International Court Half-Heartedly Vindicates Israel
Americans usually pay little attention to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and rightly so. The U.N. arbitration board has little neutrality and even less power, often able to award nothing more than propaganda points. But, in a Friday decision, the ICJ issued a decision that was actually noteworthy — for what it didn’t say. As an organ of the rabidly anti-Israel international organization whose members overwhelmingly sided with Hamas in October and demanded an immediate ceasefire, the ICJ’s decision didn’t fully side with Hamas and strikingly didn’t call for a ceasefire. Perhaps the evidence failed to sustain the charade.
On December 29, South Africa lodged a complaint with the United Nations, alleging that Israel’s actions to defend itself against Hamas were “genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial, and ethnical group.” They demanded an immediate ceasefire while years-long genocide proceedings play out, which would, of course, give Hamas breathing room to rebuild, rearm, and carry out more terrorist attacks against Israel.
This is the same South Africa infamous for its four-decade apartheid regime and illicit nuclear weapons program. The country is now experimenting with the Ibram X. Kendi theory of racial justice, attempting to correct past racism with present racism in reverse. Yet South Africa considers the speck in Israel’s eye larger than the log in its own.
In a preliminary decision issued Friday, the ICJ did not dismiss South Africa’s accusation, but neither did it order Israel to cease military operations in Gaza, disappointing anti-Semites the world over. Instead, the ICJ said “at least some acts” by Israel actions “appear to be capable of falling within the Genocide Convention” may have constituted genocide — a mealy-mouthed obfuscation meaning next to nothing. Perhaps that is why the 15-member ICJ adopted the decisions in “a series of near-unanimous votes,” per The Wall Street Journal.
Genocide is defined as acting “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” It ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide and report back in a month. According to Hebrew University legal scholar and professor Barak Medina, “The rhetoric was not optimal for Israel, but I don’t foresee that this will lead to political or economic international reactions.”
“The ICJ’s verdict has failed to demonstrate that Israel is guilty of genocide, but it has confirmed the conclusion that the U.N. and its various organs are garbage,” remarked National Review’s Noah Rothman. “But then, we already knew that.”
Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Elliot Abrams argued that the United Nations has demonstrated horrific bias against Israel for decades. All the way back on November 10, 1975, he recalled, the U.N. declared that “Zionism is a form of racism,” a resolution which the U.S. condemned in the strongest terms. “As in 1975, the U.N. system is being weaponized — in fact, is willfully turning itself into a weapon — to delegitimize the Jewish state,” he said. “The court relied on ‘facts’ from sickeningly biased U.N. officials, from the irredeemably compromised UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East] whose complicity with Hamas is crystal clear, and from the Hamas ministry of health in Gaza.” The Gaza Health Ministry publishes a death count that is widely reported (because no other count is available) but is highly suspect and does not even distinguish civilian and military casualties.
For months, the IDF regularly happened across evidence of UNRWA’s complicity with Hamas, such as finding weapons and ammunition hidden inside facilities or packages belonging to UNRWA. In a recent intelligence briefing to U.S. officials, the IDF revealed that at least six UNRWA workers actually participated in Hamas’s October 7 terror attack, and at least 1,200 of UNRWA’s 12,000 employees have links to Hamas or Islamic Jihad, two terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip. A senior Israel official summed up UNRWA’s complicity, “UNRWA’s problem is not just ‘a few bad apples’ involved in the October 7 massacre. The institution as a whole is a haven for Hamas’ radical ideology.”
As for the substance of South Africa’s claims, they argued that Israel’s recent military actions merely continue “a campaign against Palestinians that started with the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948,” The Wall Street Journal reported. The modern Jewish state was founded only three years after the end of the Holocaust, with the overt intention of providing Jews with a means of self-defense against future genocides. Anti-Semites invert this reasoning and insist that the existence of a Jewish state is a cause of genocide, not a defense against it.
“This turns justice on its head” exclaimed Abrams. “Killing Jews is not found to be genocide, but it is a crime for Jews to try to defend themselves. Not since the days of Nazi Germany has such a moral inversion of international law been propounded.”
South Africa contended that Israel used high-yield ordnance in crowded urban areas for “mass killing of Palestinians,” ignoring Hamas’s tendency to hide underneath these areas, forcing Israel to inflict high civilian casualties in order to eliminate their primary target. They claimed that Israel was starving Gazans of food and medicine and shutting down hospitals, despite the fact that Israel has been allowing a steady stream of aid to flow into the region — odd behavior for “besiegers” — and permitting hospitals to continue operations even while they were active battlefields (locations chosen by Hamas, not Israel). Rothman said South Africa’s claims “could only convince those who reject the evidence of their own eyes.”
Israel rebutted these claims by declassifying decisions made by its war cabinet, regarding the construction of field hospitals in the Gaza Strip and Israel’s efforts to help humanitarian aid reach Gazans. They also submitted daily directives from the military informing soldiers that attacks “will be solely directed towards military targets.” Foreign Ministry legal adviser Tal Becker argued that Israel obeys the laws of war, which recognize the inevitability of civilian casualties, but that Hamas violates the laws of war by deliberately placing civilians in harm’s way. Becker insisted the genocide charge was “libel, designed to deny Israel the right to defend itself according to the law from the unprecedented terrorist onslaught it continues to face.”
In a rare moment of moral clarity from the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the genocide charge was “particularly galling, given that those who are attacking Israel — Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, as well as their supporter, Iran — continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews.” So far, no one has brought a complaint against these open calls for genocide before the ICJ.
The ICJ’s decisions tried to split the middle, neither dismissing South Africa’s absurd claims nor punishing Israel for them. Instead, they ordered Israel to “ensure with immediate effect that its military does not commit any acts” of genocide, police speech that incited genocide, ensure the delivery of aid, and then report back to the ICJ in a month. “The good news for Israel here is that it is, by all publicly available accounts, already in compliance with the ICJ’s recommendations,” Rothman remarked wryly.
On the one hand, the ICJ’s indecision provides propaganda fodder to Israel’s foes. Their both-sides-ism “lends credence to every claim of genocide, to every lie that Israel is trying to starve Gazans, to every effort to stop the IDF from defending Israel’s citizens,” argued Abrams. “Israel will be in the dock now for years to come,” unlike China, Syria, Russia, or other more legitimate targets of a genocide investigation.
On the other hand, that an organization so biased against Israel did not utterly condemn them speaks volumes in vindication of the beleaguered nation. The ICJ’s “reserved response” was not what “one might expect from an institution supposedly repulsed by incontrovertible evidence of ongoing crimes against humanity,” argued Rothman. The only immediate and unconditional action the court insisted upon was for Hamas to release the remaining hostages — an acknowledgment of who the real culprit in this conflict is. Meanwhile, the Israeli government recently approved shipping a six-month supply of flour into the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s case suffers the glaringflaw of weaponizing a 1948 definition of genocide against a group that suffered genocide in the past — the very genocide that prompted the creation of the definition. January 27, the day after the ICJ’s decision, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 79th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. “The Genocide Convention was not designed to address the brutal impact of intensive hostilities on the civilian population,” argued Becker. “The convention was set apart to address a malevolent crime of the most exceptional severity.”
Nevertheless, this decision and any future decisions from the ICJ will have direct impact on the real world — besides their propaganda value. “The International Court of Justice cannot” enforce its decisions,” argued National Review’s Charlie Cooke. “Those opinions, by their very nature, are just that: opinions. They are advisory, theoretical, abstract. Israel has not consented to be bound by them, either directly or indirectly, and, as a result, they carry about as much practical consequence as a panel debate on MSNBC.”
The ICJ’s only “enforcement” mechanism, if a party refuses to comply with a ruling, is an appeal to the dysfunctional U.N. Security Council. Indeed, The Wall Street Journal pointed out that, two years ago, the ICJ ordered Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine; clearly, Russia refused to abide by that decision.
Although advisory, the ICJ’s decision still carries the power of propaganda. To that purpose, its most recent decision on Israel was noteworthy for the expected denunciation of Israel it did not deliver. In a venue where the world’s hatred of Israel must constrain itself to actual facts, it seems that Israel’s moral high ground is too prominent to be totally ignored. Israel was brutally attacked by a remorseless enemy, and they are trying to root out that enemy from its entrenched position among a helpless civilian population. “Like every country, Israel has an inherent right to defend itself,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted. “The vile attempt to deny Israel this fundamental right is blatant discrimination against the Jewish state and it was justly rejected.”
In a recent “Washington Watch” interview, Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) put himself in Israel’s position. “If Texas was getting — choose a number — 10 rockets a day, 20 rockets a day, 60 or 70 rockets a day, from down in Mexico, how long do you think it would take for us to be down there in full force?” he asked. “Israel has the right to defend itself. … Unless they eradicate Hamas entirely and completely, it’s going to be that little girl in the movie ‘Poltergeist,’ [who] comes to the screen and says, ‘They’re back.’”
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.