South Africa may face R876 billion trade backlash for Israel genocide case

South Africa will face economic backlash for taking Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), where it ordered that Israel must take action to protect human life in Gaza, effectively siding with South Africa.  

This is feedback from the University of Johannesburg Professor of African Diplomacy and Leadership Oscar van Heerden. 

Countries that opposed 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.

Last week, the ICJ ordered that Israel must take action to protect human life in Gaza, siding with South Africa after it accused Israel of committing genocide in the territory – while stopping short of demanding a ceasefire.

“Now that Israel has been associated with the charge of genocide, the implications are untenable for the countries who support it,” Van Heerden told Newzroom Afrika

“South Africa’s application at the ICJ and the subsequent verdict have embarrassed the Joe Biden administration and the US Congress. They will not stand for it.”

Over 200 members of the US Congress opposed South Africa’s application. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said South Africa’s suit against Israel is “meritless, counterproductive, and completely without any basis in fact whatsoever”. 

The United Kingdom 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 hearing, 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. 

The ruling ANC has said it is aware of the risks South Africa took in taking Israel to the ICJ and the potential backlash the country will face. It maintained it is taking a principled position that cannot be given up for economic reasons.

Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor

Van Heerden said the reality is that South Africa will face a strong economic reaction from Israel and its allies. 

“There are going to be repercussions. They may not be immediate, but there will be a backlash because we have decided to embarrass the US, the UK, Germany and Israel.”

“As for how they will punish South Africa, we will have to see. I am simply making the point that they will do something,” Van Heerden explained. 

He said that trade agreements between South Africa and these countries that give local products tariff-free entry into those markets may be reconsidered. 

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 University of Pretoria Professor Koos Malan, who said South Africa’s pursuit of the case will harm the country’s international standing.

“Germany is an important trading partner, and South Africa is isolating itself,” Malan said.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the nation’s case against Israel in a top United Nations court could result in foreign powers interfering with the outcomes of this year’s crucial election, where his party risks losing its majority.

Ramaphosa said South Africa’s success “has exposed not only the atrocities that are being carried out by the state of Israel, but it also has exposed the moral bankruptcy of those countries who by acts of commission or omission are allowing genocide to take place in Gaza on their watch.”

Ramaphosa warned party members to brace themselves for a fightback campaign.

“The fightback may also focus on our domestic politics and our electoral outcomes in order to pursue the regime change agenda,” he said.

The handful of countries that supported Israel against South Africa at the ICJ are some of the country’s largest trading partners.

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 caseTrade value
Malaysia$1.43 billion
Turkey$1.41 billion
Jordan $70.9 million
Bolivia$2.29 million
Maldives$14 million
Namibia$4.4 billion
Pakistan$1.37 billion
Colombia$79.5 million
Brazil$1.77 billion
Venezuela$2.37 million
Middle East & North Africa$12.65 billion
Total $23.83 billion (R444.62 billion)
Against South Africa’s caseTrade Value
United States of America$19.55 billion
Israel$456.5 million
Germany $16.9 billion
United Kingdom$10.05 billion
Total$46.97 billion (R876.37 billion)


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