Israel will defend itself against genocide accusations at the International Court of Justice. Snow, high winds and storms are forecast to hit much of the U.S. And Trump levels a baseless conspiracy theory at Nikki Haley. 

Here’s what to know today.

Israel faces a genocide case, and comments on displacing Gazans could complicate its defense

Israel is preparing to defend itself this week at the United Nations’ top court against accusations of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, a high-profile legal battle that comes at a decisive time during its military campaign after Hamas’ October terror attack. 

The courtroom charge is led by South Africa, a staunch Israel critic, which has filed a case to be heard at the U.N.’s International Court of Justice. It accuses Israel of actions since Oct. 7 — killing, injuring and displacing Palestinian civilians, and denying them food, water and other essentials — in a way that’s “intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnic group,” according to its legal filing.

The ICJ case has huge significance politically, legally and in the court of public opinion. Its rulings are binding under international law, and both Israel and South Africa are party to its decisions.

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Recent comments by some senior right-wing members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government calling for people in Gaza to be moved out of the enclave and effectively replaced by Israeli settlers may play a role in the proceedings. 

These comments have not been reflected in official Israeli proposals that call for neither itself nor Hamas to run Gaza. But nevertheless international law experts say they do not help Israel’s argument in court.

More on the Israel-Hamas war: 

  • The U.S. and U.K. have shot down a massive barrage of missiles and drones fired by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the Red Sea, thought to be the militants’ largest attack yet. Follow our live blog.
  • Israel has a long track record of assassinating its enemies. But it faces a more complicated task and much higher political stakes against Hamas. 

Winter weather hammers much of the U.S.

Winter weather that contributed to at least four deaths yesterday is expected to persist today throughout much of the U.S. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency ahead of storms expected to cause heavy rain, high winds and flash flooding. Winds of 30 to 40 mph are expected in New York City, with 70 mph gusts possible, city emergency management officials said. In Alaska, blizzard conditions are expected along the state’s coastline. Keep up with the latest weather updates.

All of that follows a day of dark, stormy weather. At least four people were reported dead in Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina amid apparent tornadoes and heavy winds. In Florida, storms and a tornado ripped through the state, prompting Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency in 49 counties.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin diagnosed with cancer

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to make a full recovery — “although this could be a slow process” — after he developed complications from a procedure to treat prostate cancer, officials at Walter Reed National Military Center said. Lloyd was diagnosed with cancer last month, but President Joe Biden and other top White House officials didn’t know about the diagnosis until yesterday morning. They only learned of his hospitalization last Thursday, days after he had been admitted. 

The revelations about Austin’s health has prompted criticism and triggered a review of procedures about how the head of the military could be away from his duties for so long without senior members of the Biden administration knowing. 

Chuck Todd: How to pick the battle against Trump

Former President Donald Trump is focused on tearing down fellow Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley with just days to go until the Iowa caucuses. So is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Arguments about the future of the Republican Party seem to have taken a back seat.

NBC News chief political analyst Chuck Todd wonders how things will seem in 50 years, when he predicts historians will “examine it through the prism of whether the GOP wanted Trump or a new direction.” He adds, “that’s not the campaign that’s actually taking place.”

Todd looks at why Trump’s competitors won’t step up their criticisms against him. And he suggests one person who could play a pivotal role in the fight to take down Trump: Rep. Liz Cheney. Read the full analysis here.

More Donald Trump news

  • Federal appeals court judges seemed skeptical of Donald Trump’s immunity appeal in the 2020 election interference case and raised several options about how they could rule.
  • Trump, the chief propagator of false “birther” claims, is now promoting a “totally baseless” birther conspiracy theory against Nikki Haley.

Last batch of Epstein documents released

Another round of documents involving accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein were released yesterday afternoon. This collection of seven documents, totaling 1,500 pages, is expected to be the last of the materials that were ordered unsealed as part of a settled lawsuit between Epstein confidant Ghislaine Maxwell by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who said she was a victim of sex trafficking and abuse when she was a teen.

Britain’s Prince Andrew is mentioned in the newest documents, as is retail magnate Leslie Weiner and former President Bill Clinton. All have previously denied the allegations made against them.

Today’s Talker: A financial aid calculation error…

… threatens to leave students with lower subsidy amounts in the fall. The Education Department hasn’t updated a key part of its aid calculation index for inflation, and if that inflation adjustment isn’t fixed, a family will be considered to have more resources at its disposal than is actually the case. Now the department is deliberating whether to punt the update to the next academic year, effectively shortchanging this year’s cohort.

Politics in Brief

GOP impeachment push: House Republicans are advancing impeachment inquiries into Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. And they’re launching new threats against two more Biden administration officials. As one White House spokesperson put it, they’re “treating impeachments like an Oprah audience giveaway.”

2024 election: President Joe Biden’s campaign is headed to Michigan and Nevada. It’s part of a new phase that reflects the president’s efforts to reach key base voters.

Jan. 6: Ray Epps, a Trump supporter who was the target of far-right conspiracy theories, was sentenced to probation.

Iowa caucuses: Next Monday, on the day of the first-in-the-nation primary race, the high temperature in Des Moines is forecast to be around 0 degrees. But GOP presidential candidates and state party leaders don’t think the frigid temperatures will affect turnout.

Staff Pick: A battle for parental rights

Oklahoma officials created a new regulation to prevent a school from updating the gender on a 16-year-old transgender boy’s official records, without notifying the teen’s family. His parents — a church-going mother and a Trump-supporting father — told me how incensed they are that state officials who tout protecting parents’ rights have interfered with theirs. As the mother put it: “You didn’t raise this child; I raised this child.” — Tyler Kingkade, national reporter

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