Plus, a reader asks about Tangle's finances and what we do with our money.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

The ICJ offered a preliminary ruling on charges of genocide against Israel. Plus, a reader asked about Tangle's finances and where we spend our money.

Some new podcast stuff.

On Friday, I sat down with Tangle managing editor Ari Weitzman to discuss my writing process, how typos make it into Tangle, the New Hampshire primary, an upcoming interview with Bill O'Reilly, the recent layoffs in the media space, and our grievances from the week. This is part of a new weekly podcast segment we are doing together to pull the curtain back on Tangle and evaluate our work in real time. If you're interested in that kind of thing, you can find our podcast (and our latest episode) here. Please like and subscribe!

Quick hits

  1. Three U.S. troops were killed and dozens were injured in a drone strike on a remote military outpost in Jordan, marking the first time U.S. troops have been killed in a Middle East strike since the war in Gaza broke out. U.S. officials blamed Iranian proxies for the attack. (The attacks
  2. House Republicans released articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, blaming him for a surge of illegal border crossings and drug trafficking. (The articles)
  3. Texas has continued its standoff with the federal government over border policy, refusing the federal government's request for access to the border and promising to erect more barriers despite a recent Supreme Court order to remove some. (The fight
  4. Peter Navarro, the longtime Trump aide, was sentenced to four months in prison for defying a congressional subpoena. (The sentence
  5. Alabama carried out the first-known execution by nitrogen hypoxia on Thursday night. (The execution)

Today's topic.

The genocide charges against Israel. On Friday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, The Netherlands, issued a 29-page interim ruling on the charges of genocide being levied by South Africa against Israel.

Reminder: The 1948 Genocide Convention was created in the wake of the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust. It defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group." Notably, the ICJ has no enforcement mechanism, and no way to forcibly compel a ceasefire in Gaza. However, the court's perspective carries a great deal of weight with both Israelis and Palestinians, and its determinations can guide international responses to conflict.

The court ruled that Israel must take action to prevent acts of genocide by its forces in Gaza, prevent and punish any incitements to commit genocide, and preserve any evidence related to allegations of genocide. It also called on Israel to allow more aid into the enclave.

"At least some of the acts and omissions alleged by South Africa to have been committed by Israel in Gaza appear to be capable of falling within the provisions of the (Genocide) Convention," the judges said.

However, it did not call on Israel to end its military campaign (as it did with Russia in Ukraine, after it ruled that Russia's premise for the war was illegitimate). The court also expressed concerns about the hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza.

15 of the court's 17 judges voted in favor of the provisional measures, including the court's president, Joan Donoghue. Uganda’s Julia Sebutinde and Israel’s Aharon Barak voted against the central claims. 

The ICJ’s determination received a mixed reaction in the Arab world, with some arguing the court had demonstrated Israel was violating international law and others expressing disappointment that the court did not call for an end to the war. Israeli officials have been outraged by the trial, and criticized the court for even agreeing to hear the charges.

During the hearings, South Africa argued that Israel "means to create conditions of death" and is waging war in a way that would kill Gazan residents both through military force and the reality of the situation on the ground. South Africa's lawyers cited comments from Israeli officials, including Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who called for a complete siege on Gaza and said Israel is fighting "human animals" in Hamas.

Israel's lawyers made the case that it has been taking extraordinary measures to alert civilians of strikes and preserve civilian life. It argued that it delayed its initial military operation two weeks to allow civilians to flee northern Gaza and has since allowed daily aid into the territories.

Separately, 12 employees of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) were accused of being involved in the Hamas-led attack on Israel. The UNRWA fired nine of the employees and said it is investigating the charges. Negotiators in Israel also say they are closing in on a deal to pause fighting for two months in exchange for the release of over 100 hostages in Gaza.

Today, we're going to explore some arguments about the ICJ ruling from the left and right, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right is highly critical of the ICJ’s decision, arguing it raises doubts about the legitimacy of the court.
  • Some say the wrong side is being tried for these crimes. 
  • Others say the ruling will have no practical effect, but Israel needs to be careful about how it proceeds in the next phase of the war. 

National Review’s editors said the “ICJ discredits itself in ruling against Israel.”

“The case against Israel is morally bankrupt. On October 7, terrorists based in Gaza invaded Israel and massacred more than 1,200 people ranging from babies to the elderly; set houses on fire; raped women; and kidnapped hundreds of civilians,” the editors wrote. “Israel has sought to minimize civilian casualties and has allowed for the flow of humanitarian aid when fighting against an enemy that hides behind civilians and steals humanitarian aid.”

“The decision exposed as a farce the entire system of international law and government. The ICJ is an offshoot of the United Nations, which has a history of disproportionately targeting Israel for condemnation relative to the likes of Syria, North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China,” the editors said. “The court has no enforcement mechanism, and because it stopped short of calling for an outright cease-fire, it will merely add to the pile of arguments over whether Israel is doing enough to protect civilian lives. But critics had hoped that a ruling against Israel would prove to be a stain on the Jewish state. Instead, it is a permanent stain on the credibility of the court.”

In Hot Air, Ed Morrissey questioned “the strange and shameful ruling.”

“In the war launched by Hamas and Gazans against Israel on October 7, only one side has publicly and repeatedly promised genocidal extinction to the other. The International Court of Justice has, predictably, decided that the target of that genocidal ambition has to answer for its self-defense,” Morrissey wrote. Hamas has frequently violated the rules of war, “engaging in offensive operations out of uniform, hiding military assets and operations within civilian structures, and deliberately targeting unarmed civilians for both murder and widespread rape and pillaging.”

“Hamas is the recognized government in Gaza. If the Gazans want the war to end, they can formally capitulate to the aggrieved party and surrender Hamas leaders and terrorists, just like any other nation would have to do to sue for peace,” Morrissey added. “The ICJ is trying the wrong party in this war. But because it’s an adjunct of the United Nations, the ICJ’s anti-Israel bias is what drove this ruling, not ‘justice,’ and serves as just another reminder of the uselessness of the UN and the ICJ.”

In The Spectator, Alexander Horne suggested “it will be difficult for Israel to ignore this ICJ ruling.” 

“The Israeli Government has longstanding and reasonable concerns about the political biases at the UN. However the ICJ is a legal body, and its reasoned judgment will be more difficult for Israel and its allies to ignore. It is significant that the ad hoc Israeli judge on the court, Aharon Barak (a former President of the Israeli Supreme Court) voted in favour of the measures designed to stop incitement and to provide humanitarian assistance,” Horne said. “Despite concerns raised by the ICJ, one should not conclude that Israel will be found guilty of genocide… Proving genocide will be very difficult.”

“The ruling is clearly a shot across the bow for Israel and may result in further political pressure being brought to bear by its allies in the West. If Israel agrees to comply with these provisional measures it may have to adapt its approach in Gaza. Israeli politicians would also be well advised to tone down their rhetoric and make clear that their war aims are simply the return of the hostages and the removal of Hamas from power. Any future ruling on the question of whether the ICJ believes Israel is guilty of genocide remains some years away. In the short term, the conflict will continue.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left mostly supports the ICJ’s ruling, framing it as a measured rebuke of Israel’s most extreme actions in the war. 
  • Some disagree and say the decision ignores the steps Israel has taken to minimize the death toll in the war. 
  • Others say the ruling should prompt the U.S. government to change its posture toward Israel or risk its own credibility. 

In The New York Times, Lydia Polgreen wrote “if we want to live in a world with rules, they have to apply to Israel, too.”

“Reading the document South Africa prepared, I wondered if the leaders of the Western world who dismissed the allegations out of hand had read the same evidence that I had. It is a harrowing chronicle of a charnel house of horrors that shows in detail how Palestinians in Gaza have endured relentless bombing and displacement. I was struck by how thoroughly documented the allegations were and how selective the jurists were in their sources of evidence,” Polgreen said. “This is exactly the kind of dispute the International Court of Justice was created to address.”

“Despite the International Court of Justice’s lack of enforcement mechanisms, this case matters a great deal because it speaks directly to the blunt challenges facing the American-led global rules-based order that has endured, with some bumps along the way, since the end of World War II,” Polgreen wrote. “When it comes to crimes like genocide and ethnic cleansing, it simply does not matter who started it. They can no more be justified than Hamas’s wanton slaughter on Oct. 7. The best way to shore up the rules-based order is to be seen, in word and deed, as committing to the institutions and moral commitments of that order.”

In The Washington Post, Ruth Marcus called the ruling “a perversion of justice.”

“This is a gross misreading of genocide; indeed, it is a perversion of the term. It would be appalling applied against any state, but it is especially offensive wielded against Israel — a country that was forged in the ashes of the worst genocide in human history, that was one of the early signatories to the genocide convention and that is now responding to the greatest slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust,” Marcus said. “If there is a party guilty of genocidal intent and acts in this war, it is Hamas.”

“None of this is to defend the entirety of Israel’s actions before or after Oct. 7. I am a proud Jew and Zionist, but I am also no supporter of the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ultra-Orthodox and settler allies,” Marcus wrote. “Israel has taken extraordinary steps to prevent civilian casualties and otherwise mitigate the suffering of innocents. To argue those have not been enough — or even that Israel’s conduct violated international humanitarian law — is not to conclude that the actions are genocidal.”

In The Guardian, Zaha Hassan argued the ruling is “a wake-up call for Washington.”

“Whether this new ruling becomes another footnote in UN lore will depend on what other UN member states – in particular, the US – do in response. The US has been trying very hard to not acknowledge what has been taking place in Gaza since 7 October. The 25,000 Palestinian dead – mostly women and children – are, in the US administration’s eyes, just the unfortunate and unavoidable cost of Israel exercising its right to defend itself,” Hassan said. “The ICJ’s ruling should make it much harder for the Biden administration to continue to look away.”

“The US has the power to take decisive action to change Israel’s approach. Instead of blocking UN security council resolutions calling for an immediate ceasefire, it must now lead the council to that end. Instead of bypassing Congress to ship arms or proceeding with new military aircraft sales to Israel, it must suspend all offensive arms transfers,” Hassan wrote. “As the death toll in Gaza mounts, the US is losing any credibility as a normative actor… Failing to use its leverage over Israel as it continues to destroy Gaza and its people will be something that haunts the conduct of US foreign policy for decades to come.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • My position that this is a distracting semantic argument is unchanged.
  • While I don’t support all of Israel’s actions, I don’t think Israel is committing genocide — and I’m getting tons of criticism from both sides for that.
  • This issue is complicated, but I think the ICJ has been mostly reasonable.

In a piece I wrote in early December titled 10 thoughts on what is happening in Israel, I grappled with the question of genocide. At the time, I wrote that I didn't find the debate particularly useful and I wasn't very interested in engaging in it. Since then, my opinion hasn’t really changed. No matter what you call it, the air bombardment has wrought intolerable horror on Palestinian citizens in Gaza. I've watched as Israel has pushed Gazans to flee and then gone and attacked areas they just told them were safe. As I argued Thursday, I think the ground invasion has been a mistake that is making Israelis less safe and isolating Israel on the world stage.

Still, if I'm being asked to explain my position here, it is that Israel is not committing genocide in Gaza. 

There are several basic reasons I feel this way: Armies that commit genocide don't tend to delay their ground invasions and warn civilians to flee. They don't typically treat the wounded from the other side, even when the wounded were just attacking them. In Israel's case, they also wouldn't put their own soldiers on the front lines of a harrowing ground invasion in an urban war when they could just levy an air bombardment if all they cared about was killing Palestinians. Finally, while Israel (and Egypt) have done far less to allow to international aid into Gaza than I'd prefer, militaries committing genocide also don't usually do things like open corridors for aid groups, which Israel has done.

Much of South Africa's case about genocidal intent (and the case made by many on social media) is based on comments from top Israeli officials — the actual decision-makers — about this war. But, as Yair Rosenberg has documented, many of those comments have been mistranslated, misattributed, or taken out of context. One startling example comes from Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who has been accused of calling for the elimination of Gaza, when what he actually said was “Gaza will not return to what it was before. There will be no Hamas. We will eliminate it all.”

Gallant's comments were made in Hebrew and were mistranslated by Western press, including NPR, The New York Times, BBC, and The Guardian. His comments were also invoked by South Africa in their charges of genocide as proof that top Israeli officials had genocidal intent. This is just one of several examples. And yes, there have been indefensible comments from lower-ranking officials that were not mistranslations, but the mistakes in quoting top Israeli officials undercut the central genocide argument against Israel. 

I don’t want my resistance to describing Israel's actions in this war as genocide mistaken as a broad defense for those actions. Nor do I want to defend this iteration of the Israeli government, including their failed leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Every war is fraught with difficult calculations. And while civilian deaths are unfortunately commonplace in most wars, I think Israel has shown a tolerance for them in a way no army should. We know, for example, that in the U.S. war in Afghanistan, their baseline for attacking a military target was typically to accept zero civilian casualties. We know that, in a theoretical strike to kill Osama bin Laden, they were willing to accept 30 civilian casualties. It appears, at the very least, that Israel’s tolerance for civilian death in this war has been much higher.

I don't think that means Israel or its war cabinet is genocidal. I think it means Israeli politicians feel the public pressure and responsibility to do everything they can to destroy any remnant of Hamas, even if it means many thousands of Palestinian innocents die along the way. And I understand why calling Israel's determination to kill an organization with actual, open genocidal intent an act of genocide enrages many Israelis and Zionists.  

This position doesn't make you a lot of friends. After the ICJ’s ruling last week, one Tangle subscriber wrote in to let me know they were unsubscribing because "this is not just a matter of semantics… the ICJ has ruled that it is probable that genocide is being committed," and that my opinion was “pure and utter bullshit." I tried to explain that the ICJ actually didn’t rule that, and that this is, actually, in part a debate about semantics — but to no avail.

The same day another Tangle reader wrote in to tell me I was "not as smart as I think," and have fallen "hook, line and sinker" for "low-IQ talking points" from liberals on Israel, and that failing to stand behind a full-throttled offensive on Hamas in Gaza proves I "have no idea how to recognize evil and stand solidly behind those who want to eradicate it." 

People see these issues differently, and that is fine. But the reactions above, and the debate broadly about this question, point to a simple reality: This isn't a black-and-white issue. Even experts on war crimes, genocide, and human rights are deeply divided about Israel's actions and don't agree about how the ICJ should be defining it.

Most of this, again, strikes me as a distraction from more important debates about the horrific conditions on the ground in Gaza, how to get the hostages home, how to mend the wounds of this war, how to rebuild Gaza, and how Israel can stop this military campaign without making itself vulnerable to another attack. 

Ultimately, though, I’d say the ICJ's ruling is fine. It demands Israel follow international law, punish genocidal incitement, and ensure it isn't committing genocide in Gaza. It notably does not tell Israel what to do with its military campaign nor does it make any determination about genocide in Gaza, as such a determination will (and should) take time and resources to investigate. I think the court’s conclusion is reasonable even if I think the charge itself is misguided.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Can you disclose your revenue/financing sources and where that money goes? I ask because this is one of my hang ups with most media sources in that they tend to be beholden to their financiers and their political leanings. As you grow and ad dollars become more appealing, I wouldn't blame you for tapping into that stream (if you haven't already) to scale this awesome publication. I do think, in the name of transparency and objectivity, posting somewhere on your page where your money comes from and where it goes would further secure the Tangle brand’s image as a truly independent news source.

— Ryan from Rochester, NY

Tangle: I'm happy to, because it is actually pretty simple. We have zero investors or financiers, and we earn revenue through premium subscriptions and selling ads (if you are a free subscriber, you'll see ads at the top of our newsletters). Those advertisements earned us about $60,000 in revenue last year, compared to over $700,000 of revenue that came from Tangle subscriptions. Put differently: 92% of our revenue still comes from Tangle subscribers. We are, and continue to be, a publication that lives and dies on our readers supporting us (if you’re not yet a member, now is a good time to change that). Some of this is noted on our FAQ page

As for where that money goes, that is also (so far) still a pretty simple operation. We have a team of five full-time employees, two part-time editors, and a typical rotation of two paid interns at a time. We also hire various freelancers for tasks that come up, like our current website redesign. The vast majority of revenue goes to paying these people (aka, payroll). Because our team is spread out across the country, three of our employees (including me) also pay for shared office spaces, which is another big expense. Mine is the most expensive, as I have a room to myself that functions as a studio for YouTube and podcasting.

Next up is advertising. These days, I'm trying to spend as much of our remaining revenue on purchasing ads, because growing our audience is now my number-two goal (after providing quality journalism). Some ad buys are as small as $1,000. Others are as big as $20,000. We advertise mostly in other newsletters, but are starting to experiment more with social campaigns, video ads, and influencer deals.

Interestingly, one of our biggest expenses people probably don't think of is actually our own subscriptions. Given that we try to go out and find so many opinions on the news, we run into new organizations with fresh paywalls all the time — from digital publications to podcasts to streaming television. I’m a firm believer in supporting news outfits and not finding ways around their paywalls. As a result, literally tens of thousands of dollars of our budget goes toward paying for access to pieces from other publications — from The Wall Street Journal all the way down to a small local newspaper that had a column we wanted to read.

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Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

A policy suggestion has turned into a culture-war flashpoint after Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) suggested the FDA investigate Zyn, the maker of one of the country's most popular tobacco pouches. Zyn is the leading brand of nicotine pouches, with over 800 million units sold in the first three months of 2022. They are a cultural phenomenon, too, popular with online influencers and the subject of comedy sketches. Schumer alleges that Zyn's marketing tactics are a threat to teen health. However, users suggest their product is a great tool for quitting smoking and some personalities, like Tucker Carlson, advertise them as an easy way to get a mid-day boost in energy. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) jokingly called for a "Zynsurrection." The Hill has the story.


  • 192. The number of cases submitted for consideration to the International Court of Justice between 1947 and 2023.  
  • 5. The number of permanent members of the UN Security Council with the power to veto enforcement of any ICJ decision: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 
  • 193. The number of United Nations member states.
  • 74. The number of member states that have formally recognized the jurisdiction of the ICJ to date. 
  • 30%. The percentage of Americans who say the Israeli government’s military response to Hamas’s attack has been too harsh, according to an The Economist/YouGov poll conducted last week. 
  • 17%. The percentage of Americans who say the Israeli government’s military response has been not harsh enough. 
  • 35%. The percentage of Americans who say Israel is committing genocide against Palestinian civilians. 
  • 36%. The percentage of Americans who say Israel is not committing genocide against Palestinian civilians.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we had just published an interview with advocates of a constitutional amendment to define the Supreme Court as having nine justices.
  • The most clicked link in Thursday’s newsletter was this year’s expected cicada boom
  • No end in sight: 548 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking when the earliest they could reasonably expect an end to the current fighting in Gaza with 26% saying within the year. 1% said within the week, 22% said within the next three months, 25% said within the next six months, 10% said within the next five years and 9% said longer than five years. “Not until Hamas is destroyed,” said one respondent. “Not as long as Netanyahu is in charge,” said another.
  • Nothing to do with politics: Learn more about Bernard Arnault, the new world’s richest person.
  • Take the poll. What do you think of the ICJ’s ruling? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

A new federal rule announced on January 17 will speed up health insurance company decisions on whether to authorize or deny medical care or treatments for millions of patients. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rule is aimed at increasing "prior authorizations," a longstanding health insurance industry practice that vet requests before billing, by requiring insurers to approve or deny requests within 72 hours. The new rule will take effect in 2026 for private Medicare, Medicaid, and Affordable Care Act health insurance plans. USA Today has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.