Why are these 3 men worried about the International Criminal Court opening an investigation into possible Israeli war crimes?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote an urgent letter to Prime Minister Trudeau imploring him to oppose the decision of the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel for potential war crimes. The ICC investigation, if it can’t be stopped, will be a big problem for both Trudeau and Netanyahu. But it could be an even bigger problem for Benny Gantz, (lower right) the man who would like to replace Netanyahu. Read why…

I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip” – Statement of the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, December 20th 2019.

With those words on December 20th, Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, has caused an uproar (some would even say panic) in Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately lambasted the decision of the prosecutor. “This is a dark day for truth and justice,” Netanyahu said in a statement, calling prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s ruling “scandalous and baseless.”

Netanyahu even made a personal appeal to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to condemn the International Criminal Court for taking this major step.

““In light of our special relations and the steadfast friendship between our counties, I urge you to publicly condemn this erroneous decision, to acknowledge there is not a Palestinian state, that the court has no jurisdiction in this matter, (…) and to voice your deep concerns regarding its dangerous ramifications to the court and the region,” Mr. Netanyahu wrote.

Netanyahu may be counting on a final hurdle to prevent a full investigation – determining whether the Court has “territorial jurisdiction”. Bensouda has asked for the court’s confirmation of that before beginning proceedings.

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Did Israel commit war crimes in Gaza? Dr. Tarek Loubani was there on the front line. Come to see him speak in Ottawa on January 14th. For more information: http://bit.ly/2ZPxbem

The possibility of an ICC investigation, whether or not it gets legally sidelined by a debate over “territory” is a already public relations nightmare for Netanyahu. Israeli officials have wasted no time in attacking Bensouda as “anti-Israeli” and “anti-Semitic”.

That charge might be hard to make stick. When Jerusalem Post columnist Yonah Jeremy Bob interviewed Bensouda back in 2016, he found no evidence of any anti-Semitic bias.

Bensouda exuded a generic sense of fairness – and her decisions showed greater objectivity than some UN institutions,” he said. “(But)”, he also warned his Israeli readers, “there was nothing to indicate that she would be part of the small global group of Israeli allies”.

Why might these 3 men be worried?

bibi madBenjamin Netanyahu has been Prime Minister of Israel for the last 10 years. The alleged human rights abuses which Bensouda says there is credible evidence for, took place on Netanyahu’s watch. If the investigation finds war crimes have taken place, according to the Times of Israel, Netanyahu and a host of other Israeli officials could be facing global arrest warrants and eventual prosecution.  

gantzBenny Gantz who is hoping to replace Netanyahu as Prime Minister, also has lots to be concerned about. He commanded the Israel Defense Forces during the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza, and could potentially be personally charged with “war crimes” as a result of the investigation.

Gantz has claimed repeatedly that Israel’s military is “the most moral army in the world“. In that case, one would expect the ICC investigation would back up his claim. His opposition to the ICC investigation seems to indicate he is not so confident of the outcome. There are also political consequences for Mr. Gantz as an ICC investigation challenges the widespread view in the west that “Gantz” is somehow “more moderate” than his former boss, Mr. Netanyahu. 

trudeau pensiveCanadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will also have a bit of trouble with the investigation, as it puts him in a difficult place politically. Canada was one of the founders of the ICC created 20 years ago. The ICC has jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocidecrimes against humanitywar crimes, and the crime of aggression. It was created to act when “national courts are unwilling or unable to prosecute criminals” which is the precisely the allegation against Israel.

The personal letter from Prime Minister Netanyahu and fierce lobbying by Israel’s defenders have put Trudeau in a tight spot – either support the ICC, which is trying to do the job Canada asked it to do, or undermine the ICC in response to pressure from the Israel lobby.

Bensouda and the ICC will be under tremendous pressure, from Israel, the USA (and maybe even Canada) to drop the investigation. The stakes are high.


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  1. Yes, Trudeau will be in a quandary. He stands firmly for the rule of convenient laws and conventions. The ICC issue certainly lacks convenience. As for honour his past record suggests he lacks such. Nice boy, nice smile but don’t turn your back. Time to call Romeo Dallaire.

  2. Sadly, Trudeau has already displayed a willingness to delve into the fanciful in search of an impossible solution with his intent on supporting the much troubled TMX pipeline through BC to the coast for as long as it takes to generate enough royalties for Ottawa, then to stop the pipeline and use the funds to cure climate change. Imagine, if you can, polluting for decades and then the problem disappears.
    No doubt his grasp on the Israel/Palestine divide is even more tenuous and troubled.

    1. Hey Allan,
      I think Trudeau probably has very little time for or knowledge of the I/P issue. He is focussed on domestic political advantage. I am sure he relies on (mostly Zionist) advisors and Liberal party strategists.

      1. And I’m concerned you are absolutely correct. I have been looking for more comments on the issue, expecting thoughts on what can be done to prevent any action to drop the investigation. The very fact that Netanyahu is leaning on Trudeau confirms that he stands out as the last bastion of international injustice outside of Trump. This should not be lost on all parliamentarians, particularly the opposition and possibly even outfits such as Democracy Watch. Little doubt that CIGI are working on it but from an analytical perspective.

  3. Most likely there’s no chance that this call for investigation will lead anywhere. We only have to look at Richard Goldstone’s findings of Israeli war crimes, after six months of investigation of Israeli assault on Gaza in 2011.
    No one even read the report. He was condemned as Antisemite, although he was a most respected personality, a Jewish Zionist who his daughter and grand children live in Israel.

    1. Hey Jake,
      You have the right to be pessimistic. And it may well turn out that way.

      But the question to me is, what can we do to increase the odds that it does lead somewhere?

      I think calling out Trudeau, and making it harder for him to undermine the ICC is a little contribution to that.

  4. All of us should be writing to the PM and our MPs to ask them to support an ICC inquiry. ICC action is long overdue.

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