Jewish Groups React to ICJ Ruling

Ruling stops short of accusing Israel of genocide, but placed demands on the IDF
January 30, 2024
Palestinian activists hold a press conference outside of the United Nations (UN) to comment on the announcement by the UN’s top court that it has ordered Israel to prevent genocide against Palestinians in Gaza on January 26, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) ruling on Friday, Jan. 26, that Israel needs to do more to stop killing civilians in the Gaza Strip, although the ruling did not call for a ceasefire received a mixed reaction from Jewish groups.

South Africa urged the court to order the fighting in Gaza to stop, arguing that Israel is committing genocide, a claim that Israel strongly rejects. The court ruled that Israel must take preventative measures to ensure that its military is not committing genocide in Gaza and submit monthly reports to the court on how they are implementing the ruling.

Additionally, the ICJ ruling calls on Hamas to release all the hostages.

George Mason University Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich posted on X, “Israel narrowly escaped diplomatic disaster in The Hague, but a dangerous precedent was set: The court gave itself authority into supervise the conduct of democratic countries’ wars, under the pretext of looking for genocide. That ICJ has not vindicated itself, and will surely be used in the future to cause diplomatic harm to Israel. Israel should immediately follow America’s lead and quit the [court’s] jurisdiction.”

The J7, the Large Communities’ Task Force Against Antisemitism that includes the Anti-Defamation League and Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, released a statement:

“We take note of the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) appropriate rejection of South Africa’s extreme demand for an Israeli ceasefire — which tacitly recognizes Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas and others in Gaza — as well as the ICJ’s call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.” The groups were “disappointed by today’s decision to issue a series of provisional measures against Israel, as it gives weight to South Africa’s preposterous claims. Opponents of Israel are shamelessly politicizing the Genocide Convention, making a mockery of actual genocides, past, present and future. It is part of a broader and morally obscene, anti-Israel campaign, led by South Africa, with the backing of the Iranian regime and other governments hostile to the Jewish State. Their goal is to weaken Israel’s international standing, while bolstering the image of Hamas and other terrorist organizations committed to Israel’s violent destruction. It is unfortunate the ICJ, which is meant to serve as the ultimate standard-bearer for the international rule of law, has fallen victim, even if partially, to South Africa’s sinister ploy.”

Opponents of Israel are shamelessly politicizing the Genocide Convention, making a mockery of actual genocides, past, present and future.” -J7 Statement

J7 added that the ruling is not a final determination on whether or not Israel is committing genocide in Gaza and argued that Israel has “gone to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties. This includes giving advance warnings for civilians to evacuate targeted areas, creating humanitarian corridors for civilian safe passage, facilitating the delivery of truckloads of humanitarian aid into Gaza, and working with the United States and others to develop best practices on avoiding civilian casualties …

Rather than recognizing Israeli efforts to minimize civilian casualties – as per its obligations under international humanitarian law, which Israel fully abides by – the ICJ has sent a confusing and convoluted message that grants legitimacy to Hamas, an actual genocidal group, whose founding charter is rife with calls for anti-Jewish violence and other forms of antisemitism and extremism.”

American Jewish Committee CEO Ted Deutch said in a statement that while “it’s a travesty” that the ICJ didn’t simply toss South Africa’s charges against Israel, “the Court’s order today thwarted South Africa’s primary objective in launching this case: to turn the Genocide Convention on its head and use it as an ‘aggressor’s charter’ to prevent Israel from defending its citizens against Hamas’ brutality and continued terror … In its decision today, the ICJ ordered Israel to carry out acts that its representatives had affirmed at the Jan. 12 hearing that they are already doing and intend to continue,” Deutch added. “The Court further rejected South Africa’s request for Israel to be ordered to ‘desist’ from committing specific acts that South Africa alleged would be indicative of genocide in Gaza. The Court repeatedly stressed that it had not determined that any violations of the Genocide Convention had occurred.”

In conclusion, said that while the world commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day, there are “unprecedented levels of antisemitism worldwide, leaders must recognize that South Africa’s outrageous attempt to distort popular understanding of the meaning of the term ‘genocide’ and use it as a weapon against Israel is not only deeply insulting to Jews; it fuels hatred of Jews everywhere and greatly increases the danger that many already face.”

StandWithUs said in a statement, “The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has rejected a demand by the South African government to order a ‘ceasefire’ that would allow Hamas to remain in power in Gaza, continue to oppress its own people, and rearm for the next massacre of Israeli civilians. However, StandWithUs is disappointed by the ICJ’s decision to accept other parts of this slanderous case, which uses the Genocide Convention to defame Israel and undermine its right to defend itself against genocidal terrorism. In its ruling, the ICJ calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the remaining 136 hostages held by Hamas since Oct. 7. We take note that Hamas said they would abide by the court’s ruling, and as such Hamas must release the hostages immediately.”

The pro-Israel education group noted “that the majority opinion of the court relies exclusively on statements made by UN officials, including leaders of UNWRA, about the situation in Gaza. The anti-Israel bias of these officials and the UN system has long been known and proven.” Further, StandWithUs contended that “the evidence South Africa presented to the court was decontextualized and often deeply misleading. Their case relied heavily upon inflammatory and out of context statements, demonstrably false claims, and gross misrepresentations of Israel’s actions.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement, “The ICJ should have demanded that the Hamas terrorist group end the war by laying down its arms. The ICJ should have put these terrorists on notice that it is they who soon will be standing before the bar of justice. The ICJ should have sanctioned South Africa for hosting wanted terrorists, not allowing the Court to be used by supporters and apologists of terror. Instead, the ICJ lectured Israel to an avoid a possible genocide, not Hamas. Israel has taken unprecedented measures to limit civilian casualties, but Hamas has interwoven its underground military complex under Gaza’s civilians, mosques, schools, and homes. But it is the Jewish State, not the Palestinian terrorists, who remain in the crosshairs of politicized ‘justice.’”

Arsen Ostrovsky, human rights attorney and CEO of The International Legal Forum, said in a statement, “Although the ICJ made a number of questionable determinations, including heavy reliance on the United Nations, it is important to underscore that the decision to grant provisional measures did not make any judgement as to the substance of South Africa’s allegations, nor did it order a ceasefire or compel Israel to stop its military operations. Importantly, the court did also call on the immediate release of hostages that remain under captivity by Hamas in Gaza. It should also not go unnoticed that this decision has been handed down on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The very term ‘genocide’ was created in the wake of the Holocaust, to describe the attempted annihilation of the Jewish people, and is now being unconscionably weaponized and subverted by South Africa, in the wake of the single largest massacre of Jews, since the Holocaust itself.”

He continued: “Notwithstanding South Africa’s mendacious allegations, the IDF have gone to extraordinary lengths, not seen in the history of modern warfare, to avoid civilian casualties and abide by principles of international humanitarian law, in exercising Israel’s right to self-defense against the very terrorists who massacred, raped, burnt, tortured and mutilated over 1,200 people, and are now holding at least 136 people hostage in Gaza, including young women, children and elderly. We call on all democracies to condemn this abhorrent, unconscionable and inexcusable politicization of the ICJ and South Africa’s obscene and shameful perversion of justice.”

The European Leadership Network (ELNET) said in a statement that the ICJ ruling “should end” South Africa’s legal efforts against Israel, pointing to how the ICJ acknowledged that Israel’s actions were done to protect its civilians in response to the Oct. 7 massacre and that the ICJ called for Hamas to release the hostages. “Falsely leveling the charge of genocide against Israel, the world’s sole Jewish state, was cynical and destructive,” ELNET argued. “It trivialized and politicized the most heinous of crimes.”

J Street said in a statement that they “reject the allegation of genocide” against Israel and noted that “the ICJ rightly recognized the horrific scale of the October 7 attack in Israel, called on all parties to abide by international law, and noted it was “gravely concerned” for the fate of hostages still held in Gaza, calling for their ‘immediate and unconditional release.’ It is important to note that the Court has no jurisdiction over Hamas, as a non-state actor, and that the accountability for the ongoing violations of international law by Hamas is unaddressed within this specific case. The court also noted the devastating impact of the Israeli government’s military response in Gaza, including catastrophic levels of death, destruction and displacement and an ongoing humanitarian disaster.” J Street called on Israel “to comply in full with the letter and spirit of the ICJ’s ruling.”

Combat Antisemitism Movement CEO Sacha Roytman Dratwa said in a statement, “The ICJ’s interim ruling, coming a day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day, shames the memory of those who fought against genocide and the six million Jews on whose ashes the Genocide Convention was built. The ruling strips the rights of their descendants, the Jewish people in their indigenous and ancestral homeland, of their right to prevent another genocide. It sets a precedent which will deny the right of defense from all democracies fighting against terrorists who embed themselves among civilian populations. The ruling will be learned and studied by all terrorist organizations around the world and serve as a blueprint for them to be able to achieve their own genocidal aims, without censure or attack. Finally, we recall that the ICJ made an unequivocal demand to immediately release all of the hostages, something which we share.”

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