Washington Policy Weekly: US Officials Discredit ICJ Genocide Case Against Israel

Genocide Case Against Israel “Meritless,” Declare US Officials

As the world followed the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) two-day hearing on the crime of genocide in Gaza, congresspeople continued to jockey to demonstrate their unwavering support for Israel. Prominent Democrats such as Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) told reporters at a luncheon that South Africa “ought to sit this one out.” Fetterman plainly added that “I’m always going to be on one side in this situation. And that is on the side of Israel…And that is the easiest choice I’ve ever made as a senator here.” Joining Fetterman, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) offered similar comments of support, labeling South Africa’s genocide accusation “absurd” and an “outrageous thing [to be] attributed to the Israeli people. In opposition to their Senate colleagues, Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Cori Bush (D-MO) released a joint statement in support of South Africa’s case, which included a call for the United States to “stop trying to discredit and undermine this case and the international legal system it claims to support.”

Outside of Congress, White House and State Department officials also questioned the ICJ hearing’s veracity. At a Thursday White House press briefing, NSC’s John Kirby stated that the allegations against Israel are “unfounded” and that “there is no basis for accusations of genocide against Israel… And we certainly don’t believe that it applies here.” Kirby’s message was echoed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who told reporters from his trip in the Middle East that the United States believes that ICJ’s legal inquiry “distracts the world” from forging peace and security in the region.

Despite calling the accusations against Israel “meritless,” Blinken did acknowledge that the humanitarian situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate. In a show of dissonance, Blinken pointed to recent United Nations numbers, which were also cited in South Africa’s case, that 90 percent of Gaza’s population faces acute food insecurity. The Secretary expressed concern for the situation’s long-term impact on Gazan children while noting that there has already been “far too much loss of life, far too much suffering.” Even so, the State Department and the Biden administration have been clear that it will continue to support Israel’s war on Gaza diplomatically and materially.

Also Happening This Week in Washington

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Group of Senate Democrats Introduce Amendment to Require Congressional Notice for Arms Sales. Led by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), thirteen Senate Democrats announced that they will file an amendment to maintain congressional oversight of arms sales and transfers to Israel. The amendment would alter the text of a supplemental budget request made by the Biden administration and would prevent it from bypassing Congress, as it did to approve a $147.5 million sale in December.

House Sees Introduction of Resolution to Impeach Secretary Austin. Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) introduced H.Res.951, which resolves to impeach Secretary of Defense Lloyd J Austin III for high crimes and misdemeanors. Rosendale’s resolution focuses on Austin’s handling of a Chinese high-altitude balloon that flew over North American air space last year, but the secretary has also drawn considerable criticism in the last week for the handling of his recent hospitalization. Senate Republicans have since called for a congressional hearing into Austin’s secretive hospitalization that will seek accountability for the DoD’s “chain of command crisis.”

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Congress Reacts to US Strikes on Houthis in Yemen. US forces launched strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen on January 11, drawing mixed reactions from Congress. Both the Chair and the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) respectively, as did the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jim Risch. released statements supporting the US-led strikes. House progressives, on the other hand, sharply criticized Biden’s decision. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) wrote on “X” (formerly Twitter) that the Biden administration violated the Constitution in carrying out the strikes without congressional approval, an opinion shared by Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Cori Bush (D-MO), and others. And in an unlikely moment of bipartisan agreement, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) joined her progressive colleagues in denouncing Biden’s airstrikes, calling the administration “insanely out of control.”

Representatives Send Bipartisan Letter to Biden Administration Calling for Hamas Surrender. Led by Congressman Brad Schneider (D-IL), 29 members of Congress signed on to a letter calling on Hamas to release the remaining hostages in Gaza and “surrender control of Gaza to a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” The letter applauds the Biden administration’s unwillingness to call for a ceasefire.

Republicans Continue to Target Pro-Palestine Activism in Education. Last week saw multiple actions from Republicans as they continued their effort to stymy pro-Palestine activism in education. Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO), chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means, sent a letter to several university presidents threatening their tax-exempt status over concerns with anti-Semitic activity. Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) of the Education and the Workforce Committee sent a similar letter to Harvard’s interim president, requesting information about anti-Semitic activity as well. The House Republicans’ efforts were supplemented by a letter from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in which he expressed concern about teachers disseminating educational resources on Palestine, in addition to a letter from Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and James Lankford (R-OK) pressing for further congressional inquiry into pro-Palestine activism on college campuses in the United States.

House Democrats Write Letter to Blinken, Express Concern About Gaza Displacement. Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) led a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in which they urged the secretary to reiterate the United States’ commitment to ensuring that Gazans not be displaced to any other nation. The representatives cited concerns about extremist rhetoric from some Israeli officials about the transfer of Palestinian civilians out of Gaza and were requesting clarification for language in Biden’s supplemental security funding request that includes language about “potential needs of Gazans fleeing to neighboring countries.”

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

Vice President Harris Holds Call with Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa regarding ongoing efforts to protect civilians and increase the flow humanitarian aid into Gaza. They also discussed the increasing number of Houthi attacks against ships in the Red Sea and their shared desire to prevent regional escalation.

U.S. Envoy Travels to Region to Prevent Israel-Lebanon Border Escalation. White House Energy Envoy Amos Hochstein traveled to Beirut and Israel amid a recent escalation in violence across the Israel-Lebanon border. Hochstein stressed the need for a diplomatic solution that will allow Israelis and Lebanese living in border areas to return to their homes.

National Security Council Condemns Iran Seizure of Merchant Vessel. NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby spoke about the St. Nikolas, a Marshall Islands-flagged and Greek-owned oil tanker, that was seized by Iran in the Gulf of Oman. Kirby condemned the seizure, called on the Iranian government to release the ship, and warned Iran to stop its “provocative and unacceptable actions.”

President Biden Marks 100 Days of Hostages. The White House released a statement marking 100 days of captivity for more than 100 Israelis and others currently being held by Hamas in Gaza. President Biden addressed US efforts to negotiate the release of hostages and reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to doing so, headlined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent, and fourth, trip to the region. The President’s message was shared by a bicameral delegation of lawmakers who recently returned from the region after meeting with senior leadership and lead negotiators in Egypt, Israel, Qatar, and Bahrain.

2) State Department

Secretary Blinken Meets with Arab Leaders. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with leaders in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on his latest regional tour. In the Gulf, his meetings focused on increasing humanitarian assistance to Gaza, deterring Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea, and preventing regional escalation. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi and Secretary Blinken spoke about the US commitment to preventing the forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza. With President Abbas, the Secretary expressed US concern regarding the increase in Israeli settler extremist violence in the West Bank and reaffirmed US commitment to ensuring that Palestinian tax revenue is provided to the PA.

Blinken Meets with Israeli Officials. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli War Cabinet to reaffirm US support for Israel, emphasize the need to protect civilians in Gaza, and discuss the reconstruction of the Strip, including the new appointment of Sigrid Kaag, the UN’s Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza.

Blinken Gives Press Briefings in the Region, Reiterating US Objectives. During his most recent regional tour, Secretary of State Antony Blinken briefed the press on the US’s continued commitment to the two-state solution. He also stressed that the establishment of a Palestinian state will be a necessary part of the equation of Israel’s security and integration in the region.

State Department Notifies Congress of a $129 million Military Equipment Sale to Egypt. The State Department and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required notification of the sale to Congress, which would include equipment to enhance Egyptian maritime security, specifically in the Red Sea.

UN Security Council Adopts US-Led Resolution Condemning Houthi Attacks in the Red Sea. The resolution passed the Security Council with an 11-0 vote. Following the largest Houthi attack to date, the resolution demands that the group cease all attacks on the shipping lanes in the Red Sea, with US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield stating after its passage that “if the Houthi attacks continue, there will be consequences.”

US Ambassador to Lebanon Recognizes Israeli Sovereignty Over the Golan. Ambassador Lisa Johnson, responding in writing to questions from Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) before her confirmation hearing, reaffirmed the Trump-era policy of recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan and wrote that “the Golan Heights, including Shebaa Farms, remains critically important to Israel’s security.”

Blinken and Other US Officials Speak with UN Gaza Coordinator to Discuss Humanitarian Situation. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer, and USAID Administrator Samantha Power all spoke with UN Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza Sigrid Kaag last week. Their discussions emphasized the importance of increasing aid delivery into Gaza, specifically stressing the necessity of moving more food, water, medicine, and other essential goods. They also discussed efforts that will allow displaced Gazans to return home in the north.

3) Department of Defense

US-Led Coalition Strikes Houthi Targets in Yemen in Response to Attacks Against Vessels in the Red Sea. On January 9, Houthi insurgents launched a missile attack into the southern Red Sea, marking the 26th Houthi attack on commercial shipping lanes there since November 19. On the evening of January 11, the United States, with support from the UK, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands, conducted a series of airstrikes against 30 Houthi targets in Yemen. The targets included air and coastal surveillance radar sites, unmanned aerial system launch facilities and launch sites, and cruise and ballistic missile facilities and launch sites. Asked about the strikes, White House NSC’s John Kirby told reporters that the United States is “not interested in a war with Yemen. We’re not interested in a conflict of any kind here. In fact, everything the President has been doing has been trying to prevent any escalation of conflict, including the last strikes,” though US officials have acknowledged that a subsequent response from Houthi forces is likely.

4) Department of the Treasury

Secretary Yellen Meets with Finance Ministers from Egypt. Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen met with Egypt’s Minister of Finance Mohamed Maait, Minister of International Cooperation Raina al-Mashat, and Governor of the Central Bank of Egypt Hassan Abdalla. The Secretary emphasized US support for Egypt in its efforts to implement economic reform and recognized the challenges that the conflict in Gaza has presented to the Egyptian economy.

Treasury Announces New Sanctions on Houthi Financial Facilitators. The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated two companies in Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates for shipping Iranian commodities on behalf of the network of Iran-based Houthi financial facilitator Said al-Jamal. Commenting on the announcement, the State Department declared that the “United States will continue to counter illicit Iranian financial support to the Houthis” and “will take available measures to hinder the destabilizing activities of the Houthis that threaten navigational rights and freedoms and global maritime trade.”