OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Nicaragua sues Germany over support for Israel

It is biased and unlikely to succeed, but it would be wrong to discount the damage that this lawsuit can do.

The International Court of Justice courtroom at The Hague, Dec. 16, 2015. Photo by Ankor Light/Shutterstock.
The International Court of Justice courtroom at The Hague, Dec. 16, 2015. Photo by Ankor Light/Shutterstock.
Rabbi Shlomo Levin. Credit: Courtesy.
Rabbi Shlomo Levin
Rabbi Shlomo Levin is the author of The Human Rights Haggadah.

On March 1, Nicaragua filed a lawsuit against Germany at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). It asked the court to order Germany to end its support for Israel and restore funding for the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, claiming that otherwise Germany will be complicit in genocide against the Palestinians.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of the ICJ indicating provisional measures against Israel in the recent case brought by South Africa. The court also recently held lengthy hearings in preparation for its advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s rule over Judea and Samaria.

In its 43-page filing, Nicaragua freely calls Israel’s system of government “apartheid” and its conduct in the Israel-Hamas war “genocide.” Perhaps most appalling is the filing’s description of the October 7 massacre. Paragraph six states, “On 7 October 2023, Palestinian paramilitary forces from Hamas attacked the Israeli settlements located in the occupied Palestinian territories of Sderot, Kfar Azza, Nir Oz and Be’ri.”

That one sentence is all Nicaragua had to say about the terrorist attacks that killed over a thousand people. Moreover, the four communities mentioned are in Israel proper, unless Nicaragua defines all of Israel as occupied territory. Furthermore, in the filing, the taking of over 200 hostages and the indiscriminate firing of thousands of missiles at cities across Israel are simply erased. There is no acknowledgement that all this was a flagrant violation of the same laws and treaties Nicaragua accuses Israel of violating.

It would be tempting for Israel to disregard this lawsuit. It contains questionable legal claims that are unlikely to survive scrutiny from the ICJ judges. Even if the court decides to take provisional measures against Germany, it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which the ICJ gives Nicaragua what it wants. At most, the court would simply tell Germany to follow international law. The very specific constraints on weapons sales and the resumption of UNRWA funding Nicaragua demands would likely be viewed as improper micromanagement of the German government.

It’s also tempting to point out the chutzpah of Nicaragua filing such a suit quite literally one day after a group of experts appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council released a report stating, “Serious systematic human rights violations, tantamount to crimes against humanity, continue to be perpetrated by the Nicaraguan Government for political reasons. … President Ortega, Vice-President Murillo and the high-level State officials identified in the investigation should be held accountable by the international community, as should Nicaragua as a State that goes after its own people.”

One would think that before accusing others, Nicaragua might take at least some steps to get its own house in order. It’s quite possible to imagine a retaliatory suit accusing Nicaragua of violating the Genocide Convention due to its treatment of religious minorities.

That said, writing off Nicaragua’s lawsuit because of its legal flaws and outrageous bias would be a mistake. While the ICJ is a legal institution, the reality is that its effects are mainly political. The fact that Nicaragua is bringing this suit and will have an audience at the ICJ to air its claims shows how low Israel’s international standing has sunk. If the ICJ rejects Nicaragua’s claims on what may seem to be legal technicalities or procedural grounds, this may be portrayed in the media as acceptance of the premise that Israel is guilty of the crimes alleged, damaging Israel’s reputation even further.

A number of years ago, a college basketball team I used to root for was looking for a new coach after firing the previous one for breaking recruiting rules. The athletic director said he wanted to be sure to hire someone who, when you said his name alongside “NCAA,” the next word that came to mind was “tournament,” not “violation.” When you are associated with something negative too many times, it’s hard to shake that reputation.

The same is true for Israel. We can complain about unfairness and hypocrisy all we want. We can also decry what may become a trend of countries bringing dubious legal claims to the ICJ in order to stage what are essentially press conferences at which they can score political points. But the reality is that this is the third time in just a few months that Israel has been scrutinized by the ICJ. By this point, even people who seldom tune in to the news likely know that Israel has been accused of horrible crimes in widely respected forums. The damage is real.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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