Chipping Away at Israel's Right to Exist, One Court Case at a Time | Opinion

The International Court of Justice has now received the United Nations' request for an opinion on "the legal status of the occupation." This development could pave the way for a raft of new antisemitic lawsuits designed to challenge Israeli sovereignty using dubious legal mechanisms.

The request was the result of a United Nations General Assembly vote on Dec. 30. But it is only the latest efforts to mobilize international law and institutions in a way that carefully conceals the real motive: hostility to Israel's very existence.

The UN's vulnerability to being exploited by dictators and human rights abusers is no secret. According to think tank Freedom House, only a minority of the UN Human Rights Council are genuinely "free." The UN human rights body includes, among its members, many of the world's most notorious violators of human rights: Saudi Arabia, China, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cuba, Bahrain, Eritrea, and Somalia—many of which also have appalling records on antisemitism.

Israel at the United Nations
Gilad Erdan, Israeli representative to the United Nations, speaks during an emergency meeting of the Security Council at UN headquarters on Jan. 5. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

It's crucial to recognize that the effort to get the UN's top court to provide an advisory judgement on the Middle East conflict does not come out of the blue. It's the culmination of escalating legal attacks.

Of course, one of the most high-profile of these is Qatar's international lawsuit against Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague over the tragic death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. The questionable nature of that lawsuit is obvious given Qatar's long history of antisemitism. Independent forensic analysis by third-party examiners overseen by the United States already stated that no "definitive conclusion" could be reached regarding the origin of the bullet, and that there was no evidence of Akleh being targeted "intentionally" by the Israel Defense Forces. Although the IDF had offered a joint investigation into the death with the Palestinian Authority, the PA refused and declared the plan to prosecute Israel at the ICC before its own investigation had even been completed.

Even many of Israel's purported allies in Europe have been supporting these legal attacks, with Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and France funding several Palestinian NGOs to bring cases to the ICC, which has continued to ignore complaints received from Israeli NGOs. Much of this funding has gone to organizations potentially linked to "acts of violence" according to the contract documents.

Concerns voiced by Israeli officials have fallen on deaf ears. Although evidence has emerged that a number of these NGOs have been operating as fronts for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a US-designated terrorist organization, the White House has refused to recognize the links.

Various trends in international law are creating precedents that might spur these "lawfare" attempts on, by undermining traditional concepts of sovereignty.

Third-party litigation financing (TPLF) has become a lobbying mechanism by which foreign interests can secretly provide large quantities of funding for dubious claims that interfere with a state's domestic legal affairs. Lawsuits can be enormously costly. TPLF is a way for investors to pay those legal fees in the hope of enormous returns when a case is adjudicated.

A report last November by the US Chambers of Commerce warned that TPLF poses a "national security" risk by allowing foreign interests to fund litigation to advance their strategic interests against the U.S. government. While the Israeli legal landscape has welcomed TPLF, there has been little recognition of these risks.

A landmark TPLF case against Malaysia shows how plaintiffs lacking in funds can get investment from major financiers to challenge a government's sovereignty over its own assets. U.S. litigation financing firm Therium invested in a case brought by descendants of the "Sultanate of Sulu," which before disappearing last century had signed a colonial era treaty with the British Crown. The lawsuit, enforced by a French court in 2021, lays claim to billions of dollars in profits from the Malaysian oil and gas-rich region now known as Sabah.

German Member of European Parliament Lars Patrick Berg points out that the lawsuit could encourage parties in other regions to resurrect colonial-era treaties to undermine state sovereignty. This poses a real risk to Israel, given that TPLF might provide a new route for antisemites to raise funds for lawsuits that challenge Israeli sovereignty based on the biased findings of the UN's top court.

The next frontline in the Middle East is not about terrorism—but about law. While Israel has long prided itself on its world class military and amazing cyber-offensive capabilities, the new array of potential legal challenges will require its lawyers to prepare for the next wave of legal attacks on Israel's right to exist.

This will be done in the name of defending 'human rights' and combating "discrimination." But make no mistake: The real goal is to destroy the Jewish state.

Aynur Bashirova is the European desk coordinator of the Israel-based Heartland Initiative and sits on the Diplomatic Council of the European Jewish Association. She is a PhD researcher at the University of Brussels' international politics department specializing in Israeli foreign policy in Eurasia.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.