In the midst of global condemnation directed at Israel for its ongoing airstrikes on Gaza, South Africa took a significant step on Friday, December 29, by approaching the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The country sought an urgent order from the ICJ, asserting that Israel was violating its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention.
The ICJ, a United Nations platform for resolving state disputes, is now at the center of attention as South Africa pushes for a declaration against Israel, accusing it of genocide. The move raises questions about South Africa’s strong stance in support of Gaza and its decision to involve the ICJ. The 1948 Genocide Convention, adopted by the UN General Assembly, defines genocide based on specific criteria.
The Convention specifies that genocide involves acts committed with the intent to destroy, either wholly or partially, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. These acts include killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions of life leading to physical destruction, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcibly transferring children of the group.
In response to South Africa’s application to the ICJ, the country’s presidency emphasized its obligation to prevent genocide. The application urges the ICJ to conduct a hearing next week and issue provisional measures to halt the violence in Gaza. Israel, in turn, strongly rejected the accusations, calling them a “blood libel spread by South Africa.”
Even if the ICJ conducts a hearing and issues provisional measures, Israel retains the option to disregard them, as exemplified by Russia’s non-compliance with a similar ICJ order in March 2022 regarding the military campaign in Ukraine. Nonetheless, South Africa’s move contributes to the mounting criticism Israel faces from non-Western perspectives.
This is not the first instance of South Africa expressing disapproval of Israel. In October, amid escalating violence, President Cyril Ramaphosa and the African National Congress condemned the atrocities in the Middle East, leading to the suspension of diplomatic relations with Israel. This decision is notable considering South Africa’s status as Israel’s largest trading partner in Africa.
South Africa’s historical solidarity with Gaza can be traced back to its own experience of colonialism and occupation. Like other nations with similar histories, South Africa sympathizes with the Palestinian cause. Diplomatic ties with Palestine were established soon after the dismantling of South Africa’s Apartheid government in 1990. Nelson Mandela, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, advocated strongly for Palestinian rights.
Despite being a major trading partner with Israel, South Africa has maintained its support for Palestine due to its historical links with anti-discrimination activism. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) draws parallels between Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and the discrimination faced by Black South Africans during apartheid. Additionally, South Africa resists aligning with the West on global issues, as seen in its questioning of Western powers’ condemnation of Israel while facing pressure to unite against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.