Canada does not accept the premise of South Africa’s case at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which accuses Israel of committing genocide in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday.
Israel rejected as false the accusations that its state organs have genocidal intent against the Palestinians in Gaza during the current conflict with Hamas, which was sparked by the terror group’s devastating shock attack three months ago. Trudeau, pressed by reporters, stressed Canada was a strong backer of the UN’s top court, where the hearings are being held.
But he added: “Our wholehearted support of the ICJ and its processes does not mean that we support the premise of the case brought forward by South Africa.”
The United States says the South African case is meritless. Later, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly reiterated Trudeau’s comments in a statement.
Members of Trudeau’s ruling Liberal Party, which includes Jewish and Muslim legislators, have taken different positions regarding the war in Gaza.
Trudeau has consistently said Israel has the right to defend itself after the deadly rampage by Hamas terrorists in southern Israel on October 7, which saw some 1,200 people killed and another 240 kidnapped to Gaza — mostly civilians — many amid horrific acts of brutality.
But as the civilian toll from Israel’s military campaign in Gaza mounts, he has gradually shifted his tone, and last month said Israel’s close friends are worried the offensive is endangering the country’s long-term safety.
“Canada remains deeply concerned by the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and ongoing risks to all Palestinian civilians,” Joly said.
Canada’s opposition Conservative Party, which has a commanding lead in the polls, accused Trudeau of “sinister and hypocritical” doublespeak on the issue.
“He sends out some of his MPs to claim that they support calling Israel genocidal when they’re talking to one group of voters. And then he sends out another group to say that they’re against calling Israel genocidal,” Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre told reporters in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also believes South Africa’s case is “completely unjustified and wrong,” according to a spokesperson quoted by BBC news on Friday.
“The UK government stands by Israel’s clear right to defend itself within the framework of international law,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.
In a strong show of support for Israel, the German government on Friday warned against “political instrumentalization” of the genocide charge, as it announced it would intervene as a third party before the International Court of Justice.
German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said Israel was “defending itself” after the “inhuman” October 7 onslaught by Hamas and that Germany would intervene in the proceedings at The Hague under an article allowing states to seek clarification on the use of a multilateral convention.
Earlier Friday, Israel’s legal team in The Hague attacked the fundamental claims of South Africa’s genocide allegations in the International Court of Justice, and punched holes in the accusations that Israel’s state organs have genocidal intent against the Palestinians in Gaza during the current conflict with Hamas.
Israel’s six legal representatives asserted that the ICJ has no jurisdiction over the complaints brought by South Africa since they relate to the laws of armed conflict, not genocide; argued that “random” inflammatory comments of Israeli politicians did not reflect policy determined in the state bodies making war policy; and insisted that the widespread harm to Palestinian civilians during the war was a result of Hamas’s massive use of civilian infrastructure for military purposes, and not genocidal acts.
They also underlined in depth the steps Israel has taken to warn civilians to evacuate from Israel Defense Forces operational areas and to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians, including facilitating the establishment of field hospitals in Gaza to aid Gazans and mitigate harm to them.
Jacob Magid and Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.