UK Labour’s ex-chief Corbyn joins South African delegation to ICJ case against Israel

Far-left politician, whose time as opposition leader saw surging antisemitism in party, hails ‘efforts to hold Israel to account’ by accusing it of genocide in war against Hamas

Former Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks at a protest rally in central London on March 11, 2023. (Susannah Ireland/AFP)
Former Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks at a protest rally in central London on March 11, 2023. (Susannah Ireland/AFP)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Former UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn will join a South African delegation for this week’s hearings at the International Court of Justice, where the country accuses Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in the war against Hamas in Gaza, the South African government said Tuesday.

South Africa brought the case against Israel last month, accusing it of intending “to destroy Palestinians in Gaza,” and asked the UN’s top court to order Israel to halt its offensive against Hamas in response to the terror group’s October 7 onslaught. Israel rejected South Africa’s allegations of genocide “with disgust” and said it will defend itself at the court.

South Africa’s Justice Ministry said Corbyn was one of a number of “senior political figures from progressive political parties and movements across the globe” who will join the South African delegation at the Hague in the Netherlands for two days of preliminary hearings which begin on Thursday.

Corbyn, a longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause and a fierce critic of Israel, was the only one of those foreign political figures in its delegation named by the South African government.

The far-left Corbyn’s leadership of Labour was stained by allegations of antisemitism, with Jewish members and lawmakers leaving the party in droves as criticism of Israel and Zionism veered into toxic Jew hatred by his supporters.

Corbyn himself drew widespread criticism for his own actions. In 2019, he expressed regret for having defended a 2012 antisemitic mural in London’s East End depicting a group of men — seemingly caricatures of Jewish bankers and businessmen — counting their money on a Monopoly board balanced on the backs of naked workers.

Also in 2019, he was found to have authored a glowing foreword to a book that claimed that Jews control global financial systems and described them as “men of a single and peculiar race.”

He was already previously criticized for calling terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah “friends” when inviting members for a parliamentary meeting in 2009. He later downplayed the comment and said he regretted using the term.

Former Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn (C) joins protesters with placards and flags taking part in the ‘National March For Palestine’ in central London on November 11, 2023 (HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)

It later emerged that in 2014 Corbyn attended a ceremony that honored the terrorists behind the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre. He later said, “I was present when [a wreath] was laid, I don’t think I was actually involved in it.” Photos later surfaced showing Corbyn holding a wreath.

Corbyn stepped down as party leader after Labour’s defeat in the 2019 elections, and was later suspended by the party in 2020 after Britain’s equalities watchdog found party officials had committed acts of “harassment and discrimination” against Jews and said anti-Jewish prejudice had been allowed to spread within Labour under his leadership.

Corbyn expressed support for South Africa’s case against Israel on Monday and criticized the British government in a message posted on X, formerly Twitter.

“Every day, another unspeakable atrocity is committed in Gaza,” he wrote. “Millions of people around the world support South Africa’s efforts to hold Israel to account. Why can’t our government?”

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that Britain stands by Israel as it wages war on Hamas in response to the group’s surprise October 7 attack on southern Israel, when Palestinian terrorists killed around 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and kidnapped some 240.

Earlier Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken dismissed the case filed by South Africa against Israel, calling the allegations “meritless” and saying they distract from efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says over 23,200 people have been killed in the fighting, though these figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 8,500 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

South Africa’s delegation to the Hague will be led by Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola and will also include senior figures from the office of President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Ministry of Justice, the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

“We are determined to see the end of the genocide that is currently taking place in Gaza,” Lamola said.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (3rd-L) and members of the United Ulama Council of South Africa (UUCSA), at the joint press conference in Johannesburg on December 18, 2023. (Roberta Ciuccio/AFP)

Justice Ministry spokesperson Chrispin Phiri delivered a separate statement on video naming the South African delegation while wearing a red and white checkered Palestinian keffiyeh scarf around his neck.

South Africa is not a global diplomatic heavyweight but its decision to open a case against Israel is a reflection of its historic support for the Palestinians that dates back to the days of the late anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela.

Mandela compared the plight of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank with that of Black South Africans under the apartheid system of forced racial segregation in his own country, which ended in 1994. South Africa has for years referred to Israel as an “apartheid state,” a charge that Jerusalem has strongly rejected.

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party remains a strong supporter of the Palestinians. Last month, Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela, an ANC lawmaker, hosted Hamas officials at a conference in South Africa and invited them to a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of his grandfather’s death.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies said it was “disgusted” by the presence of Hamas in South Africa.

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