Media Microscope: Courting publicity
Jan 25, 2024 | Allon Lee
Even if South Africa’s pernicious referral of Israel to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, falsely accusing the Jewish state of carrying out genocide in Gaza, ultimately fails, it will have succeeded in ensuring much negative publicity for Israel.
In the Canberra Times (Jan. 10), Professor of International Law Greg Rose condemned South Africa’s case against Israel as “lawfare”, saying it belonged in Alice in Wonderland.
Rose wrote that it is “Jews [who] are to be exterminated but Israel is accused of genocide. Any informed person knows that the fantasy of genocide is formally embedded in the Hamas Charter.” He accused South Africa of “seem[ing] to support the Hamas acts and conspiracy to commit genocide against Jews. It hosted Hamas leaders, Khaled Mashal and Abu Marzouk, 10 days after Hamas launched its October 7 war on Israel.”
In contrast, an online article (Jan. 15) by ABC Global Affairs Editor John Lyons was more credulous about Pretoria’s motives, writing, “Having lived under apartheid for decades, South Africans know what it is to be oppressed without the rights of the ruling power.”
Earlier, in the Canberra Times (Jan. 13), Medical Association for Prevention of War President Sue Wareham one-sidedly insisted, “South Africa has provided substantial evidence of… statements of genocidal intent from Israeli leaders.”
ABC online analyses relied on academics. Journalist Audrey Courty’s online feature (Jan. 11) quoted University of South Australia lecturer Juliette McIntyre explaining proving genocide requires showing intent, “it’s not enough to simply kill enormous numbers of people.”
McIntyre noted that, in the opinion of Wollongong University’s Markus Wagner, who used to work for former Israeli Supreme Court justice Aharon Barak, “South Africa ‘goes a long way’ toward proving intent” [but] “it’s ultimately ‘a weak case’.”
ABC Radio “World Today” (Jan. 12) quoted University of Western Australia academic Dr Melanie O’Brien saying South Africa is accusing Israel “not just about what has happened since the 7th of October, but” over “many years of what has been termed by many human rights organisations as apartheid… and regular attacks against… Palestinian[s].”
On ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (Jan. 17), former Human Rights Watch chief Ken Roth did not directly say Israel was guilty of genocide, but implied it, accusing it of not letting in sufficient amounts of food and asking “Why are they using 2,000-pound bombs over and over?”
The Guardian Australia ran Roth’s op-ed (Jan. 14), which said, “Israel, understandably, thinks of genocide in terms of the Holocaust, but the ‘final solution’ is not the only version. Genocide can be a means, not only an end.”
Pedestrian (Jan. 15) absurdly claimed that “Israel’s attacks on Palestine have now become the deadliest conflict in the 21st Century.”
In the Australian Financial Review (Jan. 20), New York Times columnist Bret Stephens warned against accepting South Africa’s claims, saying, “It’s obscene because it perverts the definition of genocide, which is precise: ‘acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.’ Notice two key features of this definition: It speaks of acts whereas part of the genocide case against Israel involves the misinterpretation of quotes from Israeli officials who have vowed Hamas’s elimination… And it uses the term as such – meaning the acts are genocidal only if they are directed at Palestinians as Palestinians, not as members of Hamas or, heartbreakingly, as collateral deaths in attempts to destroy Hamas.”
On Jan. 16, the Australian Financial Review quoted AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein questioning why the Albanese Government refused to publicly reject the premise of the case, saying, “the government is claiming that it cannot comment on an ICJ case currently being considered when, not only have several of our allies done so, but this Australian government itself commented repeatedly on Ukraine’s ongoing ICJ case against Russia.”
On Jan. 15, three days after Israel and South Africa had both presented their cases, SBS TV “News in Arabic” reported on South Africa’s presentation at the ICJ, but not Israel’s. SBS TV “World News” ran reports on Jan. 12 and 13 covering both presentations.
In the Australian (Jan. 19), Henry Ergas reviewed the history of the charge of genocide since the word was invented in 1944 by Polish Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin. Ergas blamed the former Soviet Union for beginning the trend of weaponising the term against Israel and “watering down the evidentiary requirements” to do so.