Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared the decision by the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor to investigate possible war crimes in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, to the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus IV, calling the ICC decision anti-Semitic.
"We light candles in protest of historic and modern anti-Semitic decrees," said Netanyahu at a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
"Just like we fought against anti-Semitic decrees 2,000 years ago, we have now learned of new decrees against the Jewish people brought by the International Criminal Court, that told us we have no right to live here," Netanyahu said and vowed, "we will not bow our heads, we will fight with every means at our disposal."
An inter-ministerial team set up to deal with the ICC crisis met in the foreign ministry in Jerusalem Sunday, and included representatives of the National Security Council, justice and foreign ministries and the IDF.
Earlier on Sunday, the cabinet heard from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit about the ICC decision and its ramifications. The cabinet then approved Netanyahu's request to prohibit the disclosure and publication of all debates involving the ICC announcement last week, and that all further debates will be held within the Security Cabinet.
Jerusalem is not expected to cooperate directly with the ICC but will likely allow Israelis in a non-official capacity to appear before the court and argue the question of ICC's authority over Israel since it has never ratified the Rome convention. They will also question the Palestinians' standing as they are not a state and should not be allowed to appeal to the court.
There is some debate among legal experts in Israel about the possibility of persuading the three-judge panel to reject Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's recommendation after it rejected an earlier bid by the same prosecutor to investigate American war crimes in Afghanistan.
U.S. President Donald Trump had threatened to sanction the ICC if such an investigation is sanctioned.
Israel intends to enlist the assistance of other countries including the U.S., Britain, Russia, and Australia who share some of the same concerns Jerusalem has over the precedence of an inquiry into a western democracy with a viable legal system.
At the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu said “While we are moving forward in new areas of hope and peace with our Arab neighbors, the ICC in The Hague has taken a step backward, it finally became a weapon in the political war against the State of Israel,” said the prime minister. “The prosecutor’s decision against Israel is absurd.”
“Who are they accusing here?" the prime minister asked, "Iran? Turkey? Syria? No - Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. This is terrible hypocrisy.”
On Friday, the ICC's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced she was ready to proceed with an investigation into war crimes committed in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem pending the court's ruling on jurisdiction over those territories.
First published: 21:24 , 12.22.19