Apr 9, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Austin: U.S. doesn't have "any evidence" of Israel committing genocide in Gaza

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaking during a Senate committee hearing on April 9.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaking during a Senate committee hearing on April 9. Photo: Tierney L. Cross/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a Senate committee Tuesday that the U.S. does not have "any evidence" that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

Why it matters: Israel has been accused by other nations of carrying out or inciting genocide against Palestinians throughout the war with Hamas — by restricting humanitarian aid to the enclave, displacing millions and killing civilians.

  • Israeli officials and pro-Israel groups have denied the allegations. The U.S. and other western countries have also denied the accusations, though they have increasingly urged Israel to do more to protect civilians and to allow more aid into Gaza.
  • Austin's comments come as President Biden and other Democrats have faced heightened political pressure to end or reduce U.S. support for Israel in the war.

What they're saying: After being asked by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing whether Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, Austin responded: "We don't have any evidence of genocide being created."

  • After Cotton asked for clarification if that meant no, Austin again said, "We don't have any evidence to that."

Between the lines: Austin appears to have chosen his words carefully, saying the U.S. did not have "evidence" of genocide, as opposed to ruling it out completely.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who last week said she believes international officials may find Israel's actions legally constitute a genocide — asked Austin whether additional civilian deaths in the war would "enhance U.S. or Israeli security."

  • She asked the question while referring to a recently adopted Defense Department policy on preventing and mitigating civilian casualties in conflicts.
  • Austin said there is "no question" that there have been "far too many" civilian casualties throughout the Israel-Hamas war, and that he has stressed to Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant that Israel's military must protect civilians.

Zoom out: People in Gaza are on the verge of famine, a UN-backed body found last month. They have also lacked access to medicine, clean water and other essentials due to damage from Israeli airstrikes and the ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip.

  • The death toll in Gaza is over 33,000, according to the enclave's health ministry. Among those killed are roughly 200 aid workers.
  • The war was set off by Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel, during which around 1,200 people were killed and more than 240 others were taken hostage.

The big picture: Earlier this year, Israel was accused by South Africa in an international court of violating its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

  • South Africa asked for the court to order the Israeli military to halt its offensive.
  • The court ordered Israel to take urgent action to prevent genocide in Gaza by allowing more humanitarian aid and to punish incitement to genocide. Israel was also required to submit a report to the court within a month on what actions it has taken to comply with the order.

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