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A challenge to the BRICS countries

The petition filed by South Africa against Israel for genocide is the new political move of BRICS countries. The big question is, what will India do?

By Sanjay Kapoor
New Update

Last week, South Africa's powerful petition against Israel for perpetrating a genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza was presented. The legal team of South Africa presented an ironclad case despite confronting a belligerent Israel, backed by the US. Though the Israelis initially rubbished the petition by calling it a “blood libel” and claimed it had been backed by forces that wanted to destroy their nation, they later decided to mount a defense against the South African petition as Tel Aviv could no longer ignore it after signing the Genocide Convention. South Africa’s petition is significant in many ways as it provides a firm indication of how the BRICS countries are slowly getting politicised and asserting its perception of global morality, which has nothing to do with how Washington and its allies see the world.

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The United States of America (USA), which has openly come to the support of Israel militarily, diplomatically, and otherwise, has called the South African petition meritless, even when 23,000 Palestinians, including thousands of women and children, have been killed in a space of two months in relentless bombing in Gaza as an act of retaliation against the October 7, 2023, attack by Hamas on Israeli territory. Not just that, US President Joe Biden and his Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, took part in the Israeli war cabinet meeting when it was decided to attack Gaza. Since then, the US has sent scores of transport aircraft carrying ammunition and weapon systems to beef up Israel’s response. Biden also gave legitimacy to the trajectory of official criticism of Israel by Hamas. That included the bogus claim by the Israeli army that 40-odd children were beheaded by Hamas militants. More recently, the US attacked the Houthis of Yemen for blocking the Red Sea and preventing ships carrying cargo to Israeli ports. The US and UK dropped missiles and bombs on the world’s poorest country for protesting against Israel.

The US and its Western allies control the narrative on Gaza, making light of the thousands that have been killed in this unending war, but there is growing anger in countries of the developing world over the failure of global institutions like the UN or ICJ to stop this war. The South African petition is seen as a test for the international body to show their independence and integrity. As is visible to those who occupy important positions in these global institutions, unrestrained killings in Gaza have gone far beyond retribution for the October 7 attack. Instead, it has become an operation to occupy Gaza and hand it over to Jewish settlers. In terms of its implications, the Israeli operation is no different than the stand of the Houthis to stop ships in the Red Sea destined for Israel

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There is a backstory to South Africa's resistance against US attempts to spread its hegemony. It held the presidency of BRICS countries until December 31, 2023, and just two days before, it filed the petition against South Africa, two days before its term ended. During its term, the organisation stepped out of its self-imposed stupor of just being a lazy acronym to something more substantive. It enlarged itself from being just a five-member organisation to one that had 10 more. Argentina stepped out as it did not agree with the manifest anti-West DNA of the body. The BRICS countries positioned itself to take a lead in de-dollarizing the world economy, a move that has been resented by countries like India and Brazil that still want to do business with the US.

However, Saudi Arabia is playing an interesting game. It has not parted ways with the US but is happy to do business with countries in their national currencies. India has also transacted with Saudi Arabia in dirhams. Its attempts to do business in rupees have not taken off as there are no takers for their currency. In fact, the countries that India has been trading with, including Russia, have been demanding that India pay either in renminbi or dirham. This mismatch between Indian global aspirations and its struggling economy results in an ambivalent attitude towards the BRICS countries. New Delhi is never sure whether it would benefit from jettisoning the dollar as a currency of trade. Unlike Russia, China, and Iran, the Indian rupee has never been convertible.

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Coming back to the original issue of the petition filed by the South African government in the ICJ, what is becoming clear is that the BRICS countries are acquiring a political profile that did not exist at the time it came into existence. The manner in which South Africa has taken a stand against difficult odds suggests that BRICS and this point of view has far greater support than what is made out to be. What is also clear from Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement is that the grouping conceived by a Goldman Sachs economist will take more political positions on global issues in the coming days. This should be a cause for some disquiet for the West in the coming days.

How it will play out for a country like India is a big question as it tries to ride on many boats at the same time. Can Saudi Arabia and India, using their muscle, sup with the West and the BRICS countries too? It seems unlikely as increasingly, both countries are forced to take a position on Houthis and the Red Sea. India has some naval ships parked in the Red Sea and it had rescued a ship with an Indian crew. The ship was ostensibly under the control of “pirates.” Houthis are not naming India, but visibly, they are cognisant of the close ties that India has with Israel. They have not been mindful of the thousands of Indians being recruited for odd jobs in Israel in place of Palestinians. The Saudis are in a similar dilemma as India. They do not want to antagonise the Houthis as they could not subjugate them in a 7-year war. At the same time, they are keen for normalisation of ties with Israel and are signatories to the intercontinental economic corridor that they signed at the G20 summit in New Delhi.

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