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SA’s genocide case against Israel reverberates on diplomatic front, with special resonance in Germany

SA’s genocide case against Israel reverberates on diplomatic front, with special resonance in Germany
Illustrative image | Germany backs Israel against South Africa’s charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) | (Photos: Rawpixel)

Germany has backed Israel against South Africa’s charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice, but a source close to the embassy says the case could lead to increased humanitarian aid.

South Africa has already experienced considerable diplomatic consequences from its decision to charge Israel with genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

It will no doubt experience more after the ICJ decides on Friday whether to order Israel to implement provisional measures – such as a ceasefire in Gaza or increased humanitarian aid – and also into the future of what is expected to be a long, drawn-out case.

Predictably, many countries of the Global South have heaped praise on South Africa for championing the Palestinian cause. Equally predictably – though more cautiously – several countries of the Global North have opposed SA’s case, none more so than the US, Israel’s staunchest strategic ally. 

Its spokesperson, John Kirby, on 3 January called South Africa’s case  “meritless, counterproductive, and completely without any basis in fact whatsoever” and supported Israel’s right to defend itself.

Possible ‘substantive’ humanitarian steps

Germany is in a unique position on this issue. 

It was Nazi Germany’s Holocaust against European Jews that in 1948 inspired the adoption of the Genocide Convention which SA now alleges Israel is violating in Gaza.

As a result, Germany has become as steadfast an Israeli ally as the US.

And so on 12 January, Germany became the first country to announce that it would intervene in the ICJ case in support of Israel. It said it opposed the “political instrumentalisation” of the Genocide Convention and rejected the accusation of genocide that South Africa had made against Israel.

sa israel genocide germany

Judges at the International Court of Justice assembled on 11 January 2024 for the hearing of the genocide case against Israel brought by South Africa, in The Hauge, The Netherlands. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Remko De Waal)

A source close to the German embassy in Pretoria acknowledged that this “is going to be a very difficult topic between our countries”.

“We don’t think there is genocidal intent, which is one of the crucial elements in the case, of course.  So on that one, we dramatically differ from the legal position of South Africa.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Pretoria believes ICJ will deliver riposte to US legislators who expressed ‘disgust’ at SA’s case against Israel

On the provisional measures the ICJ said it would announce on Friday, this source said the court decision “is probably not going to be clear-cut in favour of everything South Africa demanded.

“But a kind of a ceasefire, end of hostilities, access for humanitarian aid, that is not too far-fetched, I would say… at least things going in this direction… humanitarian, fire pauses, whatever. 

“There may be quite substantive steps in that direction that the court may wish to see.”

But the source also expected the court to be “circumspect” because the Genocide Convention was one of the most important international legal instruments.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

“Whichever way you want to go, it needs to be really watertight and considered very carefully.”

He also thought the court might call on Israel to restrain its politicians and other individuals in Israel from making remarks that might be interpreted as genocidal. 

This would be a response to South Africa’s application to the ICJ which detailed many statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog and other top government officials which appeared to encourage Israeli soldiers to attack not only Hamas, but all Palestinians in Gaza. 

This source thought the ICJ would use provisional measures to try to calm the situation.

“It’s going to be problematic because whatever [they do] it’s going to be binding for Israel – but nobody can bind Hamas.” 

Read more in Daily Maverick: ICJ likely to grant some of SA’s requested provisional measures in Gaza — experts

He said Germany had decided to intervene on Israel’s side “because obviously the Genocide Convention was adopted in the wake of the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany. So for us, it’s a very important convention. And for us, it’s a convention not to be played around with.

“So you need to look very carefully at its application. And you cannot just use it as an instrument to go for other things, for other political ends. So it’s very strong … and the substance of the convention needs to be protected so that it’s focusing on things that are genocide, rather than things some people may say are genocide.”

‘Some benefits’

Despite Germany’s fundamental difference with South Africa in this case, the source thought that South Africa taking Israel to court could produce some benefits “because it’s going to bring legal clarification in a situation where everyone is using mutually exclusive strong words and nobody is sure what the truth is”.

SA’s legal initiative also appeared to have already had some impact on Israel, for instance in prompting Netanyahu to clarify that Israel did not intend to displace the Palestinian population from Gaza.

However, our source also said it was clear that the SA government was using the case “as a mobilising topic for the election”.

Several other countries are expected to intervene in SA’s case against Israel on one side or the other.

Namibia censures Germany

Germany caught flak from another country for announcing its intervention against SA’s Israel case. Namibian President Hage Geingob said Berlin had still not fully atoned for committing genocide against tens of thousands of Namibians between 1904 and 1908 during its colonial occupation of the country.

“Germany cannot morally express commitment to the United Nations convention against genocide, including atonement for the genocide in Namibia, whilst supporting the equivalent of a holocaust and genocide in Gaza,” Geingob thundered.

The German source said that his government’s spokesperson had unfortunately announced Germany’s intervention in the ICJ on behalf of Israel on 12 January, which is the day that officially commemorates the genocide in Namibia.

That had provoked Namibia more than it might otherwise have done. Nevertheless, Germany’s embassy in Windhoek continued to work on that issue.

“It’s an ongoing process with Namibia because we have been talking about these events with the Namibians for a long time. 

“We made an apology. We were also talking about a settlement, not involving recompensation but also involving financial aspects.”

Those talks had been interrupted by Covid but had recently resumed.  

“It’s an ongoing process we have with Namibia to come to terms with that dark aspect of our past. So that is intertwined a little bit now.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Pagani Paganini says:

    Germany! Oh poor genocidal Germany. You think we have forgotten what you did to the Herero and Nama communities in Namibia. Just shut up!!

  • Ben Harper says:

    The reverberations are the first world preparing to dump SA and the stigma of SA being a basket case and in bed with criminals, despots and murderers strengthening

    • Really Honestly says:

      Well said Ben!

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      Haha ha ! Seen against the backdrop of the judgement today ….. shame on you ! Maybe you should do what the first respondent in this correspondence told Germany ? The unending American style hubris ah la Kirby … must make the judgement feel like being slapped with a vrot snoek !

  • Wayne Holt says:

    And England must atone for its genocide against Scotland, and Prince William of Orange must atone for his genocide against the English and and and … you gotta laugh

  • Graeme Bird says:

    In a few hours the world will know whether the facts of the case presented by South Africa and the rebuttals offered by Israel justify the accusation of Genocide and warrant censure of Israel’s ‘right to defend’ itself. While it will take much longer to get a ruling on the possibility of genocide what is clear is that thousands of innocent children are being killed by Isreal at a scale that dwarfs the atrocities committed by Hamas on the 7th of October. How Israel and its defenders respond will reflect where their moral compass points.

  • Rae Earl says:

    However the ruling on this case goes, South Africa will be regarded as a pro- terrorism country. The ANC’s hypocrisy in maintaining silence in the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the face of their apparent arms supply to that country is indicative of the party’s mindless two faced approach to international protocol.
    While claiming ‘neutrality’ in the Ukraine issue, the ANC was involved in playing war games with Russian vessels, a blatant indication of support for Russia in their military invasion of a peaceful neighbour. The ANC will crow loud and long on any positives they receive at the ICJ in The Hague. They will, no doubt, remain silent on any censure. In short, how can anyone possibly trust the ANC in anything, either at home or abroad?

  • DOn Fitz says:

    I understand the German position, even if I do not agree with all aspects of it.
    I also understand the case itself that RSA has brought and there is no doubt that there is much merit in rejecting and condeming Israeli behaviour in Gaza (and West Bank) now and in the past.
    However, for politicians and people in RSA to pass judgement on the German position, is a big step too far. The hypocrisy evident in how RSA is behaving in other relevant situations, like Ukraine, Sudan, Zimbabwe etc. etc. is pitiful, disgusting and untenable. Alone the Xenophobia visible in RSA makes a mockery of the Constitution.

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      Germany has judged itself by trying to correct it’s past genocide of Jews by supporting Israel at the expense of the occupied Palestinians.
      Social ills are not only confined to South Africa more especially the ANC led government and a lot of issues could have been avoided.
      A lot of apartheid beneficiaries expect perfection which was non existent in the reign of the racist national party.
      Perhaps it’s good as painful as it will be for Europe to drop Africa if they can afford to so that for once we can stop fully depending on international handouts that come at a price of controlling our resources.
      There is no free lunch.
      Ours is to elect the right people into power and become the powerhouse that our diversity can build.
      Good work ZA on this one, a Palestinian state on Palestinian terms is long overdue.
      This will eliminate the breeding ground for extreme militant groups.

  • PETER BAKER says:

    I fully supported SA’s petition before the ICJ but smell the stink of the SA government’s party political machinations on the matter. One thing the likes of Naledi Pandor can do which would make our country true honest brokers would be to elicit a halt and ceasefire of all military action by Hamas. Otherwise we might be seen as being the opportunists our government is ……

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      I thought the US was the only honest broker in the world … and if you don’t obey it … they just bomb the *hit out of you ? Show me any government that is not opportunist or erratic … excluding Vanuatu where the Guptas have apparently taken up residence !

  • Rod Mellet says:

    I’d like to suggest that our government focus on our domestic troubles and quit meddling in international affairs.

  • Heidie Coetzee says:

    The government does not represent South Africa. They represent themselves…..

  • Dragon Slayer says:

    Not sure whether this is the worlds worst legal cop-out. Everything was adjudicated as plausible – not proven, not certain , not even likely. Any real evidence of genocide and the ruling would have been an immediate ceasefire. Wins that both sides can and will claim are:
    Plausibly genocide may be an outcome but there was no judgement of genocidal intent.
    Israel says and argue they can demonstrate that it is already doing almost every thing that the court asked for. It must now just report on it.
    The only ‘hard’ ruling was unconditional release of the hostages.
    …. and it took 17 judges to come to this finding – really?

  • In my view, the only merit of the SA’s case against Israel before the ICJ is that it will sharpen the standards for judging state-sponsored mass crime. Many Germans, including myself, are wondering however about the origins of South Africa’s double standards. Russia is waging a war deliberately designed to wipe out Ukraine as a nation but Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov received a more than warm welcome by SA’s president and the foreign minister during his visit to the country in January 2023. How come?

    • Dietmar Horn says:

      To understand this, it is important to understand the complex foreign policy relationships since the apartheid era. The apartheid governments presented themselves as anti-communist bulwarks during the Cold War, while the liberation movements were supported financially, logistically and militarily by the Soviet Union, Cuba and the GDR. Close relations were maintained with Arafat’s troops. The aim was to replace the apartheid regime with a Soviet dictatorship. The “West” was faced with the dilemma of condemning the apartheid regime against the background of its own values ​​and, on the other hand, preventing a Soviet naval and air force base from being built in the Cape. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, support for a violent takeover disappeared and a democratic-style constitution was provisionally accepted. With the appearance of Putin and Xi on the world stage, and even more so with the attack on Ukraine, old enemy images, gangs and ideological front lines came to life again, which the South African “comrades” have obviously never overcome.

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