In pursuing Israel, SA is demeaning the fight against genocide

Arsen Ostrovsky and Rowan Polovin says that instead of holding Hamas accountable, our govt is perversely distorting definition of term

This week in The Hague, the International Court of Justice will hear South Africa’s case against Israel, preposterously accusing the Jewish state of the blood libel of carrying out ‘genocide’ in Gaza. 

South Africa might not have proper running water and an energy crisis, but they have prioritized serving as lead counsel for the jihadist, raping, terrorist group Hamas.

The crime of ‘genocide’ is one of the most egregious charges in international law. The term was originally coined in 1944 by the Polish-Jewish jurist Raphael Lemkin, to actually describe the systematic extermination of Jews by the Nazis.

It should not go unnoticed that the barbaric October 7 massacre, in which Hamas terrorists slaughtered, raped and burnt over 1,200 people and took hundreds hostage, including women, children and the elderly, was the single largest mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust. 

Yet, instead of holding Hamas accountable, South Africa has decided to perversely distort the very definition of genocide, in filing this pernicious and baseless claim against Israel.

The actual definition of ‘genocide’ is well settled under international law, and specifically the Genocide Convention of 1948, which governs its consideration. In essence, it means the committing of acts, including by killing, that are intended to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

The commission of genocide has nothing to do with the number of civilian casualties and everything to do with the need to possess relevant ‘intent’.

During a visit to Israel and Ramallah this week, US Secretary of State of Antony Blinken was unequivocal, in stating that “the charge of genocide is meritless”, adding “It’s particularly galling, given that those who are attacking Israel – Hamas, Hizballah, the Houthis, as well as their supporter, Iran – continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews.” 

Whatever criticism one may have of Israeli self-defensive actions in Gaza, it is indisputable that Israel is not seeking to destroy the Palestinian people, whether in whole, in part, or in any manner.

Israeli leaders, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, the key individuals responsible for setting out the objectives and carrying out the operation, have been unequivocal, in repeatedly stating that the primary goal in Gaza is to eliminate the Hamas and rescue the hostages.

That there have been civilian casualties in Gaza is indeed tragic, but also the inevitable result of Hamas using their own people as human shields and embedding their military operations in schools, hospitals, kindergartens and homes.

Notwithstanding this challenge, the IDF have gone to extraordinary lengths, not seen in the history of modern warfare, to avoid casualties and abide by principles of international humanitarian law, including proportionality, distinction and providing civilians ample warning time and safe evacuation passage, before military strikes.

If any party is guilty of genocide here, it is Hamas, the internationally recognized terrorist group, which openly state the destruction of Israel as their ultimate goal, and then acted out on those intentions on October 7th.

In a 24 October interview, senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad even gleefully stated that the terror group would repeat the October 7 massacre “again and again”, until Israel was “annihilated”, openly admitting the group’s genocidal intentions.

Yet still, not a blink from South Africa. Instead, South Africa’s Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, who is leading Pretoria’s delegation to The Hague, has invited British politician Jeremy Corbyn as his special guest of honor. This would same Jeremy Corbyn who has previously called Hamas his “friends” and in a recent interview with Piers Morgan, refused no less than 15 times, to answer if thought Hamas was a terror group.

Meantime, while South Africa is pontificating to Israel about genocide, South African leaders are happily embracing actual purveyors of genocide, namely the Islamic Republic of Iran, who also happen to be the primary sponsor of Hamas.

When the term ‘genocide’ is systematically and willfully politicized and subverted for political considerations, as South Africa has done here, it not only becomes devoid of meaning, but diminishes real acts of genocide, such as those that occurred in the Holocaust, as well as against Armenians, Yazidis, in Rwanda and Darfur.

When the case comes before the ICJ this week, the Court has an obligation to uphold the law, by dismissing these pernicious proceedings against Israel out of hand and preventing South Africa from cynically perverting the meaning of genocide. 

Arsen Ostrovsky is an Israeli human rights attorney and CEO of The International Legal Forum. 

Rowan Polovin is the National Chairman of the South African Zionist Federation.