Ireland to consider joining South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, Taoiseach says

Legal win for South Africa as International Court of Justice finds it plausible Israel breached genocide convention

Pressure on Ireland to join South Africa’s genocide case against Israel has increased after the UN’s highest court ordered Israel to immediately prevent its army from carrying out genocidal acts in Gaza.

The International Court of Justice found on Friday that South Africa’s accusation that Israel has breached the genocide convention was plausible enough for it to order emergency measures to protect Palestinian lives.

It also ordered armed groups in Gaza to release all hostages seized in the Hamas-led attack on Israel of October 7th that precipitated the Gaza war, and for Israel to allow sufficient humanitarian aid to reach the coastal strip, citing UN estimates that 93 per cent of the population there faces “crisis levels” of hunger.

The full case as to whether Israel has breached the genocide convention, an international treaty signed in 1948 to prevent a repeat of horrors such as the Holocaust, will be heard at a later date.


The court stopped short of ordering a ceasefire as South Africa had requested, but it told Israel to prevent acts of genocide “with immediate effect”, including by ensuring its army did not kill or cause serious bodily or mental harm to Palestinians in Gaza.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the court’s willingness to even discuss South Africa’s allegation of genocide was a “disgrace”, while the South African government hailed the ruling as “a decisive victory”. Lawyers for Israel were unsuccessful in their arguments that the court should throw out the case.

Both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Micheál Martin said that Ireland would consider joining the case, with Mr Martin adding he had requested “urgent” legal advice from officials.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Government must “unequivocally indicate their intention to join with South Africa”. The party lodged another Dáil motion demanding the Government back the case, following the defeat of a similar motion this week.

Presiding judge Joan Donoghue read out the reasoning for the ICJ’s decision to a solemn court in The Hague, noting the death toll of more than 25,000 Palestinians, the vast destruction of housing and the displacement of most of the population of the Gaza Strip.

She quoted senior UN officials to say the strip had been made “uninhabitable”, that places civilians had been ordered to relocate to for safety were under bombardment and that medical facilities were under “relentless attack”.

As the ICJ rules against Israel, Gaza remains an issue in Irish politics

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The crime of genocide requires intent, and Judge Donoghue said the court had “taken note” of statements by senior Israeli officials, including comments by Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, that Palestinian civilians shared culpability for the October 7th attack.

She also read out quotes by Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant in October ordering a total siege of Gaza including a cutting off of electricity, fuel, and food.

The decisions of the ICJ are legally binding under international law and cannot be appealed, though the court does not have an enforcement mechanism. The court ordered Israel to report back within a month on the measures it has taken to comply.

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Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times