In a powerful two-part article, Professor ZIYAD MOTALA explores the courageous move by South Africa to bring Israel before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), exposing its complicity in the ongoing Palestinian genocide. In part two he writes that despite public posturing in support of South Africa’s case by Muslim and Arab rulers, the lack of meaningful action, particularly from the super-wealthy Saudi and UAE rulers, exposes a harsh reality.
In a world where one would naturally expect Muslim-majority countries, especially those with economic prowess, to lead the charge in sanctioning Israel, a disconcerting reality emerges. The conspicuous absence of meaningful action particularly from two of the wealthiest Muslim and Arab rulers, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), exposes a harsh truth that many are aware of but often hesitate to confront. Many Muslim rulers including those in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, despite public posturing in support of the recent South African challenge against Israel, engaged in what can only be described as an inauthentic endorsement – a mere public relations stunt aimed at pacifying domestic concerns. Despite strong public support for the Palestinians in both nations, any public display of solidarity is stifled. In Saudi Arabia, individuals have faced arrest merely for wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh or praying loudly for the people of Gaza. Notably, Jared Kushner’s remark that he feels safer advocating the Israeli position in Saudi Arabia than on United States college campuses underscores the restrictive environment.
Leaders of various Muslim-majority countries, including Sudan and Egypt, often align themselves with Israel due to financial incentives. In the case of Morocco, they align with the US and Israel as a quid pro quo for political support in Western Sahara. The historical alignment of absolute monarchies like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain with the Zionist entity stems not only from military ties with the United States but also deep economic and security connections with Israel. Astonishingly, these kingdoms, possessing the resources to exert significant economic leverage including but not limited to an oil boycott against countries supporting Israel, refrain from concrete action against Israel, revealing their lack of genuine concern for the plight of the Palestinians or the pursuit of global justice. The so-called Abraham Accords, normalized relations with Israel, are driven primarily by the geopolitical self-interest of despotic rulers.
The motivations of leaders in Saudi Arabia and the UAE become glaringly apparent—an unwavering commitment to preserving and consolidating their dynastic rule and amassing vast wealth, often squandered in extravagant projects reminiscent of modern-day Pharaohs. While Western leaders are rightly criticized for their racism and hypocrisy towards Palestinians, the rulers of many Muslim majority countries deserve an equal measure of contempt. These are not merely leaders with compromised moral authority; they are amoral despots devoid of a human rights consciousness and Islamic ethos.
Civil society has admirably mobilized against Western governments and corporations supporting the Zionist project, but complicit rulers in Muslim-majority countries have largely escaped scrutiny. Increasing number of Jews, particularly the younger generation are denouncing Zionism. Far too many Muslims are attracted and awed by the shallowness, bling and smoke and mirrors of Dubai and now Saudi Arabia. The tepid response of the Muslim public to the hypocrisy of these corrupt rulers warrants urgent reflection. The House of Saud, operating as a franchise of the Zionist project, cannot genuinely be recognized as the custodian of Islam’s holy sites.
It is imperative to publicly call out these rulers, with religious leaders denouncing them from mosque pulpits. In the struggle for liberation in South Africa, Steve Biko spoke about a consciousness of an oppressed people that foremost liberates themselves from within – as an essential first step to liberating themselves from external oppressors. The plight of Palestinians and oppressed people globally will be vastly helped by shedding amoral rulers and replacing them with ethical and moral leadership responsive to the aspirations of the population. The time has long passed for such a transformative shift in Muslim majority countries.
South Africa’s courageous stand is a clarion call for global action against Israeli genocide. Like the ICJ decision against apartheid South Africa in the South West Africa case, the order against Israel is a vital step for raising global citizen consciousness and international legal consensus about Israeli atrocities and challenging Western leaders to confront their perverse alternate reality that denies facts, logic, and truth. As was the case for apartheid South Africa, civil society must incessantly pressure the international community to reverse course and adopt meaningful enforcement measures against Israel and entities that support Israel, ensuring that justice prevails. Meaningful action from Muslim majority countries would be lacking until these societies embrace the values of human rights and transform from political systems based on coercion to political systems based on consensus. As South Africa aptly puts it, aluta continua – the struggle continues.
Ziyad Motala is Professor of Law at Howard Law School in the United States.