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Israel mulls hiring Alan Dershowitz to represent country in ICJ genocide case

Reports from the US say Israeli PM Netanyahu wants the controversial lawyer to defend Israel at the International Court of Justice
American jurist Alan Dershowitz sits for a photo during a visit to Israel in Tel Aviv, Israel on 8 December 2022 (Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly wants lawyer Alan Dershowitz to represent his country at an upcoming hearing at the Hague where it stands accused of committing genocide during its conduct of the war on Gaza

The submission to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) by South Africa says that Israel is in breach of its obligations under the Genocide Convention and calls for a halt to Israel's military operations in the besieged enclave. 

South Africa said such an order is "necessary in this case to protect against further, severe and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people".

As a defendant, Israel is entitled to pick one judge for the 15-member court - and Netanyahu wants that person to be Dershowitz, Axios journalist Barak Ravid reported on Tuesday. 

Ravid contacted Dershowitz for confirmation, but the attorney said he “can’t comment about it at this time".

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Over the years Dershowitz, a highly divisive figure, has helped defend some of America’s most high-profile criminal cases, including the late financier and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, infamous Hollywood executive and rapist Harvey Weinstein, and the former US President Donald Trump.

The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, called Dershowitz, Netanyahu’s "attack dog" in the international arena. 

Dershowitz, a long-time friend and advisor of Netanyahu has for decades defended Israeli settlements, and downplayed Israeli crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza to American audiences. 

A serious legal case

Israel has rejected South Africa's case at the ICJ calling it "baseless" and then going on to blame Hamas for the suffering and deaths of the Palestinian people in Gaza.

However, there are signs that the Israeli government is taking the case seriously, not least because a ruling against it would cause deep international stigma at a time when it is trying to combat negative perceptions of the state. 

War on Gaza: South Africa launches International Court of Justice case accusing Israel of genocide
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“Whether or not one agrees that Israel's actions in Gaza constitute genocide, having Dershowitz be the voice to explain Israel's side will inevitably provoke significant alarm for those hoping Israel will successfully state its case,” said Haaretz. 

While the proceedings in The Hague may last for years, South Africa has requested that the ICJ issue an interim injunction ordering Israel to stop combat and actions that constitute genocide. 

Israel was a founding member of the ICJ in the 1950s, following the murder of six million Jews by Germany during the Second World War. Israel defending itself from accusations of genocide at the same court is likely to have tremendous symbolism.

The Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin coined the word genocide in 1944 and lobbied tirelessly for its inclusion as a crime under international law. His efforts paid off when, in 1948, the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

A legal expert speaking to Haaretz said that "the Genocide Convention to which Israel is a signatory was created because of the Holocaust and thanks to the work of a Jew. Therefore, morally, Israel cannot boycott the proceedings." 

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