EU backs ICC after Netanyahu’s ‘anti-Semitism’ smear

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are likely to be targets of the ICC war crimes investigation (Menahem Kahana - Reuters)

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  March 4, 2021

The European Union appears to be rejecting Benjamin Netanyahu’s smears against the International Criminal Court after Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda confirmed on Wednesday that she would be launching a formal investigation into war crimes in Palestine.

The Israeli prime minister blasted the investigation as “the essence of anti-Semitism,” and other Israeli leaders lashed out in similar terms.

Asked by The Electronic Intifada for the EU’s reaction to Netanyahu’s comments, the bloc’s spokesperson Peter Stano did not respond directly regarding the Israeli leader.

However, Stano affirmed that the “ICC is an independent and impartial judicial institution with no political objectives to pursue.”

He also reiterated that the EU “respects the court’s independence and impartiality” – an implicit rebuke of Israel’s outlandish charges of anti-Jewish bias.

Stano noted that the ICC is “a court of last resort, a fundamental safety net to help victims achieve justice where this is not possible at the national level, thus where the state concerned is genuinely unwilling or unable to carry out the investigation or the prosecution.”

The EU also urged “states parties to the Rome Statute and non-states parties” – the latter a clear reference to Israel which has not signed the court’s founding statute – “to have a dialogue” with the ICC that should be “non-confrontational, non-politicized and based on law and facts.”

Given the EU’s long record of virtually unconditional backing of Israel, it is remarkable that it has held fast to its support for the ICC as at long last the court takes up Israel’s unchecked violations of Palestinian rights.

The ICC investigation will cover alleged crimes since June 2014, a period that includes Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza and the ongoing construction of settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

The EU’s position represents a break with allies such as the United States, Canada and Australia that have openly opposed the court investigating alleged war crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Notwithstanding the EU’s support for the ICC, Israel lobbyists are taking comfort from how some individual EU member states, notably Germany, are opposing a war crimes probe.

US opposition to justice

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated that the Biden administration “firmly opposes” justice and accountability for Palestinian victims of Israeli war crimes.

This opposition is not surprising given that the Obama-Biden administration resupplied Israel with munitions while it was bombing Gaza in the summer of 2014, killing more than 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 550 children.

Biden’s stance will cheer Netanyahu and other top Israeli leaders including defense minister Benny Gantz, who will likely be targets of the ICC investigation. Gantz was the Israeli army chief at the time of Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza.

Nonetheless, after years-long delays and decades of waiting for justice, Palestinians are at last seeing their quest to hold Israel accountable and check its crimes bearing fruit.

Ali Abunimah is Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.