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Canada and the South African Genocide Charges Against Israel at the ICJ

Wednesday 17 January 2024, by Socialist Project

The merciless bombardment by Israel against the Palestinian people in Gaza has been challenged for all the world to see. South Africa – the historical victim of and ultimate victor over a racist apartheid regime – has courageously charged Israel with genocide at the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.

A charge of genocide at the ICJ requires proving a state’s intent to physically destroy a national, ethnic, or religious group, under the terms of the UN Genocide Convention. A decision by the ICJ is binding, but there are no real mechanisms of enforcement. The court could call for an immediate cessation of the genocidal activities, but it often takes years to arrive at a final ruling.

The charges presented by South Africa are detailed, clear, and unassailable. They painstakingly demonstrate not only the genocidal nature of the Israeli offensive against Palestinians in Gaza, but also the historical legacy of the Nakba implemented by the subsequent years of occupation of Gaza and the West Bank (and also the Golan Heights) during and after the Arab-Israely War of 1967.

These charges have been met, however by an onslaught of lies, deception, and the sowing of confusion by Israel and its supporters, backed up by the increasing oppression of the massive wave of popular opposition across the global North and South to Israel’s atrocities, notably unprecedented levels of support in Europe and North America, including here in Canada.

The Socialist Project joins a growing chorus of organizations and individuals supporting the South African case and calling on the Canadian government to do the same. To paraphrase the words of Avi Lewis in a recent Globe and Mail article: “We call on the Canadian government to stand with the people of Gaza, Palestine, and most of the world, instead of choosing to remain under the thumb of the United States.”

The South African application to the ICJ states that out of a population of 2.3 million,

“…at least 21,110 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed and over 55,243 other Palestinians have been wounded, many severely. The death toll includes over 7,723 children, not including 4,700 women and children still missing, and presumed dead under the rubble. Entire multi-generational families have been wiped out completely…” (page 10 of the “Application instituting proceedings and request for indication of provisional measures”).

Aside from the mass destruction of Palestinian lives, the document cites numerous hateful and dehumanizing statements (‘genocidal utterances’) from members of the Israeli establishment at all levels, from the offices of the president and cabinet ministers to the Israeli army commanders and foot soldiers executing the genocide, constituting the proof of the genocidal intent. These statements are reminiscent of earlier such demonization of targeted populations in other genocides, such as those in Rwanda, Armenia, the Balkans, the North American genocide of Indigenous peoples, and indeed, Nazi Germany’s genocide of the Jews of Europe.

Examples include statements from Israel’s Defence Minister calling Gazans “human animals” and vowing that “Gaza won’t return to what it was before. We will eliminate everything,” alongside positive biblical references to Amalek from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to the instructions from ‘God’ to “put to death men, women, children, and infants” of an enemy people.

As the South African representative put it, “the intent to destroy Gaza has been nurtured at the highest levels of the state.”

In essence, though, the massive assault coming from one of the world’s most heavily armed countries against more than two million of people isn’t limited to those living in the open-air prison that is Gaza. It is the latest (and one of the bloodiest) chapters of an historical dispossession and occupation against an entire people – the Palestinians – whom the Zionist colonizers and their state have refused to recognize, for over a century, as legitimate inhabitants of the land that constitutes historic Palestine.

In Canada, there has been a groundswell of popular opposition, evidenced in the weekly demonstrations across the country from the major cities to smaller towns, to the ongoing genocide in Gaza and the destruction being carried out by Israel. Israel’s war on Gaza is ostensibly in revenge for war crimes, kidnappings, and human rights violations carried out in the October 7th attack by Hamas, but it is now transparently an attempt at a second Nakba of ethnic-cleansing.

Yet, the Canadian government has refused to support the South African case, maintaining a supposedly neutral stance, the moral cowardice that has become integral to the Trudeau Liberal government’s foreign policy, all the while supporting most of the initiatives of the United States and continuing to provide aid and sell weapons to Israel.

The pro-Israel forces in Canada have not been silent in their defence of the Israeli actions and have often made outrageous denunciations of those who oppose them. And, in spite of some limited division within the establishment political parties, they have also been supported by the actions of the Canadian state. Examples of the hostile climate for opponents of Israel’s genocidal actions against Palestinians in Gaza include:

  • Spokespeople from organizations such as the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith, and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center constantly slander anti-Zionist protesters as being antisemitic, even in the face of a growing participation of Jewish anti-war and anti-Zionist organizations such as Independent Jewish Voices, Not in Our Name, If Not Now, and others.
  • Claims that those who challenge the idea that Israel represents the homeland of all of the Jewish people are categorically antisemitic. This is clearly not true.
  • A general acceptance in the mass media of the Israeli presentation of the attack on Gaza (as well as its actions against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank) as being “Israel against Hamas,” rather than “Israel against the Palestinian People.”
  • The denouncement of Palestinian Canadians, particularly the young people forming a new Palestinian youth movement, who challenge the history of Israeli colonialism as well as the current genocide, as being apologists for terrorism.
  • A hysterical and ludicrous series of op-ed pieces in newspapers, such as the recent Globe and Mail column by former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella, which calls the South African charge “an insult to what genocide means, an insult to the perception of the ability of international courts to retain their legitimacy and transcend global politics, and an insult to the memory of all of those on whose behalf the Genocide Convention was created.” As a justification for the ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people by those who claim to represent the voice of victims of a previous genocide, this is reasoning that defies logic and is morally abhorrent.

The Canadian state has continued to aid Israel, has refused to call for an end to Israel’s aggression, and is seeking to prosecute those who protest in the name of fighting “hatred.” Certainly, there have been increases in antisemitic (and Islamophobic) activity over the course of the current war – and we vehemently oppose all these forms of hatred. But these charges are increasingly being abused to intimidate and criminalize all anti-Zionist activity, in a form of Israeli exceptionalism that exempts Israel from criticism insulated from international norms and rulings.

We have only to cite the mass arrests in the middle of the night in Toronto, and the vindictive prosecution of protesters against the Indigi owners’ support of the Israeli military and occupation of Palestine. Or the injunction against posting signs over the major highway that crosses Toronto (even though owners of billboards won’t allow anti-war protesters to rent them, and patriotic rallies for Canadian troops have done much the same). Or the breach of academic freedoms and freedom of speech of faculty, student unions, and Palestinian student clubs and solidarity work on Canadian campuses.

The Socialist Project, in solidarity with the growing movement in Canada and around the world, calls on the Canadian government to support the South African case at the ICJ; to denounce Israel’s genocidal attacks on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank; to demand an end to the attacks, immediately, and allow full supplies of food, medicine, power, and resources, alongside a permanent end to the blockade of Gaza; and to support all efforts to hold Israel accountable for the genocide, bringing the leaders of the Israeli state and establishment to justice.

Ceasefire now. End the siege of Gaza. End the occupation. Build a Palestinian state.


January 17, 2024