Herzog says South Africa twisted his words for ICJ genocide case

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, president notes broad Gazan support for Hamas, stresses that aid must reach Palestinian civilians

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

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)

President Isaac Herzog called South Africa’s case against Israel in the International Court of Justice a “blood libel” against Jews and “a shameful low” for the post-World War II order Monday.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Herzog argued that the South African prosecution knowingly twisted his October 12 comment that there is “an entire nation out there that is responsible” as evidence that Israeli leaders were condoning genocide of Palestinians in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks.

“The South African case, brought in support of Hamas, is a blood libel against the nation-state of the Jewish people — a shameful low for an international system that emerged from the ashes of the Holocaust,” the president wrote.

In December, South Africa filed a genocide case against Israel declaring that it was in breach of its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention in its war with the Palestinian terror group Hamas in Gaza. Its case was partly built around comments by Israeli leaders in the wake of the October 7 massacre denouncing Palestinian terror, some of which allegedly painted Palestinians in general as bearing responsibility.

“The fact is that many Palestinian civilians entered Israel on Oct. 7 on the heels of the Hamas terrorists and participated in murder, rape and looting, much of it documented on film,” Herzog wrote in defense of his October 12 comments. “Palestinians were filmed cheering the massacre and jeering and attacking the hostages as they were led into captivity. I also pointed out that Hamas operates from within the heart of its civilian population and enjoys broad support.”

At the same time, he stressed in the op-ed, he stated at the time that there are many innocent Palestinians and that Israel does not target civilians.

“These words were purposely distorted when presented to the court,” he wrote. “The claim that Israel is committing genocide can’t rest on accurate information, because it is a lie.”

L-R: Dr. Tal Becker, Prof. Malcolm Shaw KC, Dr, Gilad Noam, Dr. Galit Raguan attend a hearing in the case brought to the International Court of Justice at The Hague in which South Africa has accused Israel of committing genocide in its war with Hamas in Gaza, January 12, 2024. (International Court of Justice)

Some 3,000 Palestinians took part in the onslaught on southern Israel on October 7, massacring 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking another 253 hostage. Israel has responded with a punishing offensive aimed at eliminating Hamas, which rules Gaza, and freeing the hostages.

Herzog rejected any calls to harm Palestinian civilians, and wrote that “humanitarian aid must reach them,” despite ongoing protests mostly by right-wing Israelis aimed at blocking assistance from reaching Gaza.

Herzog wrote the op-ed ahead of his attendance at the Munich Security Conference over the weekend.

Last month, after hearing arguments both from South Africa and Israel over two days, the World Court ruled 15-2 that at least some of Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip during the ongoing war against Hamas could fall within the terms of the Genocide Convention and said it must therefore take a series of preventative measures.

It stopped short, however, of ordering an immediate, unilateral ceasefire as South Africa had hoped it would.

IDF troops operate inside the Gaza Strip in this undated handout photo release on February 11, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

It instructed Israel to take a series of preventative steps, including preventing the killing or injuring of Gazans, preventing conditions that would lead to such harm, and ensuring the avoidance of conditions intended to prevent births among Gazans.

It also ordered Israel to prevent and punish incitement to genocide against Palestinians, take urgent measures to alleviate the “adverse” humanitarian situation in Gaza, prevent the destruction of evidence related to allegations of acts of genocide and report back to the court in one month on the issues laid out in the order.

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