News Brief: The ICJ Ruling and the Essentialness of Squishy Western Liberal Support for Genocide

Citations Needed | January 26, 2024 | Transcript

Citations Needed
14 min readJan 28, 2024
Judges of the International Court of Justice. (Getty)

Stream News Brief: The ICJ Ruling and the Essentialness of Squishy Western Liberal Support for Genocide by Citations Needed Podcast


Nima Shirazi: Welcome to a Citations Needed News Brief. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: We do these News Briefs in between our regularly scheduled full-length episodes, usually when there is breaking news that we really want to respond to or react to. And this morning, the morning of Friday, January 26th, news has broken that the International Criminal Court of Justice in the Hague has found some merit with the South African case against Israel on the grounds of committing genocide in Palestine. The ruling has been released this morning. And instantaneously, The New York Times is running interference for Israel.

Adam: Yeah, so the obligatory qualifier, we’re not lawyers. I think that’s patently obvious. If we were lawyers, we wouldn’t be doing a podcast, we’d have a real job.

Nima: Some lawyers have podcasts.

Adam: Oh, well, I don’t know how you would fall that far. I will say this, which is that it is clear based on the legal consensus, it is safe to paraphrase in the court’s own words that there’s “plausible” basis for genocide and genocidal acts, both in terms of intent, words used and actual actions, people killed, the collective punishment of civilians, the use of water, food, fuel.

Nima: Yeah, deliberate targeting of infrastructure and people.

Adam: So, all that’s established by the court, which when it was announced, was considered a huge win. But the court fell short of explicitly calling for a ceasefire. Now, the South African diplomats and lawyers argue that the ceasefire is implicit in what they said was that they need to immediately prevent genocidal acts which include, according to their own findings, the killing of Palestinians. So by definition —

Nima: Exactly. Let me actually read that.

Adam: Please.

Nima: I know we’re not a legal show. But I think it’s important to actually get the language right. So in the ruling, the International Criminal Court of Justice found that quote, “The State of Israel shall ensure with immediate effect that its military does not commit any acts described in point 1 above.” And now, point one above identifies these as the act that must cease with immediate effect:

killing members of the group [Palestinians]; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

Adam: Right, so what matters here and this is the argument we’re gonna make in this News Brief is that it’s all spin, right? The ICJ has no real enforcement mechanism anyway, right? It’s not like they’re gonna send in UN cops to go arrest Netanyahu. Now, it puts the responsibility on UN member states to act, which it does, but even that, the enforcement mechanism boils down to the Security Council, which has a veto by the United States anyway and Britain. So, everybody knows that it has no real enforcement mechanism.

Nima: But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. And I think that that’s the point here.

Adam: Right. What matters is PR, it’s all PR, and this is why it falls purely within the purview of this podcast because what matters is the perception.

Nima: How we understand what is happening in Gaza, how we describe Israeli actions and intent, and that has been shown to be genocidal.

Adam: Right, so they’ve established this genocide. Again, this is a court run by a former Hillary Clinton-appointed official, this is a very “Western” court. And so its findings have tremendous purchase. And finding a plausible basis for genocide is an extremely important finding because in many ways, these countries are represented by — obviously, South Africa is not — countries that are pro-Israel or fund and arm Israel. And so, the significance is not lost. So, what matters though is how that’s spun because the key function of this and why this is used as a mechanism to try to curb the violence in Gaza by South Africa and others is that what matters is essential to Israel’s genocide, which I think we can safely say at this point, is squishy Western liberal support from people like Trudeau, you know, Biden, right? All these Western European countries who support Israel, the only thing that’s going to really drive the dispositive force here is squishy Western liberals, unfortunately.

Nima: It’s gonna be liberal outrage.

Adam: Which is why it’s the focus of the show so much because it’s actually the thing that kind of decides things, right? You can’t just invade and bomb Iraq, if I’m George Bush, if I don’t have buy-in from the liberal establishment. So, the liberal establishment is important here. And hanging the G word on Israel is the only real kind of mechanism to really move the needle to get Western liberals to think twice about their lockstep support. Genocide Joe, it has an alliterative property, and it has value. The White House actually doesn’t want to be labeled Genocide Joe. It’s a word that has tremendous moral purchase in our society. And having an independent court with a bunch of people with powdered wigs say, yeah, probably genocide, it actually matters a lot.

Nima: And the main messaging arm for that liberal consensus, as we talked about a lot, one of those major, major media outlets that actually forms and shapes and maintains that kind of consensus is the paper of record, The New York Times.

Adam: Right, so this was their headline when the ruling was announced: “U.N. Court Declines to Demand That Israel Stop Its Military Campaign.” And then the subheadline would read, “The International Court of Justice ruled that Israel must take action to ensure its military doesn’t violate the Genocide Convention and to let in more aid.” So effectively, what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to put it in this kind of Biden White House milieu, which is the “war” is not per se bad, which is to say the bombing siege, the invasion of Gaza, the sniping of various people, that they can do it but humanely, right? This is the spin from Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren to Joe Biden to Tony Blinken. There’s this idea that we can somehow preserve this route, this supposed war on Hamas while doing it humanely.

Nima: Flatten Hamas, but do it less genocidally.

Adam: It’s a total fiction that the “war” is the mechanism for the genocide itself. And there needs to be a ceasefire, a cessation of hostilities, to prevent further genocidal acts, that you cannot somehow preserve some vague war on Hamas. And this was seen as a disappointment by many for obvious reasons. But, of course, the main take-home point is that they did find a plausible basis for genocide. But this is not the thing that’s leading these headlines. The BBC headline would be “ICJ orders Israel to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza but not to end war.” Now, let’s be clear here. South Africa and its various diplomats do not agree with this interpretation of what was found. They don’t actually think that it fell short of calling for an end of the hostilities. This is South African diplomat Clayson Monyela who wrote, “Read the order carefully. ‘The state of Israel shall ensure WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT that its MILITARY does NOT commit any acts described in point 1.’ These are: a) Killing of members of a group (Palestinians) b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm. That’s an order to halt military operations immediately!” So, the South African delegation is arguing that the court ruled actually that it is effectively calling for a ceasefire, implicitly calling for a ceasefire. And this is what many Palestinian activists have been arguing as well.

Nima: “Immediate effect” is really important language here and used specifically, deliberately.

Adam: Right. Now, what’s noteworthy is this squishy liberal double game of trying to maintain some premise that there’s a “war” on Hamas that’s worth preserving. It’s something we’ve been talking about the last four months because it’s actually essential to keeping this genocide going. There’s this idea that Israel is going to radically change course and do humanitarian, artisanal, farm-to-table bombing that’s somehow not genocidal which is obviously at this point, I think it’s fair to say, absurd that there is not a third option. There’s only two options. You support a ceasefire or you support genocide. That’s it. You can sort of shit or get off the pot at this point. And the way this is being spun in Western media because again, the target demographic here is the Western liberal tastemakers and Western liberal opinion curators because the only thing that really strikes fear into the hearts of the Western liberal governments that support Israel is this idea that their own self-aggrandizing image of defenders of capital H, capital R human rights and defenders of capital D democracy is going to be severely undermined by the blatant hypocrisy of supporting the G word.

Nima: By aiding and abetting genocide, right?

Adam: And they’re scared shitless of the G word. They don’t want to be tagged with that. And understandably so, especially since it’s essential to their own self-mythologizing.

Nima: Especially because so much of that international power was born out of being on the right side of World War Two against genocide.

Adam: Right. And so, this is why how it’s spun actually matters a lot. In fact, how it’s spun is really all that matters. Because it’s all meta. It’s all how it’s perceived in the public. And a recent poll —

Nima: It was an Economist and YouGov poll.

Adam: Right. Found that 50% of Democratic voters believe Israel’s committing genocide. And the White House knows this. And so, what they’ve done from the beginning, and this is why they do the elite curated story about how there’s increased tensions and you know, very angry phone calls between Netanyahu and Biden. The function of these stories which we’ve heard over and over and over and over again, right? This is a trope we’ve talked about on the show of this kind of fake you know, “Biden’s really mad at Netanyahu” is that it’s important that they back the genocide with funding arms. They just sent more arms yesterday, diplomatically have zero red lines, zero consequences, zero material changes to policy while looking very upset. You know, I counted on my last count that stories and major media about US pressuring or raising concerns over civilian deaths on October 11th, October 15th, October 29th, October 31st, November 3rd, November 10th, November 29th, December 2nd, December 6th, December 11th. December 14th, December 18th, December 23rd, January 6th, January 14th, January 17th, and January 24th. All these articles about, you know, either Blinken or Lloyd Austin or Biden himself raising concerns about civilian deaths, demanding Israel reduce civilian deaths. And of course, they haven’t.

In fact, increase of starvation and hunger. Again, as the ICJ laid out, 90 plus percent of people in Gaza are on the brink of starvation or already starving. That hasn’t gone down. And why would it go down? And why would it be less genocidal? Because there’s no mechanism, there’s no consequence. And so they know this. They know ostensibly, the Biden White House supports Israel, so that that narrative, those narratives need to be reconciled. And the totally artificial pseudo story that’s being told, right, is that, oh, Biden supports it, but he’s actually secretly working things from the inside, and that if he doesn’t support Israel, they’re gonna somehow go rogue, find their weapons from some other country, and they’re gonna be even more genocidal. That the White House is actually a harm reduction philosophy.

Nima: A mitigating force.

Adam: Now, there’s zero basis for this. Nobody credibly believes this. But this narrative and why it’s so popular and why you see it, you know, again, New York Times, MSNBC is because it’s the only way you can reconcile the fact that there’s a partisan initiative. And again, to some extent, one can sort of understand why. Just stop Trump and 2024, right? This sort of constant looming threat of Trump will basically allow you to justify anything versus what is in reality, the fact that the person who is going to defeat Trump and the specter of fascism and all that is himself committing genocide. The most elegant solution, of course, would be for Biden just to not support genocide. That would solve all of our problems, but he refuses to do so. And so, if this is spun to fit within the kind of changing things from the inside pseudo narrative, right? To kind of do the war but somehow do it less genocidally. Again, impossible, unprecedented. Four months in, not going to happen, hasn’t happened, totally a fake thing. Then the ICJ mechanism, as a mechanism of activism, is severely undermined. And so how the media reports this is actually quite important.

Nima: Right. And so, what the media New York Times included is effectively working to conflate the ICJ ruling with the Biden administration’s posture, right? Saying, do this better, do this kinder, do this maybe slightly gentler, let in more aid, but don’t stop the slaughter, which is not what the ICJ is saying. They said, stop this with immediate effect. But in all of the reporting that we’re seeing from these mainstream corporate outlets, it is then saying that what the ICJ has ruled is basically the same as what Biden’s administration is calling upon Israel to do and has been now for months, which is not true. The Biden administration is not saying that Israel is plausibly committing genocide and must stop doing that. It is saying do a kinder, gentler thing. So then, in your headlines, when you’re saying, oh, well, the ICJ didn’t explicitly call for a ceasefire, well, neither is the Biden administration so I guess they’re aligned on this. That’s the effect of spinning and framing this news about Israel committing genocide found by the ICJ. To basically dull it, mitigate the effects on the kind of elite readers, the ones who would really, you know, get the vapors from this, go to the fainting couch. But well, you know, genocide sounds bad, but they didn’t call for a ceasefire. So hey, what are we supposed to do? I guess we just give them more F-35s.

Adam: Yeah, apparently, again, from everyone from Bernie Sanders to everyone who has not demanded a ceasefire to Joe Biden to the New York Times Editorial Board to the Washington Post Editorial Board who all they do is they fucking have crocodile tears and handwringing, their hearts bleed for the human suffering. But yet, they don’t call for an end to the thing causing it. They just want to send in more flour and bottled water. Even though 0% of Palestinian organizations or even Palestinian academics, intellectuals, what have you, 0% of people have said that that’s something they want. What they need is to stop the bombing. If you’re gonna make sure someone’s bombed with a full belly, that doesn’t mean anything. And we’ve been saying this for months.

And so, to the extent to which the ICJ ruling has an objective value, it is not saying that. It is not agnostic to the question of killing Palestinians. It quite explicitly says they need to stop killing Palestinians, but it’s being framed as like, oh, there’s this there’s this alternative humanitarian version. So again, this is the David Leonhardt, you know, article about how, oh, the casualties have reduced. And that’s not true by the way. That is totally not true at all. But even if it is true, right, nobody would publish an article saying Hamas killing of Israelis has reduced by, you know, 97%, since October. I mean, that would be an absurd thing to say. But for some reason, there’s some acceptable level of civilian deaths in Gaza that’s hundreds a day that is somehow okay.

So what does it mean to go from a kind of genocidal to non-genocidal amount of mass death? What, a 10% reduction? 30% reduction? It’s fucking meaningless. I mean, all this liberal handwringing and carve-outs, the only function it serves is to maintain the genocide at this point. That’s it. It’s because people are too cowardly to stand up to this bipartisan war with the Democratic president because it’s partisan expediency, and of course, ideological commitments to the sort of the mythologies of liberal Zionism. But I think this ruling would expose the total shallowness of that position. But unfortunately, again, in many outlets, is now being spun as a vindication of that position. So, we’ll have another, what, six weeks, another two months, four months of instead of killing 400 Palestinians a day, they’re going to kill 327? And I guess that’s the sort of non-genocidal version. Like what does it mean to send in fucking more aid while you’re bombing people? It’s perverse, it’s absurd. None of this makes any sense. And everybody knows it. But we still have to do this liberal back and forth where we do this bombing campaign and siege of civilian population while they starve is somehow nicer.

Nima: If the ICJ had explicitly come out for a ceasefire, let’s say that was part of the ruling, which again, it is argued that it is part of the ruling, it is implicit, it is inherent in that language. But let’s say it was even more explicit, right? You can imagine, Adam, that the headlines and the articles about this ruling would then really focus on the fact that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction and therefore, can’t actually call on this.

Adam: Right.

Nima: That this ruling would really be kind of mitigated in that way, saying, oh, well, the ICJ, you know, doesn’t have the power to actually force a ceasefire. I think you would see the kind of dismissal of that. But because that was not explicitly stated, you’re seeing things spun a slightly different way, which is saying, well, they didn’t even call for a ceasefire. They didn’t even call for a ceasefire. But if they had, I’m sure the jurisdiction and the authority of the court itself would be in question even more.

Adam: Yeah, they would have just keep moving the goalposts because again, the goal has always been to kind of buy time and to handwring and to cry and to feel bad about the genocide but do absolutely nothing to stop it.

Nima: Right, and actually do everything to keep it going by refusing to immediately and this genocide. That will do it for this Citations Needed News Brief. Of course, you can follow the show on Twitter @citationspod, Facebook at Citations Needed. Become a supporter of the show. If you are not already a supporter of the show, and if you are, thank you so much. But if you’re not and you can become one, we would certainly appreciate it. We are 100% listener-funded. You can do that through I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed’s senior producer is Florence Barrau-Adams. Producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Mahnoor Imran. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again for listening, everyone. We’ll catch you next time.

This Citations Needed News Brief was released on Friday, January 26, 2024.

Transcription by Mahnoor Imran.



Citations Needed

A podcast on media, power, PR, and the history of bullshit. Hosted by @WideAsleepNima and @adamjohnsonnyc.