On January 11, 2024, the Republic of South Africa submitted an application to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. It charged Israel with committing genocide in Gaza and petitioned the ICJ to intervene judicially. The legal basis for this application is the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, which defines genocide as:
any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
We will know, perhaps in a matter of weeks, what the ICJ makes of South Africa’s case. Many—including Tal Becker, a legal advisor to Israel’s Foreign Ministry—have already denounced it as an inversion of recent history. It is Hamas, they point out, who have called for the genocide of their enemies, and who launched a pogrom on October 7.
Nevertheless, it is worth examining the South African application in order to understand how poorly it is constructed as a matter of law, and how deceptive it is as propaganda. Generally speaking, motions before any court—criminal or civil, national or international—contain references to hard evidence and a careful reading of legal precedent to back the claims therein. The South African application has neither.