Top U.N. Court Decision Adds to Israel’s Growing Isolation

In 2011, a former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, warned that Israel faced a “diplomatic-political tsunami” of censure if its conflict with the Palestinians went unresolved, as peace talks faltered and revolution spread across the Middle East.

To Israeli foreign policy analysts, that tsunami has never seemed closer.

On Friday, the International Court of Justice, an arm of the United Nations, ordered Israel to suspend its military campaign in Rafah in southern Gaza, adding to a growing list of diplomatic and legal moves against Israel that have undermined its international standing.

The ruling came just days after prosecutors at the International Criminal Court, another international tribunal, called for the arrest of Israel’s prime minister and defense minister, a move that was supported by some longstanding partners of Israel, including France.

The order came the same week that three European countries took the coordinated step of recognizing Palestine as a state. It also followed widespread university campus protests in the United States against Israel’s campaign in Gaza, as well as decisions by Turkey to suspend trade with Israel and by Belize, Bolivia and Colombia to break diplomatic ties with Israel.

“This is not North Korea or Belarus or Myanmar levels of isolation — but it is isolation,” said Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York. “It creates a tremendous sense of pressure.”

The latest move by the International Court of Justice may not have immediate practical effects: Under the terms of the order, Israel has a month to show how it has complied with its instructions. Even if Israel ignores the order, the I.C.J. has no means of enforcing it. In theory, the United Nations Security Council can issue a resolution on the matter, but the United States, Israel’s most powerful ally, has a permanent seat on the council, enabling it to veto any measure against Israel.

But, put together, the moves against Israel show not only the ebbing of Israel’s international reputation but also the dwindling of American influence, said Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s former ambassador to Washington, as the United States is increasingly unable to prevent American allies and international institutions from targeting its main partner in the Middle East.

“There is a change in the rules of the international politics,” Mr. Rabinovich said.

“The rest of the world is on the way toward overcoming the U.S.,” Mr. Rabinovich said, adding, “They are saying, ‘We cannot beat you in the U.N. but we now have the two international courts and we will shift to those places where you have no control.’”

Against that backdrop, the United States and other steadfast allies of Israel, like Germany, have adopted a more critical tone against the Israeli government, even as they try to defend it against foreign condemnation.

In the second week of the war, President Biden flew to Israel with a clear message: “You are not alone.” But in recent months, he has expressed increasing concern about Israel’s counterattack in Gaza, calling its strategy a “mistake” and some of its actions “outrageous.”

He also paused a shipment of bombs to Israel, signaling his opposition to Israel’s plans to invade the urban core of Rafah.

Germany’s position has shifted subtly, too, with Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, asking during a visit to Tel Aviv in March, “No matter how important the goal, can it justify such terribly high costs?”

Still, Israel may feel able to continue the war as long as the United States maintains most of its financial and military aid. In April, Congress voted to provide Israel with another $15 billion in military aid, highlighting that Washington broadly continues to act in Israel’s favor even as some American leaders express verbal reservations.

Mr. Biden will need to weigh any further moves against Israel with the political cost. While a stronger stance could boost him in the eyes of his left-leaning base, it could also allow Republicans to present themselves as better allies of Israel. Speaker Mike Johnson has been signaling for weeks that he intends to invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before Congress.

Within Israel, however, the moves against its government could bolster Mr. Netanyahu, analysts said. Days after ministers in his government spoke out against Mr. Netanyahu’s leadership, the court decisions have prompted those same ministers to close ranks and show a united front.

The rebukes from foreign governments and institutions also provide Mr. Netanyahu with another chance to present himself as Israel’s defender, shoring up his ebbing domestic support, Mr. Pinkas, the former diplomat, said.

“It plays into his narrative that the world is against us and I’m standing tall,” he said.

Still, Mr. Netanyahu’s critics said that Israel’s standing would be higher had he not squandered the outpouring of good will for Israelis that followed the Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

Opposition to Israel’s war conduct has been partly spurred by contentious comments by government ministers, who have called for Israel to maintain permanent control over Gaza or even to drop an atomic bomb on the territory. Israel’s security services have also often failed to prevent Israeli civilians from obstructing aid convoys and ransacking their cargo.

Yair Lapid, the leader of Israel’s opposition, criticized the court ruling, noting, “Israel was the one that was brutally attacked from Gaza and was forced to defend itself against a horrific terrorist organization.” But he also said that the ruling could have been averted if a “sane and professional government would have prevented insane statements by ministers, stopped criminals who torch aid trucks and performed quiet and effective political work.”

Israel’s isolation has extended to the cultural and academic worlds, where decades-old calls to boycott Israeli artists and universities have gathered momentum.

In recent months, universities in countries including Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia and Spain have announced that they have cut ties with Israeli counterparts or are considering doing so.

“We want to give a clear message that the warfare that the State of Israel is now carrying out in Gaza is unacceptable, and undermines the democratic foundation on which all universities must build,” the University of Southeastern Norway said in a statement in February after terminating its exchange programs with two Israeli colleges.

Thousands of artists signed an open letter in February calling for the organizers of the Venice Biennale, one of the art world’s most important festivals, to bar Israel from participating in this year’s gathering.

Though the festival ignored the petition, the Israeli team behind the country’s entry chose to close its display to the public until a cease-fire was reached. But that failed to quell the opposition to their presence, and more than 100 protesters — some of them artists involved in the Biennale — marched through the festival site in April, chanting “Viva Palestina.”

Johnatan Reiss contributed reporting from Tel Aviv and Jonathan Rosen from Jerusalem.

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