On the Record | Which Israeli Politicians Are Being Accused of Incitement of Genocide at the ICJ?

By | Feb 08, 2024
Israeli politicians photoshopped together into one picture who are accused of incitement of genocide

What is the ICJ’s Involvement in the Israel-Hamas War?

On Friday, January 26, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) declared that Israel must increase efforts to prevent genocidal actions toward Palestinians. This ruling follows the formal complaint filed against Israel by South Africa on December 28, 2023. South Africa’s claim includes the accusation that Israel has ignored the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide by facilitating—and refusing to prevent—genocidal actions in Gaza. South Africa also requested the court to order Israel to cease military operations immediately. 

Any country is allowed to bring charges of genocide against another country at the ICJ—regardless of involvement. South Africa’s link to the Palestinian cause dates back to Nelson Mandela’s presidency. Mandela was an outspoken supporter of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO); in 1990 he said, “We identify with the PLO because, just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self-determination.” 

Though the ICJ did not accept South Africa’s genocidal claims as legitimate, it did not dismiss them either. Instead, Israel was ordered to comply with six tasks—which did not include a ceasefire. 

One of Israel’s tasks is to “[Not] engage in direct and public incitement to commit genocide [and] conspiracy to commit genocide.” Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the ICJ’s willingness to entertain South Africa’s claim is a “mark of shame that will not be erased for generations,” a central piece of evidence in South Africa’s case are incitement quotes by Israeli leaders, including Netanyahu himself. This is important because in order to prove Israel guilty of genocide, South Africa has to demonstrate that those conducting the war have “intent to destroy in whole or in part,” the Palestinian people.

What incitement quotes are being used as evidence in the case at the International Court of Justice?

While the entire Israeli government is not guilty of genocidal remarks toward Hamas or Palestinians, South Africa has provided notable instances of government officials expressing provocative opinions. Below are a selection of incitement quotes from South Africa’s claim.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister: “You must remember what Amalek has done to you.”

“We are the people of the light, they are the people of darkness… we shall realize the prophecy of Isaiah.”—October 25, 2023 (source)

“You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible”—October 28, 2023 (source)

“We’re facing monsters, monsters who murdered children in front of their parents…This is a battle not only of Israel against these barbarians, it’s a battle of civilization against barbarism”—December 24, 2023 (source)

Since starting his sixth term a year ago, Netanyahu’s popularity has plummeted. In a poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute from December 25-28, only 15 percent of Israelis want Netanyahu to remain in power after the Israel-Hamas War ends. As to Netanyahu’s Amalek reference [Read: “Amalek: Then and Now.”], his office released the following statement: “Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reference to Amalek was not an incitement to genocide of Palestinians but a description of the utterly evil actions perpetrated by the genocidal terrorists of Hamas on October 7 and the need to confront them.”

Isaac Herzog, Israeli President: “It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible.”

“It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. It’s not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware [and] not involved. It’s absolutely not true. … and we will fight until we break their backbone.”—October 12, 2023 (source).

 “We will uproot evil so that there will be good for the entire region and the world.”—October 15, 2023 (source).

After South Africa’s formal complaint was released, Herzog was outraged at being portrayed as blaming all Palestinians. Herzog claimed that South Africa ignored other comments in his October 12 press conference, where he also said “there is no excuse” for the killing of innocent civilians. On January 28, Herzog said, “I was disgusted by the way they twisted my words, using very, very partial and fragmented quotes, with the intention of supporting an unfounded legal contention.”

Bezalel Smotrich, Finance Minister: “I don’t see a big difference between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.”

 “We need to deal a blow that hasn’t been seen in 50 years and take down Gaza.”—October 8, 2023 (source).

Although it is important to note that Smotrich’s incitement quote was a day after Hamas’s attack, Smotrich has since doubled down his narrative. On December 31, while speaking to Army Radio, Smotrich pushed the idea of displacing Palestinians. “If there are 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs in Gaza and not two million Arabs, the entire discussion on ‘the day after’ will be totally different,” he said. “[Gaza] is a nice place, [Israel should] make the desert bloom, it doesn’t come at anyone’s expense.” Elsewhere, he has noted that he does not see a distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which nominally runs the West Bank. “I don’t see a big difference between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority,” he said on November 4. “The Arabs are the same Arabs.”

MK Boaz Bismuth, Likud: “We must erase the memory of Amalek.”

“We must not show mercy to cruel people, there is no place for any humanitarian gestures—we must erase the memory of Amalek”—October 16, 2023 (source).

Bismuth, the former editor-in-chief of Israel Hayom, first won a seat in the Israeli Knesset in 2022. As referenced earlier with Netanyahu, it’s plausible that Bismuth’s mention of Amalek—and the distinct targeting of “cruel people”—was referring to Hamas, not all Gazans as a whole. 

MK Galit Distel-Atbaryan, Likud: “Gaza should be wiped off the map.”

“Erase Gaza from the face of the earth. Let the Gazan monsters rush to the southern border and flee into Egypt, or die. And let them die badly. Gaza should be wiped off the map.”—November 11, 2023 (source).

On December 31, 2023, Distel-Atbaryan appeared on the Israeli news station Channel 13 to issue a public apology for her hostile comments. She said, “I’m here sitting and telling you, the democratic, secular public: I sinned against you, I caused pain for you, I caused you to fear for your lives here, and I am sorry for this.”

Yoav Gallant, Defense Minister: “We will eliminate everything.”

“I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed…We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.”—October 9, 2023 (source).

“Gaza won’t return to what it was before. We will eliminate everything.”—October 13, 2023 (source).

Gallant made these statements within days of Hamas’s attack. Some commentators have noted that some of the extreme rhetoric is due to the grief and shock in the wake of October 7. 

Gallant, who’s mother experienced genocide firsthand as a Holocaust survivor, responded to the ruling by saying, “The International Court of Justice went above and beyond when it granted South Africa’s antisemitic request to discuss the claim of genocide in Gaza, and now refuses to reject the petition outright,” and, “Israel does not need to be lectured on morality.” Gallant did not explain precisely how the ruling is antisemitic. 

MK Nissim Vaturi, Likud: “Burn Gaza now!”

“Now we all have one common goal—erasing the Gaza Strip from the face of the earth. Those who are unable will be replaced.”—October 7, 2023 (source).

“All the preoccupation with whether or not there is internet in Gaza shows that we have learned nothing. We are too humane. Burn Gaza now, no less!”—November 17, 2023 (source).

Although Vaturi’s incitement quote the day of Hamas’s attack was presumably fueled by grief, Vaturi is continuing his calls to “burn Gaza.” However, he attempted to justify this action on January 6 by explaining to the radio station Kol BaRama how civilians won’t be harmed. “We’ve evacuated everyone, we managed to do an orderly evacuation of 1,900,000, and 100,000 remained,” Vaturi said.  “I don’t think there are any innocent people there now, not now, and not when I said [my earlier comments].”

MK Tally Gotliv, Likud: “Bomb without distinction!!”

Bring down buildings!! Bomb without distinction!! Stop with this impotence. You have the ability. There is worldwide legitimacy! Flatten Gaza. Without mercy! This time, there is no room for mercy!”—October 7, 2023 (source).

“Without hunger and thirst among the Gazan population, we will not be able to recruit collaborators.”—October 23, 2023 (source).

While Gotliv’s first statement was also the day of the attack, she has recently criticized Biden for pressuring Israel to bring fuel into Gaza. Gotliv said on X (formerly Twitter), “President Biden, you are invited to my office to discuss with me the issues caused by the fuel that you ordered to bring into Gaza.” Gotliv also criticized the Israel War Cabinet for approving the decision.

These comments, cited in South Africa’s case at the ICJ, transmit strong rhetoric which contributed to the court’s ruling that the charge of genocide is “plausible.” Although the International Court of Justice has ordered Israel to hold those inciting this kind of violence accountable, it is unclear whether Netanyahu has the political maneuvering room to do so. In the meantime, Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with the war—despite South Africa’s assertion.

This story is part of a package on the International Court of Justice and the ongoing genocide case brought there by South Africa against Israel. Other stories in the package are:

Explainer | Important Judges to Watch as South Africa’s Genocide Case Against Israel Unfolds

Top Image: The Israeli politicians mentioned in this collection of incitement quotes. From left to right, bottom row: Smotrich, Gotliv, Vaturi. Middle row: Netanyahu, Distel-Arbayan. Top row: Gallant, Herzog.

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