Protesters disrupt Lloyd Austin testimony as secretary denies genocide in Gaza

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s opening remarks to lawmakers on Tuesday morning were repeatedly interrupted by protesters demanding the United States end its support for Israel.

The secretary’s initial statement in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee was interrupted by protesters who urged the U.S. to stop providing military support to Israel. The protesters, who were escorted out of the hearing room after the interruption, accused the U.S. of having Palestinian blood on its hands.

“The blood of the people of Palestine is on your hands,” one protester shouted, while another said, “Stop funding Israel!”

Later in the hearing, Austin was asked whether he agreed with the protesters’ belief that Israel was carrying out genocide, and he said he didn’t have evidence to back up that claim.

“We don’t have any evidence of genocide being created,” he said. “We don’t have evidence of that, to my knowledge.”

The secretary also declined to characterize Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist attack in southern Israel as a “genocide,” though he called it a “war crime.”

“The rape, the murder, the taking of hostages or prisoners, all of that was a war crime,” Austin said, affirming that the U.S. has seen Hamas use civilians as human shields since the war began.

Various U.S. officials have said the administration does not believe Israel is committing genocide, though they have routinely urged Israel to do more to prevent civilian casualties.

“We have made clear that we believe that allegations of genocide are unfounded,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in late March. “But at the same time, we are deeply concerned by the number of civilian casualties in Gaza, and that’s why we have pressed the government of Israel on multiple occasions to do everything it can to minimize those civilian casualties.”

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The International Court of Justice is evaluating the question of whether Israel is committing genocide, though it could be years before a final ruling is issued.

Opponents of President Joe Biden’s stance on the war have routinely interrupted his public events and those of relevant Cabinet officials. Members of Biden’s party, mainly Arab and Muslim people, young people, and progressives, have called for the president to take a harsher stance toward Israel and have threatened his reelection efforts.

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