Democracies Don’t Get a Pass on War Crimes

Democracies Don’t Get a Pass on War Crimes
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant attend a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 28, 2023 (pool photo by Abir Sultan via AP Images).

On May 20, Karim Khan, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, requested that the court issue arrest warrants for Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh, as well as for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in connection with crimes against civilians committed by both sides on or since Oct. 7, 2023.

The ICC—which holds individuals criminally accountable for the worst international crimes, namely genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression—will not decide whether to actually issue the warrants for some weeks. And anyone who is ultimately charged may never actually be arrested. Nevertheless, Khan’s request, though well-received by human rights advocates, triggered an outcry from both sets of conflict actors.  

According to Reuters, both Israel and Hamas’ initially reacted by accusing the court of creating false comparisons. Netanyahu declared, “I reject with disgust the comparison of the prosecutor in the Hague between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas.” For its part, Hamas issued a statement asserting that the group “strongly denounces the attempts of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to equate the victim with the executioner by issuing arrest warrants against a number of Palestinian resistance leaders.” These kinds of official statements are perhaps to be expected. But they also indicate that both sides are either weaponizing the law to excuse themselves and demonize their enemy, or simply don’t understand how the law works.

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