The accusations leveled against Israel by South Africa are certainly important – but what support do they really have globally?
South Africa says more than 50 countries have expressed support for its case at the United Nations’ top court accusing Israel of genocide against Palestinians in the war on Gaza.
Others, including the United States, have strongly rejected South Africa’s accusation that Israel is violating the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Many others remained silent.
The world’s reaction to the landmark case being heard Thursday and Friday at the International Court of Justice in The Hague shows a predictable global divide when it comes to the inextricable 75-year-old problem of Israel and the Palestinians.
Sunday marks 100 days of their bloodiest conflict ever.
Most of the countries supporting South Africa’s cause are from the Arab world and Africa.
In Europe, only the Muslim nation of Turkey has publicly declared its support.
No Western country has declared support for South Africa’s accusations against Israel. The United States, a close ally of Israel, has rejected them as unfounded, the United Kingdom has called them unjustified and Germany has said it “explicitly rejects” them.
China and Russia have said little about one of the most significant cases brought before an international court in recent history – and the European Union also did not comment.
Reaction from the EU, US and UK: “meritless” accusations.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, on a visit to Israel the day before the court proceedings began, that South Africa’s allegations are “baseless” and that the case “distracts the world” from efforts to find a resolution lasting to the conflict.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said genocide “is not a word that should be used lightly, and we certainly don’t believe it applies here.”
“We don’t agree with what the South Africans are doing,” British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said.
Israel fiercely rejects accusations of genocide and says it is defending its people. The offensive, it says, aims to eradicate the leaders of Hamas, the militant group that controls the territory and which provoked the conflict by launching surprise attacks in southern Israel on October 7.
Blinken said a case of genocide against Israel is “particularly galling” given that Hamas and other groups “continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass extermination of Jews.”
The US, UK, EU and others classify Hamas as a terrorist organisation.
According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, Israel’s military response in Gaza has killed more than 23,000 Palestinians. The count does not distinguish between combatants and civilians. More than two-thirds of the dead are said to be women and children.
Much of northern Gaza has become an uninhabitable moonscape with entire neighborhoods obliterated by Israeli airstrikes and tank fire.
South Africa has also condemned the October 7 Hamas attack but says this does not justify Israel’s response.
German support for Israel – and Turkish doubts
Germany’s announcement of support for Israel on Friday, the day the hearings concluded, has symbolic significance given its history linked to the Holocaust, when the Nazis killed 6 million Jews in Europe. Israel was created after World War II as a refuge for Jews in the shadow of those atrocities.
“Israel has defended itself,” said German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit. His statement also invoked the Holocaust, which largely spurred the creation of the United Nations Convention on Genocide in 1948.
“Considering Germany’s history … the federal government considers itself particularly committed to the Genocide Convention,” he said. He called the accusations against Israel “completely unfounded.”
Germany has said it intends to intervene in the case on Israel’s behalf.
The EU has only said that countries have the right to bring cases to the UN court. Most of its member states refrained from taking a position.
Turkey, which is in the process of joining the EU, was a lone voice in the region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country provided documents that were used against Israel in the case.
“With these documents, Israel will be condemned,” he said.
Arab condemnation of Israel
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was one of the first blocs to publicly support the case when South Africa lodged it late last month. He said a “mass genocide by the Israel Defense Forces” had been perpetrated and accused Israel of “indiscriminately targeting” Gaza’s civilian population.
The OIC is a bloc of 57 countries that includes Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt. Its headquarters are in Saudi Arabia. The Cairo-based Arab League, whose 22 member countries are almost all part of the OIC, also supported South Africa’s cause.
South Africa has received some support from outside the Arab world. Namibia and Pakistan agreed on the issue during a session of the United Nations General Assembly this week. Malaysia also expressed support.
“No peace-loving human being can ignore the carnage committed against Palestinians in Gaza,” Namibian President Hage Geingob told the southern African nation’s The Namibian newspaper.
Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry called for “legal accountability for Israel’s atrocities in Gaza.”
Silence from China and Russia
China, Russia – which is facing genocide charges in the world court – and emerging power India have remained largely silent, apparently aware that taking sides in such an inflammatory case has little benefit and could irreversibly disrupt their relations in the region. .
India’s foreign policy has historically supported the Palestinian cause, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi was one of the first global leaders to express solidarity with Israel and characterize the Hamas attack as terrorism.
Sitting on the fence?
A handful of South American countries spoke out, including the continent’s largest economy, Brazil, whose Foreign Ministry said President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva supported South Africa’s cause.
However, the ministry’s comments do not directly accuse Israel of genocide, but focus on the need for a ceasefire in Gaza.
South Africa’s case against Israel is twofold: it wants the court to say that Israel is committing genocide and to issue an interim ruling ordering an end to its military campaign in Gaza. The court said it will decide on an interim ruling soon but, reflecting the gravity of the case, a final verdict on the genocide charge could take years.
Brazil said it hoped the case would lead Israel to “immediately cease all acts and measures that could constitute genocide.”
Other countries have not reached an agreement with South Africa. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the genocide case was “far from clear” but he hoped the court would order a ceasefire in Gaza.