Following its presentation of the genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, South Africa received acclaim from pro-Palestinian activists around the world for its stance against Israel’s actions in Gaza and what was perceived as the priorities of Western nations.

By John Eligon

After arguing its genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, South Africa won praise among pro-Palestinian activists globally for standing up against Israel’s war in Gaza and what many saw as the interests of Western countries.

At home, where satisfaction with the government is low, many South Africans applauded their leaders for taking a stand. Gatherings were organised to watch the court hearing, Demonstrators waved Palestinian flags in the streets.

Some South Africans saw the case as an example of hypocrisy by the governing African National Congress party, which they said had failed to call out atrocities by other nations. But leaders of the A.N.C. — which led South Africa’s struggle against apartheid rule — have compared life under blockade in Gaza to apartheid, and say they are uniquely positioned to understand the Palestinian experience.

“I must say that I have never felt as proud as I felt today when our legal team was arguing our case in The Hague,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said at a political event after the hearing on Thursday. Israel on Friday strongly denied the genocide accusation at the court, and it has long rejected the comparison of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to apartheid.

David Monyae, the director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg, said that by bringing a genocide case against Israel, South Africa was not just putting Israel’s government on trial, but also challenging the post-World War II global order led by Israel’s chief ally, the United States. The case showed that an African nation, smaller than the world’s superpowers, could step up to expose what some see as Western countries’ double standard when it comes to human rights, he said.

“Just a moral voice to say to the world, ‘Here’s what we should be doing,’” Dr. Monyae said. “Going forward, it’s going to weaken the hand of the Western world to advance human rights.”

South Africa’s efforts to oppose the West have sometimes faced intense criticism. South African officials refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, drawing accusations that they had taken the side of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a close ally, in the war.

After Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, South Africa’s foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, spoke by phone with Hamas’s political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, and later had to explain that the discussions were centred on providing humanitarian aid to Gaza.

South Africa’s case against Israel could generate a backlash globally and at home. U.S. officials have supported Israel, calling the case meritless. And some in the small but outspoken community of South African Jews, a group that played a key role in the anti-apartheid struggle, have criticised their government over the genocide case.

Giving voice to those criticisms, Zev Krengel, the president of the South Africa Jewish Board of Deputies, called it “a massive betrayal.”

Krengel accused the South African government, led by the A.N.C., of hypocrisy, saying that it hadn’t pursued cases against other countries that had committed atrocities. When Sudan’s former president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, came to South Africa for a summit in 2015, South African authorities refused to arrest him even though he was wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

“We’ve never seen the A.N.C. government more excited than trying to prove the Jewish state is doing genocide,” Mr. Krengel said.

Ronald Lamola, South Africa’s justice minister, said the case was not an attack on Jews but was about urgently saving Palestinian lives. More than 23,000 people have been killed in Israeli attacks in Gaza since October 7, according to the Gazan health ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel’s attacks came after Hamas led an incursion that killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials.

“We can’t come in two or three years when the entire population will have been annihilated to say, ‘We regret, we should have stopped it,’” Mr. Lamola said in an interview. –

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