Israel Picks Holocaust Survivor Judge for Genocide Case, Surprising Some

As Israel prepares this week to face accusations at the International Court of Justice that it has committed genocide in the Gaza war, it has appointed one of the country’s most prominent jurists as the ad hoc judge to sit on the bench on its behalf.

The choice of Aharon Barak, a retired Israeli Supreme Court president who fled Nazi-occupied Lithuania as a boy, was immediately praised by many Israelis after it was announced on Sunday — and greeted with surprise and even criticism by others.

While Mr. Barak, 87, is an internationally respected legal authority, he has also been at the center of a deeply polarizing domestic legal furor over the past year. He was vocal in his opposition to the right-wing government’s judicial overhaul plan, which is aimed at curbing the powers of the court. Mr. Barak, who had long been a symbol of judicial overreach for those who wanted to rein in the court, encouraged the nationwide protests against the plan.

Simcha Rothman, a right-wing Israeli legislator and a driving force behind the judicial overhaul efforts, responded curtly to the appointment in a social media post with the words: “My resounding silence.”

The International Court of Justice in The Hague, the highest legal body of the United Nations, hears disputes between states. To hear the Gaza case, which was brought by South Africa, its regular 15-judge panel will be expanded to 17, with one additional judge appointed by each side.

Both South Africa and Israel signed the 1948 Genocide Convention, and South Africa is accusing Israel of violating that agreement. South Africa accused Israel last month of trying to “destroy Palestinians in Gaza” as it pummels the enclave in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel led by Hamas.

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