Ex-Israeli Supreme Court chief Aharon Barak appointed as ICJ judge for genocide case

Ex-Israeli Supreme Court chief Aharon Barak appointed as ICJ judge for genocide case
Israel has tapped Supreme Court ex-president Aharon Barak for ICJ panel, following South Africa filing legal action on grounds of genocide
4 min read
08 January, 2024
Former head of Israel's Supreme Court Aharon Barak (L) with ex-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (R) in 2001 [Getty]

Israel has named its former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak as its addition to a 15-member International Court of Justice (ICJ) panel due this week to hear a genocide allegation filed against it. 

Barak, 87, will represent Israel throughout the trial, as the first hearing will take place from 11 to 12 January, according to Israeli newspaper The Times of Israel

He was a focus of opposition for members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for his criticism of the controversial judicial reform push last year which bitterly polarised the public. 

Throughout his 11-year tenure as president, Barak upheld the "otherness" of Palestinians and had been regarded as "Israel’s public defender abroad", defending the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision on the illegal wall of segregation in 2004.  

Barak additionally showed support for Israel’s war on Gaza and claimed the military offensive was not in violation of humanitarian law.

He argued that the rules of collateral damage permit the killing of Palestinian fighters even if led to the deaths of children. This was approved by Barak himself in a 2006 Supreme Court ruling, as cited in a report by Canadian news outlet The Globe and Mail

"It may be proportional to kill five innocent kids in order to target their leader," Barak was quoted in an interview by the publication. 

Israeli media outlets such as The Times of Israel said that four lawyers will be representing Israel at the hearings. However, the appointment of British lawyer Malcolm Shaw has so far been confirmed. 

American lawyer Alan Dershowitz was considered for representing Israel at the hearing but has since been embroiled in controversy after his name was mentioned in newly unsealed court documents relating to the Jeffrey Epstein case.

Dershowitz has denied his involvement in his former client’s sex trafficking ring. 

On the South African bench, all four lawyers have been confirmed such as former UN rapporteur John Dugard and legal scholar Tembeka Ngcukaitobi. 

South Africa, which accuses Israel of genocide in the Gaza war, has also appointed an ad hoc judge, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, South African media said. 

Under the ICJ's rules, a state that does not have a judge of its nationality already on the bench can choose an ad hoc judge to sit in their case. 

South Africa is set to reportedly present its case at The Hague on Thursday, followed by Israel on Friday. 

Israeli state TV channel KAN also reported that the country is concerned that the upcoming ICJ case may disrupt military operations in Gaza, amid its months-long brutal war on the Palestinian enclave. 

Israel has conducted mass arbitrary arrests, field executions, and indiscriminate bombing during its air and ground assault on the Palestinian territory.

Almost of all Gaza’s inhabitants have been displaced from their homes, and some Israeli ministers have called for pushing the entire population out of the enclave. 

Last week, South Africa asked the ICJ for an urgent order declaring that Israel was in breach of its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention

Countries such as Bolivia, Malaysia and Turkey have supported South Africa's application to the ICJ.

Bolivia, together with South Africa, Bangladesh, Comoros, and Djibouti, have in addition presented a request to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) - a separate international court that prosecutes individuals - to investigate the situation in Palestine on 17 November.

More than 22,800 Palestinians have been killed and more than 58,000 wounded since the war began. 

Almost 200 Palestinians have been killed or wounded by Israel in Gaza over the past 24 hours.  

Reuters also contributed to this report.