Canada does not support ‘premise’ of South Africa’s genocide case against Israel

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

Posted on Friday, January 12, 2024 12:00 pm EST

Last updated Friday, January 12, 2024 3:36 pm EST

OTTAWA – Canada fully supports the International Court of Justice, but that does not mean it supports the premise of South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

On Thursday, South Africa filed a case before the United Nations’ highest court arguing that Israel’s bombing of Gaza and its siege of Palestinians living there “are genocidal in nature.”

Israel, a Jewish state founded after the Holocaust, has vehemently denied the allegations and took the rare step of working with the court to defend its international reputation.

Trudeau said Canada is closely following South Africa’s case.

“Canada is involved in five cases at the ICJ because we believe in its importance as an institution,” Trudeau said during a news conference Friday in Guelph, Ont.

“But our unconditional support for the ICJ and its processes does not mean that we support the premise of the case presented by South Africa.”

South Africa has asked the international court to order Israel to stop its attacks, which began after Hamas militants killed 1,200 people in Israel and took about 240 people hostage, including some children, on October 7.

Israel responded with airstrikes and restricting access to crucial supplies in Hamas-controlled territory, where local authorities say more than 23,200 Palestinians have been killed.

Hamas freed about 100 hostages during a temporary ceasefire in November, which ended when Israel accused Hamas of firing a rocket at Israel and breaking the terms of the ceasefire to free all the hostages.

The United States issued a statement Wednesday in which it, like Canada, supports the “vital role” played by the International Court of Justice. But he went much further in this particular case, calling claims that Israel is committing genocide “baseless.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that the case is “baseless.”

Trudeau’s position was less clear, but he said more details about Canada’s stance would be released in a statement from Global Affairs Canada later Friday.

Asked whether Canada would support the international court if it sided with South Africa, Trudeau said he supports the court’s “important and rigorous work.”

Germany came out against the case on Friday, saying “there is no basis” for a genocide charge against Israel. And media reports say that a British government spokesman told reporters that the South African case was unjustifiable and wrong.

France has publicly said it would support the court’s decision.

The federal New Democrats had urged Canada to also take that stance and not intervene in the case.

Ahead of Trudeau’s news conference on Friday, official opposition leader Pierre Poilievre accused the prime minister of playing to both sides of the issue.

“He says whatever you want to hear, and then he goes to another group and says the exact opposite,” Poilievre told reporters Friday in Winnipeg. The Conservative Party opposes the case.

Poilievre said the case brought by South Africa is “a blatant and dishonest attack on the Jewish people and the Jewish state.”

The UN’s highest court, which resolves disputes between nations, has never found a country responsible for genocide. The closest it came was in 2007, when it ruled that Serbia “violated the obligation to prevent genocide” in the July 1995 massacre by Bosnian Serb forces of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2024.

– With files from The Associated Press

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