OpinionIsrael at War

The ‘plausible genocide’ libel

There was never any support in the language of the Jan. 26 International Court of Justice order for the claim that it found genocide “plausible,” yet many in the media made the claim anyway.

Jerusalemites watch a hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, regarding the lawsuit initiated by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide, Jan. 26, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Jerusalemites watch a hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, regarding the lawsuit initiated by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide, Jan. 26, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
David M. Litman
David M. Litman
David M. Litman is a media and education research analyst at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).  

Note: After CAMERA informed CNN of the errors detailed below, CNN corrected all three articles so that they correctly reflect the language used by the International Court of Justice. See below for a detailed update.

When the International Court of Justice issued an order on January 26 in the genocide case brought against Israel by South Africa, it soon became common knowledge that the ICJ had found it “plausible” that Israel was committing “genocide.”

This common knowledge, however, was in fact a myth.

The ICJ said no such thing, as the president of the court, Joan O’Donoghue, has now clearly explained, stating on the BBC, “I’m correcting what’s often said in the media—[the court] didn’t decide that the claim of genocide was plausible.”

But it shouldn’t have taken a statement by O’Donoghue for this to come out. There was never any support in the language of the Jan. 26 order for the claim that it found genocide “plausible.”

Provided below is a list of news outlets that nonetheless falsely reported otherwise, in their own words.

Associated Press

• “The top United Nations court has concluded there is a ‘plausible risk of genocide’ in Gaza…” (Apr. 5, via ABC News)

• “In Britain, more than 600 British jurists, including three retired Supreme Court judges, pressed the government to heed the International Court of Justice’s conclusion that there is a ‘plausible risk of genocide’ in Gaza and stop shipping weapons to Israel.” (Jill Lawless, Apr. 6, via ABC News)

• “In a preliminary phase of the case brought late last year by South Africa, the U.N. court has said that it is ‘plausible’ that Israel’s actions in Gaza could amount to breaches of the convention.” (Mike Corder, Apr. 9, via ABC News)

BBC News

• “The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague is investigating Israel for ‘plausible’ allegations of genocide against the Palestinians in a case brought by South Africa.” (Jeremy Bowen, Apr. 7)

Boston Globe

• “’If you want to do it as an application of law, I believe that they’ll find that it is genocide, and they have ample evidence to do so,’ the Massachusetts Democrat said of the International Court of Justice, which found in January it was ‘plausible’ that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza and continues to investigate.” (Jim Puzzanghera, Apr. 8)

• “In January, the International Court of Justice, the United Nations’ highest court, found it ‘plausible’ that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza…” (Kenneth Roth, Apr. 22)

CBS News

• “The court’s president Joan E. Donoghue said Friday in the court at The Hague, Netherlands, that, based on an initial assessment of Israel’s actions and remarks from Israeli leaders, it would not accept Israel’s request to dismiss the case as there were plausible claims of possible genocidal acts.” (Haley Ott and Sarah Carter, Jan. 26)

CNN

• “The public letter, released Friday, comes a week after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found South Africa’s claim that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza to be ‘plausible’… ” (Mick Krever, Feb. 2)

• “The International Court of Justice (ICJ) found that it was “plausible” that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza…” (Ivana Kottasova and Adi Koplewitz, Feb. 4)

• “In late January, the ICJ found South Africa’s claim that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza to be ‘plausible’…” (Ivana Kottasova, Feb. 17)

Foreign Policy

• “In January, South Africa accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention during its assault on Gaza. The court ruled that such allegations were plausible.” (Alexandra Sharp, Apr. 8)

The Guardian

• “The measures it did call for—including directing Israel not to commit or incite genocide—reveal that not only is protection for ordinary Palestinians urgent, but that there is a .plausible claim of the Gazan population being decimated.” (Editorial Board, Jan. 26)

The Intercept

• “WITHIN MOMENTS OF the International Court of Justice issuing a preliminary finding on Friday morning that South Africa had made a plausible genocide case against Israel…” (Ryan Grim, Jan. 29)

• “Last Friday, just three days after the lawmakers sent the letter, the ICJ ruled that it is plausible that Israel is carrying out a genocide.” (Prem Thakker, Feb. 1)

• “Shortly after the International Court of Justice announcing its finding that South Africa had made a plausible case that Israel was committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza….” (Ryan Grim, Feb. 2)

• “Unequivocal and all-out military, financial, and diplomatic support for Israel remains, and the killing and destruction continues on a scale that the International Court of Justice has deemed ‘plausibly genocidal.’” (Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Feb. 14)

• “The fact that the International Court of Justice has found grounds to investigate Israel for plausible acts of genocide in Gaza…” (Jeremy Scahill, Mar. 23)

Los Angeles Times

• “In the case, brought by South Africa last month, the court ruled that it is plausible that Israel is perpetrating genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.” (Raz Segal, Jan. 27)

MSNBC

• “Israel, through some of its policies, is refusing to distinguish between civilians and militants, and the International Court of Justice has found that it is ‘plausible’ that Israel has committed acts that violate the Genocide Convention.” (Zeeshan Aleem, Jan. 30)

• “Written just a week after the International Court of Justice ruled assertions that a U.S.-backed genocide is transpiring in Gaza are ‘plausible’…” (Zeeshan Aleem, Feb. 5)

National Public Radio (NPR)

• “The International Court of Justice has found it is ‘plausible’ that Israel has committed acts that violate the Genocide Convention.” (Fatima al-Kassab, Jan. 26)

• “ICJ finds Gaza genocide case ‘plausible’” (Anandita Bhalerao and Rachel Treisman, Jan. 26)

• “The courts found sufficient evidence that it’s ‘plausible’ that Israel has committed acts of genocide in Gaza and ruled that Israel must prevent genocidal attacks” (Alexis Williams, Corey Antonio Rose, Brittany Luse, Jessica Placzek, Bilal Qureshi, Barton Girdwood, Liam McBain and Veralyn Williams, Jan. 26)

• “This is in response to a lawsuit brought by South Africa alleging that Israel’s military operation in Gaza amounts to genocide against the Palestinian people. Donoghue said the court finds that plausible…” (Lauren Frayer, Jan. 26)

• “So the court issued a provisional order saying that it is, quote, ‘plausible’ that Israel has committed acts of genocide in Gaza….” (Leila Fadel and Lauren Frayer, Jan. 26)

• “But what the court did say is that the allegations that South Africa is making against Israel, mainly that Israel is committing acts of genocide in Gaza, were in the least plausible.” (Eyder Peralta, Jan. 27)

• “Last week, the International Court of Justice issued a preliminary ruling that the charge brought by South Africa that Israel is guilty of genocide in Gaza is ‘plausible.’” (Ari Daniel, Jan. 30)

• “Late last month, the court found it ‘plausible’ that Israel has committed acts that violated the Geneva agreements, and it directed Israel to ensure its forces do not commit any such acts.” (Becky Sullivan, Feb. 9) [Note: the case is under the Genocide Convention, not the Geneva Conventions, as the author seems to mistakenly believe.]

New York Times

• “‘All that South Africa has to do to win a provisional measures order is convince the court that its charge of genocide is “plausible,”‘ said William Schabas, a former chairman of a U.N. commission of inquiry into Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip in 2014…” (Isabel Kershner and John Eligon, Jan. 10)

• “Because their purpose is to prevent genocidal acts from occurring, petitioners essentially only need to show that there is a plausible risk of genocide.” (Amanda Taub, Jan. 19)

• “For now, they have ordered a series of measures, which amount to temporary injunctions, aimed at protecting Palestinian civilians because they found the dangers of genocide ‘plausible.’” (Victoria Kim, Mar. 7)

Reuters

• “Last month the ICJ said South Africa’s claims that Israel violated the genocide convention were not implausible…” (Stephanie van den Berg, Mar. 1)

USA Today

• “The International Court of Justice did not find Israel violated the 1948 Genocide Convention. Instead, it found South Africa’s claims that Israel committed genocide were ‘plausible,’ which experts said is a low legal bar meant to preserve the rights of Palestinians so the court can rule on the case’s merits at a later stage.” (Andre Byik, Jan. 31) [Note: A mostly accurate fact check that still got the basic ruling wrong.]

• “A recent ruling by the International Court of Justice concluded it is ‘plausible’ that Israel is committing acts of genocide.” (Micaela A Watts and Jacob Wilt, Feb. 4)

• “Correction: The International Court of Justice found allegations of genocide to be ‘plausible,’ but did not condemn Israel or its military campaign, and instead urged Israel to take measures against preventing genocide.” (Cy Neff, Feb. 27)

Washington Post

• “As Israel culls Gaza, the Biden administration calls ‘meritless’ the charge of genocide that the International Court of Justice validated as plausible.” (Spencer Ackerman, Feb. 27)

• “As Israeli forces grind through Gaza in what the International Court of Justice defines as a ‘plausible’ case of genocide…” (Peter Maass, Apr. 9)

Originally published by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Media and Reporting.

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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