South Africa on Friday filed a case in the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, asking the UN court to issue an urgent order to stop the military campaign.
Israel’s foreign ministry responded with “disgust” to allegations that it violated the 1948 Genocide Convention, which was drafted in the wake of the Holocaust, accusing South Africa of “blood libel” and calling on the ICJ to reject the case.
A “genocide” ruling may sway public opinion on the war
While the ICJ case will likely take years to resolve, South Africa has asked the court to meet in the next few days to issue provisional measures ordering a ceasefire. It says that Israel’s military actions – in which a reported 21,000 people have died – meet the threshold for genocide under the 1948 treaty, with the filing accusing Israel of attempting “to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group.” Rulings by the UN’s top court – which was set up to resolve disputes between states – are supposed to be legally binding but often go ignored, as in the case of a March 2022 order for Russia to halt its military offensive in Ukraine. However, any designation of genocide will carry symbolic weight and is likely to “significantly sway public opinion”, the Guardian wrote.
Case marks a sharp downturn in relations between South Africa and Israel
The case underscores the sharp downturn in relations between South Africa and Israel since the October 7 Hamas attack. Israel recalled its ambassador last month as lawmakers in Cape Town voted to shut down the Israeli embassy and suspend diplomatic ties until a ceasefire was agreed. South Africa has a deep historical affinity with Palestine – Mandela wore the keffiyeh, a symbol of Palestinian freedom, and diplomats have long drawn parallels between Israel’s policies in Gaza and the occupied West Bank with the White-imposed apartheid regime, a comparison Israel denies. Despite this, the two countries were seen as allies – but relations have plummeted amid the Gaza war, with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa last month likening the enclave to a “concentration camp” and referring Israel to the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes. “Once one of Israel’s most significant partners on the continent, South Africa has gradually come out as one of its most vituperative critics,” the Times of Israel wrote in November.