On Jan. 26, 2024—only one day before the U.N.’s International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust (or International Holocaust Remembrance Day, as it is more commonly known)—the U.N.’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) rendered a preliminary decision in the libelous case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide.
B’nai B’rith had submitted arguments against the South African case calling for the ICJ to reject the malign genocide charge against Israel and instead recognize that Hamas was responsible for genocide against Israelis on Oct. 7, and is responsible for the suffering of the people in Gaza due to a strategic decision to embed itself deep within civilian infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the court chose not to go the responsible route, which would have been to throw out the patently absurd case entirely on its merits (or lack thereof), and instead chose to entertain the South African appeal. The court, as did the South African lawyers, took quotes out of context from Israeli politicians, or misrepresented what was said, to mischaracterize Israel’s wholly justifiable military campaign. This included a speech by President Isaac Herzog, who is probably Israel’s most well-respected representative on the world stage and a consensus figure within the country, especially after the Hamas attack.
The court did not rule that Israel has committed genocide (such a finding would normally take months or years to arrive at), but entertained the plausibility of such a charge, using the mischaracterized quotes to manufacture possible intent (a necessary component for genocide) and a slew of statements from biased U.N. agencies or officials.
The agencies cited included UNRWA, which has served as a mouthpiece for Hamas propaganda throughout the war (and long before), and has now had most of its funding suspended due to revelations that staff participated in the Hamas atrocities on Oct. 7. The officials cited include U.N. Special Rapporteurs who warned of genocide, led by former UNRWA employee and current Special Rapporteur on the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” Francesca Albanese. Albanese has told Hamas genocidaires that it has a “right to resist” and has complained that the Jewish lobby subjugates the United States, so her work should be considered radioactive, but in the U.N. context, this qualifies her as an “expert.” The ICJ is part of the U.N. system, so it should be no surprise that it built its decision on such a rotted foundation.
Having written all that, the ICJ could have chosen the even more radical route advocated by South Africa: decreeing preliminary measures to force Israel to stop its campaign against Hamas. It pointedly stopped well short of that (though, of course, could chose to do so later). The preliminary measures that the court adopted include telling Israel to make sure that genocide is not committed (it isn’t) and that Israel report back on its efforts in a month (which is unnecessary).
Prior to the decision, Hamas, expecting a win, said it would abide by the court’s ruling. The court called for the immediate and unconditional release of the Israeli hostages. Unconditional meaning: not as part of an exchange, not for a ceasefire, but right now. Unsurprisingly, Hamas went back on its word and did not release a single hostage (while also still cheering the decision and acting like it was a victory), despite talk of progress in hostage negotiations for weeks. In her dissenting opinion, one judge somewhat mirrored B’nai B’rith’s own arguments by calling on South Africa, which has hosted the terror group’s leaders, to pressure Hamas on this point —don’t hold your breath.
While the court decision was a victory in some ways for Israel—no preliminary measure calling for a ceasefire, and a call for Hamas to immediately release hostages (actually, even without a ceasefire)—the ICJ’s actions are incredibly dangerous. By entertaining South Africa’s blood libel, not by ruling that genocide was taking place but merely by saying that such an absurdity was plausible, the ICJ is legitimizing the genocide charge. The ICJ decision demonizes the Jewish state, making its defensive efforts in Gaza even more complicated, but is equally dangerous to Jews in the Diaspora. On the streets and in social media, anti-Israel elements are acting as if the ICJ ruled that genocide had occurred. Violent mobs are going after Jews spewing hate about “genocide.” Just this week, the FBI arrested a man who threatened Jewish institutions in Massachusetts. He justified his action as a response to “genocide” in Gaza. We can only assume that this will continue and grow.
It must be acknowledged that the U.N. and the ICJ are not acting as responsible, sober actors in the international arena, but are actively stoking the fires of anti-Semitism. This ICJ case is a classic example.
Oren Drori is the Assistant Director of United Nations Affairs at B’nai B’rith International where he supports advocacy and programming efforts that advance B’nai B’rith’s goals at the U.N., which include: defending Israel, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and promoting global human rights and humanitarian concerns. He received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota in 2004 and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago in 2006.