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Dirco official says Israel is 'weaponising' Jewish suffering to 'deflect criticism'


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Dirco official says Israel is 'weaponising' Jewish suffering to 'deflect criticism'

Israel-Palestine conflict
Photo by Bloomberg

8th January 2024

By: News24Wire


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A senior official of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) says Israel is using Jewish suffering as "a means to deflect criticism" over its conduct in Gaza.

This after an Israeli spokesperson described South Africa's genocide accusations against it as "blood libel".


That term, which was used by Israeli spokesperson Eylon Levy to describe South Africa's International Court of Justice (ICJ) genocide application against Israel, refers to antisemitic accusations levelled against Jews in Europe in the Middle Ages, when they were falsely accused of murdering Christians to steal their blood.

Dirco director-general Zane Dangor told News24 that this response to South Africa's detailed genocide application – where it used hundreds of reports, findings and documents to record the dire and dangerous conditions that Palestinians are living and dying under in Gaza – was "unfortunate". 


"I mean, the idea of a blood libel is most unfortunate. I think it is weaponising the suffering of Jewish people over the centuries and when there was real blood libel, as a means to deflect any criticism," he said. 

"I do think that we have taken an approach that seeks to bring a solution to this, and the idea of using inflammatory political rhetoric in their response is not one that we are going to be engaging in the public domain.

"The intention that we have [by bringing the genocide application against Israel] is to end this [the war in Gaza], to bring some kind of justice for Palestinians, lay the basis for long-lasting peace and negotiations through dialogue. But peace and justice must prevail."

According to Levy, however, South Africa's decision to pursue a genocide case against Israel means it is effectively acting as an advocate for Hamas – the political and military organisation that launched a deadly surprise attack on Israel on 7 October 2023, which killed 1 200 people, most of them civilians, and saw about 240 people being taken hostage.

South Africa has, however, repeatedly condemned Hamas' killing and kidnapping of civilians in its ICJ application.

In response to the Hamas massacre, Israel launched an intense bombing campaign and ground-force assault on Gaza, where it maintains Hamas militants are hiding, and cut electricity, food and water supply to the area – leading to a situation that has been described by humanitarian bodies as "hell on earth".

According to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, more than 22 000 Palestinians, 70% of whom are reportedly women and children, have now been killed by Israel. The conflict has been described as a "war on children" – with 59% of Gaza's surviving children, many of whom have suffered amputations and other severe injuries, reportedly admitting to self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

South Africa's application also documents the forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza, the deprivation of food and staggering levels of malnutrition and starvation, and the restrictions on births, through attacks on hospitals – where 311 health workers have reportedly been killed.

South Africa is seeking to show, through what the Guardian has described as a "substantive, tightly argued 80-page claim, replete with detailed references to senior UN officials and reports" that Israel has strayed well outside the bounds of self-defence and is committing genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza.

According to that application, "acts and omissions by Israel … are genocidal in character, as they are committed with the requisite specific intent … to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group". 

It further argues that "the conduct of Israel – through its state organs, state agents and other persons and entities acting on its instructions or under its direction, control or influence – in relation to Palestinians in Gaza, is in violation of its obligations under the genocide convention".

On 11 and 12 January, a team of South African legal heavyweights will seek to persuade the ICJ to grant it provisional relief before the ventilation of its genocide case against Israel – and to order, among other things, that "the State of Israel shall immediately suspend its military operations in and against Gaza". 

South Africa argues that the ICJ will not be required to ascertain whether any violation of Israel's obligations under the Genocide Convention has occurred in order to grant this relief. Instead, it says, there is clear legal precedent that required the court to "establish whether the acts complained of … are capable of falling within the provisions of the Genocide Convention".

South Africa's application adds: "The court does not have to determine that all of the acts complained of are capable of falling within the provisions of the convention." It suffices that "at least some of the acts alleged … are capable of falling within the provisions of the convention".

Israel is expected to counter these arguments by asserting its right to self-defence and contending that it has taken multiple innovative measures to reduce civilian casualties.

It will, however, face some tough questions about what South Africa describes as multiple examples of "direct and public incitement to commit genocide by Israeli state officials", including by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

On 28 October 2023, as Israeli forces prepared their land invasion of Gaza, Netanyahu invoked the biblical story of the total destruction of Amalek by the Israelites, stating: "You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible, do you remember?"

The prime minister referred to Amalek again in a letter sent on 3 November to Israeli soldiers and officers.

The biblical passage that he referred to states: "Now go, attack Amalek and proscribe all that belongs to him. Spare no one, but kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and asses."

Israel's minister of heritage, Amichai Eliyahu, is one of 14 government and military officials whose comments on Gaza have been cited by South Africa as evidence of genocidal intent towards Gaza.

He posted on Facebook on 1 November: "The north of the Gaza Strip, more beautiful than ever. Everything is blown up and flattened, simply a pleasure for the eyes ... We must talk about the day after. In my mind, we will hand over lots to all those who fought for Gaza over the years and to those evicted from Gush Katif [a former Israeli settlement]."

He later argued against humanitarian aid saying "[w]e wouldn't hand the Nazis humanitarian aid" and "there is no such thing as uninvolved civilians in Gaza". 

He also proposed a nuclear attack on the Gaza Strip – a comment that he was widely condemned for.

Israel is expected to argue that these alleged genocidal statements were not made by people in authority, do not represent official state policy, and/or have been misunderstood. 

One thing is apparent though: Israel does not accept that South Africa is pursuing this case in good faith.

During a press conference, Levy questioned whether South Africa had a genuine dispute with Israel. He sought to undermine the country's right to present itself as a genuine opponent of genocide, given its failure in 2015 to act on an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant to arrest then-Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir.

The ICC issued the warrant based on reasonable grounds to believe that, along with war crimes and crimes against humanity, Al-Bashir had committed genocide against the Fur, Massalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups.

While not directly addressing this accusation, Dangor conceded that South Africa "may have been inconsistent in our foreign policy on many, many issues", but said – since it became a democratic state – the country had been "quite consistent" in its support for Palestine.

According to Dangor, South Africa (which is one of three countries in the world considered to have been operated as an apartheid state) had a history which gave it resonance with the plight of Palestinians.

"We can be criticised in many areas, but I think the systemic, state and general societal commitment to human rights and decency is there. And I do think this [makes] us, as a society, not just as a country, best-placed among many to do this," he said.


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