'Anti-Semitic Decrees': Netanyahu Slams ICC Prosecutor's Call to Probe Israel for War Crimes

Prime minister says 'decrees' deem that Jews simply living in Israel are war criminals, despite no such claim being made in prosecutor's statement

Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman during a Hanukkah candle lighting at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, December 22, 2019
Gali Tibbon/AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that International Criminal Court Prosecutor announcement that there is a basis to investigate Israel for committing war crimes against Palestinians is "blatant anti-Semitism."

Speaking at the first Hanukkah candlelighting alongside U.S. Ambassador David Friedman at the Western Wall, Netanyahu said that "new decrees are imposed on the Jewish people. Anti-Semitic decrees of the International Court telling us, the Jews standing by this wall, by this mountain, in this city, in this land, that we have no right to live here, and that if we live here we commit war crimes. Blatant anti-Semitism."

However, the prosecutor's statement did not negate the Jewish people's right for self-determination, in Israel or elsewhere.

>> Read more: The road to an ICC probe of alleged Israeli war crimes: What happens next? | Explained

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz also said Sunday that Bensouda's statement has "a component of anti-Semitism ... camouflaged beneath the surface." He added that it is "a joke" to investigate "the only democracy in the Middle East," while it is surrounded by many "dictatorships that oppress, kill and expels millions of civilians."

The minister claimed that the ICC prosecutor's statement is persecution against the Jews, claiming it is a type of "blood libel," referencing Jewish history with false accusations. Steinitz also added that "the Palestinian Authority, which has no authority to prosecute Israelis, cannot ask the ICC for that authority."

Netanyahu responded to the ICC prosecutor's statement earlier on Friday, saying that it was "a black day for the truth and for justice." According to him, the ICC has no authority to pursue the matter. "It only has the authority to prosecute in lawsuits that are filed by sovereign states, but there was never a Palestinian state," Netanyahu said.

Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said that Israel has yet to decide whether it would cooperate with the process the ICC has launched ahead of a possible probe.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said on Saturday that he "resolutely rejects" the statement by the ICC prosecutor. "The State of Israel is a democratic, law-abiding country, which is committed to honoring international law and humanitarian values, and acts to promote them," he said in a statement to Israeli media.

The decision is "unacceptable" and "it's unclear why she [prosecutor Fatou Bensouda] was in such a hurry to make a rash and unfounded decision like this," the attorney general added.

Netanyahu's rival Benny Gantz, the leader of the Kahol Lavan Party, also said in a tweet Saturday, that Bensouda's decision "is a political decision, not a legal one," adding that "the Israeli army is one of the most moral militaries in the world."

Gantz, who served as chief of the IDF during Israel's ground operation in Gaza in 2014 – one of the main four points in the investigation the ICC prosecutor seeks to launch – said that "the Israeli army and State of Israel do not commit war crimes." He added that "in the struggle over Israel's international legitimacy to defend itself, there is no coalition and opposition. We will all join the fight for justice and for our basic right to defend the State of Israel and its civilians."

The Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC said on Friday that there is basis to investigate Israel for its actions in the West Bank and Gaza, but has requested the Court to decide over the question of its jurisdiction in the Palestinians territories.

"In brief, I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip," Fatou Bensouda wrote in her statement.

Benouda's office requested that the court look into whether it was under the ICC's jurisdiction to decide over the question of war crimes in the Palestinian territories.