Jan 25, 2021

On Wednesday, the US State Department imposed sanctions which include freezing assets and travel bans on International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in reaction to her investigations into US forces in Afghanistan.

The US has never been a part of the ICC, which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called “a thoroughly broken and corrupt institution.”

In March, Bensouda began investigating whether war crimes were committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, Afghan military, and US forces. In particular, Bensouda was investigating the methods used by the US military and the CIA to interrogate detainees. The prosecution said, ‘There is a reasonable basis to believe that, since May 2003, members of the US armed forces and the CIA have committed the war crimes of torture and cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape and other forms of sexual violence pursuant to a policy approved by US authorities.'”

“The International Criminal Court’s actions are an attack on the rights of the American people and threaten to infringe upon our national sovereignty,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement at the time.

“As the President’s Executive Order makes clear, the United States will continue to use any means necessary to protect our citizens and our allies from unjust prosecution by the International Criminal Court,”

“We will not tolerate its illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction,”  Pompeo said at a news conference last week. 

Included in the sanctions was Phakiso Mochochoko, the head of the ICC’s Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division as part of the Treasury Department’s “Specially Designated Nationals” list. The designation freezes any assets they might have in the U.S. or subject to U.S. law. The list is a result of an Executive Order enacted by Trump in June against the court officials. 

The ICC criticized the sanctions, claiming it was an attack against the court.

“These coercive acts, directed at an international judicial institution and its civil servants, are unprecedented and constitute serious attacks against the court, the Rome Statute system of international criminal justice, and the rule of law more generally,” the ICC said in a statement.

The NGO, Human Rights Watch, blamed the US president for the sanctions. 

“The Trump administration has twisted these sanctions to obstruct justice, not only for certain war crimes victims but for atrocity victims anywhere looking to the International Criminal Court for justice,” he said.

In a blatant display of hypocrisy, J Street jumped into the fray, calling the sanctions “an appalling new milestone in the administration’s rogue behavior on the world stage.”

“This is the latest sign that Pompeo and President Trump have contempt for the rule of law and for rules-based international institutions. Not satisfied with merely defaming and undermining the institutions tasked with enforcing key international human rights laws, the administration has now turned to intimidating and penalizing their personnel. Regardless of opinions or disagreements on any particular matter before the ICC, it’s clear that sanctioning its personnel is not the act of a government interested in justice and due process, but of would-be autocrats who fear and despise those very things.”

In June,  J Street joined over 60 advocacy organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, American Jewish World Service, the Union for Reform Judaism, in a letter denouncing the White House’s move.   

Though J Street described the ICC as the icon of justice,j J Street criticized the ICC just a few years ago for intervening between Israel and the Palestinians. In 2015, when the PA formally submitted documents to join the ICC, Israel objected, claiming the ICC did not have the jurisdiction to intervene. 

J Street also objected but for slightly different reasons: 

“It neither brings a Palestinian state any closer nor is it likely to result in the imminent detention or punishment of Israeli citizens,” J Street wrote at the time. 

J Street touts itself as a pro-Israel organization, claiming it is working for “Israel to survive as a secure, democratic, Jewish homeland – two states for two peoples, with Borders based on the pre-1967 lines with agreed swaps.” 

For several years, J Street denied receiving any funding from George Soros’ Open Society Foundation until The Washington Times revealed the connection in 2010. J Street received roughly one-third of its revenue from billionaire Jewish left-wing financier George Soros as a three-year, $750,000 beginning in 2008. The revelation of the connection to notoriously anti-Israel Soros was considered damaging to JStreet, dispelling the myth that it was a pro-Israel organization. 

The funding marked a change in policy for J Street as they began to actively advocate Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel and hosted speakers that preached a one-state solution as well as legal actions against Israeli officials.