The US disagreed Thursday with Israeli officials’ censure of South Africa as “the legal arm of Hamas,” while also rejecting Pretoria’s accusation that the Jewish state was committing genocide in Gaza, after South Africa presented its genocide case against Jerusalem at the International Court of Justice.
“That is not a characterization that I would make from up here about our South African partners,” US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said Thursday in answer to a question about the proceedings, adding, “The allegation that Israel is committing genocide is unfounded.”
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also called the genocide allegations “unfounded.”
“That’s not a word that ought to be thrown around lightly, and we certainly don’t believe that it applies here,” he said.
On the eve of The Hague proceeding, the Biden administration had reiterated its opposition to the charges. “It is those who are violently attacking Israel who continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews,” US State Department spokesman Matt Miller said in a statement Wednesday.
“Genocide is one of the most heinous acts any entity or individual can commit, and such allegations should only be made with the greatest of care,” he added. “Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas’s terrorist acts — acts that Hamas has vowed to repeat again and again until Israel is completely destroyed.”
While reiterating his condemnation of Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border from Gaza, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages, Miller said the US still expects that Israel “comply with international humanitarian law in its operations against Hamas.”
He also highlighted the feeling in Washington that the IDF has not done enough thus far to protect civilians, calling on Israel to “look for more ways to prevent civilian harm and to investigate credible allegations of violations of international humanitarian law when they arise.”
Miller also appeared to reference US displeasure with calls by some Israeli lawmakers for collective punishment and for mass displacement of Palestinians, which South Africa has cited in its case against Israel. “We continue to condemn dehumanizing rhetoric on all sides,” the State Department spokesman said.
In the Thursday hearing, the South African legal team alleged that the widespread deaths of Palestinian civilians and the severely restricted access in Gaza to food, water and medical treatment, combined with some highly inflammatory comments by senior Israeli government ministers, meant that Israel was conducting a genocidal campaign in the Palestinian coastal enclave.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry described the South African claims as false, baseless and as “one of the greatest displays of hypocrisy in history.” It noted that the allegations made in court failed to acknowledge any Hamas responsibility for the nature of the conflict in Gaza, including its widespread practice of embedding its military installations and combatants within civilian infrastructure.
Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.