• Accusing Israel of genocide is the latest antisemitic trope.
  • The ICJ did NOT decide that South Africa’s claim of genocide is “plausible” – the BBC admits it was among those that reported false information.
  • The judge was “glad” to finally set the record straight in an interview in which she explains all.

Israel is not committing genocide, yet this word is chanted repeatedly by the masses in anti-Israel protests, it has been used by so-called rights groups to condemn Israel, and the go-to buzz word is used relentlessly by those vilifying Israel. There are even world leaders who should know better, such as Spain’s deputy PM this week, who accused Israel of genocide. The tension around the Eurovision song-contest was a good example, with the pro-Palestinian’s latest cult heroine Greta Thunberg leading the protest outside the venue with the banner ‘genocide song content’.Israel’s enemies often refer to the court case brought by South Africa to the International Courts of Justice. For some, simply the accusation itself is enough ammunition to use in statements like, “Israel is even on trial at The Hague for genocide.” But this blatant lie isn’t even the most concerning form of slander against Israel.

In April, Joan Donoghue, who presided over the case (now retired), appeared on the BBC’s HARDtalk programme and explicitly denied the reported outcome of the case. At the time, many explained the ICJ’s interim judgement to mean that the court had concluded that the claim Israel was committing genocide in Gaza was “plausible.” This quickly spread appearing in UN press releases, media outlets, and statements by rights campaign groups. Even the BBC this week admitted that it was among those media outlets that reported this lie (or ‘interpretation’ as the BBC states).

Donoghue said in the interview given in April that this was not what the court had ruled. Rather, she said, the purpose of the ruling was to declare that South Africa had a right to bring its case against Israel and that Palestinians had “plausible rights to protection from genocide” – rights which were at a real risk of irreparable damage.

Even the BBC’s HARDtalk presenter, Stephen Sackur, in his introduction of the interview, revealed just how biased the BBC was in its reporting: “In its initial ruling the court overwhelmingly found there was a plausible case to answer,” Sackhur said, “but a final judgment is likely to take years”.

Grateful to bring an end to the misinformation, Donoghue said, “I’m glad I have a chance to address that because the Court’s test for deciding whether to impose [provisional] measures uses the idea of plausibility, but the test is the plausibility of the rights that are asserted by the applicant, in this case South Africa. So the court decided that the Palestinians had a plausible right to be protected from genocide and that South Africa had the right to present that claim in the court. It then looked at the facts as well, but it did not decide – and this is something where I’m correcting what’s often said in the media – it didn’t decide that the claim of genocide was plausible.

“It did emphasize in the Order that there was a risk of irreparable harm to the Palestinian right to be protected from genocide but the shorthand that often appears, which is that there’s a plausible case of genocide, isn’t what the court decided.”

The Palestinians right to protection from genocide is very different to proof that genocide is being committed. The court decided that it didn’t need to decide whether the claim by South Africa is true, but it did order Israel to take steps to “protect against further, severe and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people”.

This is entirely consistent with the expectations of international law – laws agreed between nations, such as the Genocide Convention, agreed after World War 2 in order to try to prevent genocide from occurring.

In April, some 600 British lawyers including four former Supreme Court justices, signed a letter to the UK Prime Minister, asking him to stop arms sales to Israel and referring to “a plausible risk of genocide”. UK Lawyers For Israel (UKLFI) responded saying the ICJ had only ruled that Gaza Palestinians had a plausible right to be protected from genocide – in other words, that it had been dealing with a complex and somewhat abstract legal argument.

A UKLFI statement says, “The Court’s ability to issue a provisional measures order depends on a finding that the rights asserted by the party seeking the order are at least plausible. It is of course plausible that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have rights to be protected from acts of genocide. Thus, it is the rights of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip that were determined to be plausible, and not the alleged commission of genocide against them.[1]

Crucially, the Court unambiguously confirmed in the same Order that it had not been called upon “to establish the existence of breaches of obligations under the Genocide Convention” and that it could not make any definitive findings of fact at this stage.[2] Contrary to South Africa’s request, the Court did not demand that Israel cease its military operation in Gaza in either the first or the second Provisional Measures Order.

Moreover, the Letter claims wrongly that legal obligations on the UK flow from the wording of the Provisional Measures Orders, even though these are legally binding only on the parties to the proceedings, i.e., Israel and South Africa. The Letter then goes one step further than the ICJ by suggesting that the UK has an obligation to seek the imposition of a permanent ceasefire to prevent the commission of genocide. Such an obligation cannot flow from Orders that are not binding on the UK and do not impose a ceasefire, and nor can it flow from the Convention itself in the absence of any breach by Israel.

The inaccuracy of the reporting has contributed to an already toxic attitude towards Israel. There are many who want Israel to be accused of genocide irrespective of Israel’s actions, and who have a disregard for the truth and for the law, simply because it is another smear against Israel.

According Israel of genocide is the latest antisemitic trope. And like all tropes it must be countered with the truth.