notice of potential dangers to Palestinian civilians through leaflets, social media, and other means," while Hamas "has instructed civilians to remain in harm's way."
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said the ICJ and ICC rulings "appear coordinated" and "should not be tolerated," adding that the U.S. "should strongly oppose this dangerous gambit."
  • Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told Axios that the ICJ "should've ordered Hamas to surrender and release all the hostages."

Zoom in: Israel, meanwhile, signaled it does not see the ruling as an obstacle to continued operations in Rafah.

  • Israeli National Security Council head Tzachi Hanegabi said Israel will "act, in full compliance with the law, to reduce as much as possible the harm caused to the civilian population in Gaza."

Flashback: This is not the first time the ICJ has come under fire from Congress.

Zoom out: The bipartisan condemnation of the order in Congress mirrors the backlash earlier this week to the ICC, a body independent of the U.N. that prosecutes individuals for alleged war crimes.

  • ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said on Monday he will seek arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for their handling of the war.
  • The announcement met with rebukes from across Washington, including the top four congressional leaders, with President Biden calling it "outrageous."
  • House Republicans have proposed sanctions on ICC officials involved in the case, though the Biden administration and a group of senators are weighing narrower measures to respond to the move.

What to watch: No specific legislative retaliation for the ICJ order has yet been floated, but some Republicans are already signaling support for some form of U.S. response.

  • House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Biden "must commit to vetoing any UN Security Council resolution that would enforce this outrageous decision."
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on X: "It is long past time to stand up to these so-called international justice organizations associated with the UN."
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