It’s easy to think of the opening of the International Court of Justice’s trial of Israel that began this week in The Hague as just more of the same from the international community. The notion that a country that was the victim of a grotesque terrorist assault on Oct. 7 that involved the largest mass slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust should be arraigned before the world’s highest tribunal for defending itself against the perpetrators of that crime is patently absurd. But if you think the ICJ’s kangaroo court cannot harm the Jewish state or that this obvious miscarriage of justice will soon be forgotten, then you haven’t been paying attention to much of what has happened in the last three months.
The inversion of justice at The Hague and, indeed, the global community’s reaction to the atrocities of Oct. 7 and Israel’s military operations to eradicate the Hamas terrorists who were responsible, is the culmination of a long campaign of “lawfare” aimed at the delegitimization of Zionism and Jewish rights. In one sense, the court and the entire apparatus of the United Nations—under whose umbrella it operates—is putting itself on trial with an act of unabashed antisemitism masquerading as concern for human rights. But it is also part of an effort to brand Israel as a pariah nation that shouldn’t be dismissed or ignored. And it is no accident that the nation of South Africa is bringing the false charge of genocide against Israel since the goal is ultimately to bring down the Jewish state in the same manner as apartheid-era South Africa was isolated and then forced to surrender.
Like the preposterous though ubiquitous charge of genocide, the notion that a democratic nation like Israel is an “apartheid state” is also a big lie. Not to mention the fact that, rather than colonizers, the Jews are the indigenous people of Israel. And even if you include the Arabs living outside of the 1967 lines in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the Jews are still the majority, not a small minority as the whites were in South Africa. But no matter what sanctions or other legal and economic attacks that it faces as a result of this trial and similar efforts in the future, the Jewish state is here to stay.
Still, this trial should be understood as the natural consequence of what happens when antisemitism is mainstreamed. If, as is likely—and despite logic, justice and the evidence—the court rules against Israel, it will be a signal to the world that the clock has been turned back to 1939, and that once again, official discrimination against Jews is no longer beyond the pale.
Lies about genocide
As such, it must be seen as another manifestation of the surge of antisemitism we are witnessing around the globe that comes from cultural elites throughout the West. The specific charge that Israel’s actions in Gaza are an act of genocide makes no sense. Innocents are always going to be hurt in wars, but Hamas’ goal has always been to maximize the damage to ordinary Palestinians by deliberately positioning its military forces in and around civilian homes, schools and hospitals. Despite this, the Israel Defense Forces make more of an effort to avoid civilian casualties than virtually any other modern-day army, often putting its own soldiers at a greater risk of being killed because of caution in using its military might.
Far from waging a total war against the people of Gaza, Israel has consistently acted to help them survive the impact of a war that their leaders started and which they seem to support. What other nation would be asked to allow the flow of food, water and fuel to areas under the control of its mortal enemy, which is actively firing rockets into its territory, other than Israel? Yet that is exactly what is demanded of Israel during this war and what the Jewish state has done even as it rightly seeks to completely defeat Hamas. And in what other war would those who supposedly sympathize with the civilians that are in harm’s way demand that they not be allowed to leave the area and move, even if temporarily elsewhere, in order to be safe—as the international community’s absolute demands that the Palestinians not be allowed to leave Gaza—other than in a war against the Jewish state?
Israel’s government has been criticized for dignifying the farce at The Hague by mounting a defense there. Yet its decision to make its case before the world was probably the lesser of two evils. Even if the outcome of this trial is not really in doubt, to fail to put the facts about the fighting in Gaza—as opposed to the lies spread by Hamas and its foreign enablers—would be to leave the field open for its enemies without refutation. That its conduct is both justified and nothing like genocide (the population of Gaza has quintupled since 1967 and even increased by hundreds of thousands since Hamas took it over in 2007, demographic proof that there has been no systematic killing of Palestinians there by Israel) needs to be said in public, even if the mobs crying for genocide of the Jews and those who rationalize or justify their lies in the corporate media, academia and pop-culture outlets are not listening.
But the ICJ’s proceedings and the false claims that the Israeli victims of attempted genocide are the real culprits should not be seen in isolation from the efforts to delegitimize Israel going on elsewhere.
Antisemitism on the march
Since Oct. 7, Americans, in particular, have become accustomed to the spectacle of people who think of themselves as enlightened progressives feeling no shame about marching in the streets or on college campuses while chanting for the destruction of the one Jewish state on the planet. The conflict in the Middle East has nothing to do with race, yet those who buy the woke doctrine that Israel is a “white” oppressor of Palestinian people of color—and therefore a target of their wrath—believe that efforts to eradicate a terrorist force dedicated to slaughter the Jews are, per se, illegal.
It has long been obvious that the ideas that are broadly characterized as “woke”—critical race theory, the catechism of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and intersectionality—grant a permission slip for antisemitism. If you’re prepared to divide the world into two immutable groups—“white” oppressors and people of color who are victims—that’s a recipe for perpetual racial conflict. By falsely labeling the Jews as the oppressors, this neo-Marxist mindset legitimizes discrimination against them and the Jewish state.
The post-Oct. 7 backlash against Israel for its efforts to prevent Hamas from future attempts at murder, torture, rape and kidnapping is evidence of the impact of the spread of this toxic new secular faith.
The ICJ trial is an illustration of what happens when the same prejudicial attitudes are played out in the field of international law. It’s one thing when students or street mobs mouth slogans expressing sympathy for Hamas’s genocidal aims. It’s quite another when they are expressed in faux legalistic arguments whose purpose is to treat Israel as the one nation in the world that has no legitimate rights to either defend itself or exist.
It may be that many Israelis—preoccupied as they are with the war their country is still fighting in Gaza in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas atrocities, as well as the threats from Hezbollah in Lebanon to their north—will continue to think this way. But that would be a mistake.
The international antisemitic campaign against Israel has its origins in the Marxist lies about “Zionism is racism” spread by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The same themes were revived by leftists at the U.N.’s World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, only days before the 9/11 attacks on America in the form of the “apartheid state” smears of Israel.
But the post-Oct. 7 political and legal attacks on Israel are the manifestation of how these despicable and openly antisemitic libels have now been taken up by mainstream figures in the West. Whatever its outcome or impact, the ICJ proceeding is a harbinger of a new stage in the war against Israel. Instead of antisemitism emanating from the fever swamps of the far-right or far-left, its next iteration will be one either embraced or treated as reasonable by respectable authority figures throughout the West.
In a saner world, Oct. 7 would have marked a turning point in which the world turned its back on a Palestinian culture of hatred and intransigence. Instead, it marks the moment when antisemitism ceases to be primarily a function of extremists and becomes one of officially sanctioned hate against Israel and the Jews on the part of many who think of themselves as liberal believers in human rights.
Israel will continue its fight for survival, no matter what is said or done in The Hague or any other U.N. forum, let alone the op-ed pages of The New York Times or The Washington Post, where anti-Zionist hate and contempt for Jewish rights has been mainstreamed. But it is now the obligation of every decent person—whether Jewish or not—to reject the ICJ, the United Nations and every other supposedly liberal institution that embraces woke doctrines that discriminate against the Jewish state and enable antisemitism.
The lawfare campaign against Israel also raises the stakes in the American debate about woke ideology that is fueling the surge of antisemitism in the United States. It is now just as important to eliminate DEI and other manifestations of this hatred here as it is to ensure that Hamas is completely defeated in Gaza. The alternative is to allow the spectacle at The Hague to become the model for a new era of official antisemitism.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him: @jonathans_tobin.