By taking Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and accusing it of “genocidal acts” in its assaults on Gaza, South Africa risks angering some of its largest trading partners.
Countries that oppose South Africa’s ICJ case include the United States and Germany, which conduct around R685 billion in trade with South Africa.
The South African government brought the case against Israel on 29 December, and the two-day hearings occurred last Thursday and Friday.
The ICJ is the highest United Nations legal body that can adjudicate issues between member states. It is separate from the International Criminal Court (ICC), which tries individuals in criminal cases.
South Africa has accused Israel of committing the crime of genocide in Gaza in violation of the 1948 Genocide Convention, which both countries are party to.
South Africa requested that the ICJ prevent Israel from committing further crimes in the strip using “provisional measures” – essentially an emergency order that can be applied before the main case begins.
The ICJ is notoriously inefficient in its operations, but a decision on provisional measures may take a matter of weeks. A ruling on the broader case will probably take several years.
South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has garnered significant international support.
Notably, the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), Malaysia, Turkey, Jordan, Bolivia, Pakistan, the Arab League, Brazil, and Colombia have all officially backed the case.
On the other side, the United States and Israel have vehemently opposed the case, while Europe remained mostly silent.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby voiced strong criticism of South Africa’s legal case against Israel.
Kirby said South Africa’s suit against Israel is “meritless, counterproductive, and completely without any basis in fact whatsoever”.
The United Kingdom has explicitly refused to support South Africa’s case at the ICJ, indicating that it is likely following the US’ lead in supporting Israel. However, it has not done so explicitly.
After the two-day hearing last week, Germany said it would intervene at the ICJ on Israel’s behalf and sharply condemned South Africa’s accusations of genocide.
This contrasts with its fellow European Union members, who have chosen to remain silent regarding the case at the ICJ.
A European Commission spokesperson last week reaffirmed the bloc’s support to the ICJ but stopped short of backing the genocide case against Israel.
While there are strong views on both sides regarding the merits of the case, some questioned why South Africa decided to get involved and risk angering many of its largest trading partners in the process.
The ANC has long-standing ties with the Palestinians because of the similarities with Apartheid. However, the latest move can have negative consequences for the country.
As with Russia, it has shown an allegiance with a group with whom it has very few commercial ties.
As a result, it risks angering many powerful nations and strong commercial partners, like the United States and Europe.
South Africa is, therefore, positioning itself with global friends, which will not help advance its interests. It also risks souring relations with its biggest economic partners.
Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, economist Jannie Rossouw, said the mere possibility that South Africa could lose some trade with the US and Germany would deter investors.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that South Africa is aligning itself with more socialist countries such as Russia. This trend can scare off investors in the Western world,” Rossouw told Netwerk24.
This was echoed by Professor Koos Malan from the University of Pretoria. He said South Africa’s pursuit of the case will have a negative effect on the country’s international standing.
“Germany is an important trading partner, and South Africa is isolating itself,” Malan said.
Former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter also recently made the argument that South Africa should support countries based on its interests rather than friendships.
He quoted former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who said, “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests”.
De Ruyter said a country should not support another country because of friendship. Instead, it should base its support on serving its interests.
“South Africa has many friends. However, we do not always strive to serve the country’s interests,” he said.
Despite the risk to the South African economy, the ruling ANC is undeterred in its attack on many of its biggest trade partners.
In the latest attack, the ANC has called on the United States to immediately end its occupation of Guantanamo Bay in the Caribbean.
South Africa’s trade with friends – and those it angers
The table below outlines the value of trade South Africa has with the countries that have explicitly declared a position on the ICJ case according to the latest data from the World Bank’s World Integrated Trade Solution.
South Africa’s trade with blocs such as the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Countries is difficult to determine, hence the inclusion of the country’s trade with the Middle East and North Africa as a collective.
Even with this inclusion, South Africa’s trade with the countries explicitly against its case at the ICJ is nearly double that of those supporting it.
|Support South Africa’s case
|Middle East & North Africa
|$23.83 billion (R444.62 billion)
|Against South Africa’s case
|United States of America
|$46.97 billion (R876.37 billion)