The Israeli government has mounted a pressure campaign urging governments around the world to publicly denounce South Africa’s genocide case at the International Court of Justice, which is set to convene hearings on the detailed charges on Thursday.
According to a cable obtained by Axios, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is calling on the country’s embassies to pressure host country diplomats and political leaders to swiftly issue an “immediate and unequivocal statement along the following lines: To publicly and clearly state that YOUR COUNTRY rejects the outrage[ous], absurd, and baseless allegations made against Israel.”
The cable warns that “a ruling by the court could have significant potential implications that are not only in the legal world but have practical bilateral, multilateral, economic, security ramifications.” Israel is seeking to prevent an injunction ordering the country to suspend its attack on Gaza.
Former Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth argued that the cable shows Israel is “evidently worried about a judgment on the merits in South Africa’s case.”
“Israel is pressing others to denounce the case in the hope of persuading the International Court of Justice to decide based on politics rather than the facts,” Roth wrote on social media.
The United States, Israel’s top ally and arms supplier, has already rejected South Africa’s case, calling it “completely without any basis in fact” even though the Biden administration has not formally assessed whether Israel is complying with international humanitarian law during its assault on the Gaza Strip, which is now entering its fourth month with no end in sight.
One human rights monitor estimates that roughly 4% of Gaza’s population has been killed, wounded, or left missing by Israel’s war on the Palestinian territory.
Raz Segal, an Israeli historian and genocide scholar, has called Israel’s assault “a textbook case of genocide,” which is defined under international law as “a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, in whole or in part.”
South Africa’s 84-page application to the ICJ, a United Nations body composed of 15 elected judges, contains several pages of quotes from high-ranking Israeli officials — including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant — expressing what the filing calls “genocidal intent against the Palestinian people.”
Gallant infamously said days after the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel that “we are fighting human animals.” The remark came after he announced a “complete siege” on the Gaza Strip, denying food, water, and other critical aid to the enclave’s desperate population — a move widely decried as unlawful collective punishment.
“Similar statements have been made by Israeli army officials, advisers and spokespersons, and others engaging with Israeli troops being deployed in Gaza,” reads South Africa’s application, which has been backed by Turkey, Malaysia, and Jordan. Legal experts, advocates, and lawmakers in other nations have urged their governments to join the coalition.
Right-wing Israeli Knesset member Moshe Saada said last week that “my friends at the prosecutor’s office, who fought with me on political matters, in debates, tell me, ‘Moshe, it is clear that all the Gazans need to be destroyed.'”
Israel, which is a party to the Genocide Convention that it stands accused of violating, reportedly plans to argue at the ICJ that some of the officials quoted in South Africa’s application “are not decision-makers” — and those who are “didn’t mean what they said.”
Israel’s campaign against South Africa’s genocide case comes after the country’s national security and finance ministers drew international condemnation — including from the U.S. — for recommending the permanent removal of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, where 90% of the population has been internally displaced by the ongoing Israeli assault.
Such comments are hardly a departure from the Israeli military’s actions and statements made by Netanyahu, who has reportedly sought out countries willing to “absorb” displaced Gazans. The Times of Israel reported last week that Israeli officials “have held clandestine talks with the African nation of Congo and several others for the potential acceptance of Gaza emigrants.”
“Increasingly, it looks as if America is underwriting a war to remove Gazans from Gaza,” New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote Friday.
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