By Fernando Brancoli
Abstract: This article explores the significant support from Latin American countries for South Africa's case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza. It highlights the diverse political stances of these nations towards Israel and Palestine, reflecting a shift from traditional Western-centric narratives. The case underscores the Global South's rising influence in international diplomacy and the need for a more inclusive historical perspective, challenging the dominant Holocaust-centric view and emphasizing the long-term consequences of colonialism. This development signifies a broader critique of the Global North's perceived double standards in international affairs.
In a move with significant international implications, several Latin American countries, including Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, and Venezuela, have rallied in support of South Africa's case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. This case, which argues that “acts and omissions” by Israel against Palestinians in Gaza are genocidal in character, also highlights the remarkable confluence of distinct political histories and ideologies.
Bolivia was one of the first Latin American nations to endorse South Africa's lawsuit against Israel before the ICJ, calling it a historic decision by Pretoria and citing Israel's military offensives in Palestinian territory as a breach of the Genocide Convention. Colombia, led by President Gustavo Petro Urrego, repeated similar support, calling Israel's actions racial cleansing. Brazil, headed by President Lula, also supported the proposal, emphasizing the need for a truce and the creation of humanitarian corridors. Venezuela also spoke out, complimenting South Africa's move and stressing Israel's alleged breaches of the Genocide Convention, in line with its overall foreign policy and position on international legal matters. Despite their differing political origins, each country came together to support this cause, demonstrating a shared commitment to international justice and human rights.
It is worth noting that these states have adopted differing stances towards Israel and Palestine in recent years. Colombia, for example, has been Tel Aviv's most important military partner in the region. Bolivia and Venezuela, on the other hand, broke diplomatic relations with the Middle Eastern country, citing denial of Palestinian rights and human rights abuses. In contrast, Brazil has long attempted to present itself as a mediator, stressing the need for humanitarian assistance.
The hearings at the International Court of Justice regarding South Africa's allegations of genocide against Israel could potentially represent a pivotal moment for Global South engagement in international diplomacy. This situation appears to pose a challenge to the traditional historical consciousness, predominantly shaped by Western perspectives on the conflict. In expressing solidarity with South Africa's stance, the Brazilian activist group Landless Workers' Movement articulated a critical viewpoint: "Northern countries frequently contextualize the conflict in Palestine within a framework of protecting Israel from a repetition of the Jewish Holocaust, whereas the focus should be on the colonialist undertones that have profoundly impacted Global South nations. Israel's policies against Palestinians mimic colonialism tactics." This Global South viewpoint offers an alternate narrative that emphasizes colonialism's long-term consequences.
This case is unique in that it brings Israel before the United Nations' highest court in a context that extends beyond ordinary legal disputes. The piece emphasizes the devastating humanitarian consequences of Israel's military response to Hamas attacks on October 7. This response from the Global South seeks to expose the moral values often upheld by Western nations, particularly the United States, which has been a staunch supporter of Israel. Washington has played a significant role in establishing the current international order, and the Global South's challenge offers a critical perspective on that system.
Building on the critical viewpoint articulated by the Landless Workers' Movement, which emphasizes the colonialist aspects of Israel's policies, it's important to consider the broader geopolitical landscape. The Global South's engagement in the International Court of Justice reflects a blend of moral positioning and strategic diplomacy. This nuanced approach illustrates how individual nations navigate their unique political and economic interests while contributing to a collective stance against perceived injustices, highlighting a sophisticated interplay between ethical convictions and state-level pragmatism in international affairs.
The involvement of Global South states in the case against Israel can be seen as an alignment of moral stances and strategic interests. While it might appear that these states are primarily motivated by a desire to challenge Western hegemony and expose perceived double standards, their actions can also be understood through the lens of traditional state behavior. Each state has its own geopolitical and diplomatic considerations, which influence its positions in international affairs. For instance, countries like Venezuela and Bolivia may see aligning with South Africa against Israel as consistent with their broader foreign policy goals, which often emphasize anti-imperialism and resistance to Western dominance. On the other hand, Brazil and Colombia, with their more moderate stances, might be balancing the need to assert their presence on the global stage while maintaining crucial diplomatic and economic ties with both Western and Middle Eastern countries. This suggests that even within the Global South, the pursuit of national interests takes varied forms, shaped by each country's unique historical, political, and economic contexts.
Furthermore, the engagement of these states in this international legal dispute does not necessarily contradict the notion that states pursue their interests; rather, it highlights the complexity and multidimensionality of what those interests can entail. For Global South states, interests may extend beyond traditional notions of power and security to include principles of justice, human rights, and a more equitable international order. By challenging the narrative predominantly shaped by Western countries, these nations are asserting their agency in international diplomacy, which in itself is a strategic interest. It's a redefinition of state interests that includes moral and ethical considerations alongside political and economic ones. This approach reflects a growing trend among Global South nations to assert a more prominent role in shaping global norms and values, which can be seen as both an effort to uphold global peace and security, and a strategic move to redefine the rules of the international system in a way that better reflects their perspectives and values.
These Latin American nations' attitude also reflects a larger criticism of what the Global North perceives as hypocrisy, notably in its reaction to various international crises. The parallel between the conflict in Ukraine and the situation in Israel is contentious. Observers and politicians from the Global South have accused Western nations of using double standards, denouncing Russia's actions in Ukraine while backing Israel, despite its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the siege of Gaza since 2007.
This apparent discrepancy undermines the legitimacy of the Western concept of a "rules-based order." Many in the developing world regard the West's stance on Israel-Palestine as an example of selectively implementing international standards and norms depending on geopolitical interests rather than universally. This critique is growing more vociferous in Latin American nations, joining a chorus of voices from the Global South questioning the current global order.