ICJ genocide ruling threatens global support for Israel

Presiding judge Joan Donoghue at the International Court of Justice in The Hague
Presiding judge Joan Donoghue at the International Court of Justice in The Hague - Patrick Post/AP

The decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to press ahead in hearing a case of genocide against Israel will have profound implications for a country that relies on the support of others for its prosperity and security.

Israel has not been found guilty of humanity’s most heinous crime and, in all likelihood, never will be. However, the court ruled it was plausible a genocide was occurring in Gaza and said it would hear the landmark case, a process that could drag on for a decade or more.

“In the court’s view, at least some of the acts and omissions committed by Israel in Gaza appear to be capable of falling within the provisions of the genocide convention,” said Justice Joan Donoghue, the US president of the court.

“The court concludes it has prima facie jurisdiction to entertain the case on the basis of Article 9 of the Genocide Convention.”

Israel’s leadership – including several of those whose blood-curdling rhetoric landed the country in the dock in the first place – dismissed the court’s central finding.

The charge of genocide against Israel was “not only false, it’s outrageous” and “decent people everywhere should reject it”, said Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.

But will they? And even if they would like to, will their parliaments and domestic laws allow it?

Relies on ability to trade freely

Israel relies on its ability to trade freely for its prosperity and is dependent on the West – especially the US – for its military security.

If this becomes impossible, either through the rise of consumer boycotts or formal sanctions, the country could quite quickly find itself facing an existential crisis.

It is, after all, surrounded by increasingly well-armed terrorist groups which are open in their genocidal intent and desire to erase the Jewish state from the map.

Only last week Professor Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel, warned the continuing war in Gaza could cost Joe Biden, the US president, a second term in office.

“I think our relationship with the United States is an existential one and the war with Hamas shows we are far more dependent on the US than we ever knew,” he told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.

Donald Trump, an unabashed populist, has long argued that America should stay out of other people’s wars which is not a good omen for Israel.

In addition to taking the case forward, the ICJ issued a series of “provisional measures” on Friday, legally binding orders on Israel designed to limit harm to Palestinians in Gaza.

They include an order that Israel should take steps to “prevent and punish” incitement to genocide and to ensure basic services and humanitarian assistance in Gaza.

EU wants ‘full implementation’

It is likely that Israel’s adherence, or lack of, these measures will determine if western countries continue to support it.

If it refuses to comply it will find itself in breach of international law, which will in turn trigger arms export bans and other sanctions, some automatic.

The EU said on Friday it expected a “full and immediate” implementation of the ICJ ruling.

“Orders of the International Court of Justice are binding on the parties and they must comply with them. The EU expects their full, immediate and effective implementation,” said the Commission.

There is a long-standing machismo and chauvinism in Israeli political culture that was vital for its early survival but it could yet prove to be its undoing.

It still thinks of itself as “a villa in the jungle”, a “wall against barbarism”.

Friday’s ruling by the ICJ suggests Israel urgently needs to change course lest it sink into the same violent swamp.

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