‘A blood libel’: Herzog says ICJ ‘twisted my words’ to support ‘unfounded’ contention

President ‘disgusted’ by judges using ‘partial, fragmented quotes’ in genocide ruling, ignoring accompanying remarks that Israel follows international law, doesn’t target civilians

President Isaac Herzog speaks at an event at the President’s Residence honoring IDF soldiers killed in the war against Hamas in Gaza, in Jerusalem, January 28, 2024. (Screenshot: YouTube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
President Isaac Herzog speaks at an event at the President’s Residence honoring IDF soldiers killed in the war against Hamas in Gaza, in Jerusalem, January 28, 2024. (Screenshot: YouTube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The genocide case against Israel in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is a form of “blood libel,” President Isaac Herzog said Sunday, saying judges “twisted” words he said days after Hamas’s October 7 massacre and took them out of context in order to create the false impression that he regarded all Gazan civilians as legitimate military targets.

“There is something shocking about seeing how the ‘post-truth’ phenomenon permeates even the most important institutions,” Herzog said during an event at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem honoring IDF soldiers killed in the war against the Palestinian terror group in Gaza.

“Even on a personal level, I was disgusted by the way they twisted my words, using very, very partial and fragmented quotes, with the intention of supporting an unfounded legal contention,” he said.

On Friday, the court decided 15-2 that there was “plausibility” to South Africa’s claims that Palestinians require protection from genocide. It alleged that numerous and highly inflammatory comments made by some senior Israeli officials, including Herzog, could be interpreted as an endorsement of deliberately harming civilians, giving plausibility to South Africa’s allegations that Israel has “genocidal intent” against Palestinians in Gaza in the current conflict.

Herzog’s comments in question were taken from a press briefing given by the president on October 12, and were not one statement, as the ICJ presented it, but an amalgamation of several comments with the surrounding context removed.

Herzog had said at that briefing that “[Gazans are] an entire nation out there that is responsible… This rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved [in the October 7 onslaught] — it’s absolutely not true.”

However, he qualified those statements in the same speech by stressing that “Israel abides by international law, operates by international law. Every operation is secured and covered and reviewed legally.” He also said: “There is no excuse to murdering innocent civilians in any way in any context. And believe me, Israel will operate and always operate according to the international rules. And we do the same in this battle, too.”

“I was here, in this very hall, a few days after the terrible massacre, when I was asked by the world’s media about the situation in Gaza. I replied that the widespread civilian support in Gaza for the crimes and atrocities of October 7 could not be ignored, and that Hamas operates from the heart of the civilian population everywhere, from children’s bedrooms in homes, from schools, from mosques, and hospitals,” Herzog said Sunday.

“But I added and emphasized that for the State of Israel, and of course for me personally, innocent civilians are not considered targets in any way whatsoever,” he said. “There are also innocent Palestinians in Gaza. I am deeply sorry for the tragedy they are going through. From the first day of the war right until today, I have called and worked for humanitarian aid for them — and only for them. This is part of our values as a country.

“But the reality cannot be ignored, a reality which we all saw with our own eyes as published by Hamas on that cursed day, and that was the involvement of many residents of Gaza in the slaughter, in the looting, and in the riots of October 7. How the crowds in Gaza cheered at the sight of Israelis being slaughtered and their bodies mutilated. At the sight of hostages — God knows what they did to them — wounded and bleeding being dragged through the streets. In view of such terrible crimes, it is appropriate that the honorable court investigate them in depth, and not casually in passing.”

Palestinians celebrate by a destroyed Israeli tank at the Gaza Strip fence east of Khan Younis, October 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Eslaiah)

“We are fighting an exceptionally just campaign,” Herzog also said at Sunday’s event. “A campaign for the return of the hostages, those who are held and tortured by Hamas murderers in an unparalleled crime against humanity. We are fighting a campaign to restore security to our citizens, women and men, elderly and babies. A whole people whom Hamas didn’t just declare their desire to wipe from the face of the earth, but actually set out on a brutal massacre to destroy – and is still working hard to do so.”

Stressing that Israel has “the full right to self-defense,” Herzog said that “everyone with sense can see that Israel is acting in accordance with international law.”

“The very fact that the hearing at the court in The Hague was held on the eve of International Holocaust Memorial Day, to judge whether the democratic, moral and responsible State of Israel, which rose from the ashes of the Holocaust with the overwhelming support of the family of nations, and its institutions were guilty of committing genocide, is a blood libel that undermines the very values on which this court was established,” he said in sharp criticism of the ruling.

Presiding judge Joan Donoghue, right, opens the session at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, January 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Patrick Post)

While the ICJ ruled that at least some of Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip during the current war against Hamas appear capable of falling within the terms of the Genocide Convention, it did not, however, order Israel to call for an immediate unilateral ceasefire, which would have indicated that the court believes genocide is actively taking place.

The order repeated on several occasions that the decision was not a determination on the merits of South Africa’s allegations of genocide.

Along with the order to take all measures to prevent genocide against the Palestinians, the ICJ panel of 17 judges ordered Israel to ensure that the IDF does not carry out acts of genocide (by 15 votes to 2); that the state prevent and punish incitement to genocide against Palestinians (16 to 1); take urgent measures to alleviate the “adverse” humanitarian situation in Gaza (16 to 1); prevent the destruction of evidence related to allegations of acts of genocide (15 to 2); and report back to the court within one month on the issues laid out in the order (15 to 2).

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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