Lloyd Austin denies Gaza genocide in Senate hearing as activists speak out: "Shame on you!"

Washington DC - US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin claimed before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that he has seen no evidence of genocide in Gaza, but peace activists were having none of it.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 9, 2024.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 9, 2024.  © Chip Somodevilla / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

"We don't have any evidence of genocide being created," Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing on the Pentagon budget for 2025 and future years.

"From the very beginning, we committed to help assist Israel in defending its territory and its people by providing security assistance," he continued.

"I would remind everybody that what happened on October 7 was absolutely horrible and, you know, numbers of Israeli citizens killed and a couple hundred Israeli citizens taken hostage. And American citizens as well."

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Since October 7, Israel has waged a relentless assault on Gaza, a territory it has illegally occupied for decades, killing at least 33,360 people.

Israel's blockade on humanitarian aid and use of mass starvation as a weapon – a war crime under international law – have sparked urgent warnings of imminent famine in Gaza.

Lloyd Austin denies green lighting genocide in Gaza

A protester raising a Palestinian flag interrupts Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin as he testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
A protester raising a Palestinian flag interrupts Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin as he testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee.  © Chip Somodevilla / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Israel's brutal acts have led South Africa to file a case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) accusing the state of violating the United Nations' 1948 Genocide Convention.

During a January hearing, South Africa provided overwhelming evidence of Israeli human rights violations and genocidal rhetoric and actions by state officials. The ICJ then issued provisional measures against Israel but fell short of calling for a ceasefire.

Finding Israel had not met its obligations, the court last month issued a new order requiring the government to ensure the unimpeded provision of basic services and aid in Gaza, warning that "famine has set in."

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The US, meanwhile, continues to transfer deadly weapons to Israel while cutting off funding for UNRWA – a United Nations agency providing critical humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees.

This ongoing military and diplomatic support has prompted Palestinians and Palestinian Americans to launch a historic lawsuit accusing Austin along with President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken of complicity in genocide.

Nevertheless, when pressed Tuesday to respond to accusations that he is greenlighting genocide, Austin said, "I absolutely deny it."

Peace activists demand an end to US support for Israel

A protester with red-painted hands and a shirt reading "Austin's Legacy = Genocide" disrupts Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
A protester with red-painted hands and a shirt reading "Austin's Legacy = Genocide" disrupts Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.  © Chip Somodevilla / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Peace activists clearly did not agree that Austin bears no responsibility for the carnage in Gaza.

The feminist anti-war organization CODEPINK reported that demonstrators interrupted Tuesday's Senate hearing 25 times to urge an end to US support for Israel.

"You speak to [Israeli Defense Minister] Yoav Gallant on a daily basis. Two days ago, he said the full-scale invasion of Rafah will be akin to Al Shifa Hospital. That is a complete massacre. The blood of the people of Palestine is on your hands!" grad school student Julia Norman shouted during Austin's testimony, referencing Israeli forces' targeted attacks on Gaza's health infrastructure.

"US taxpayers do not want billions of our dollars going to genocide," she added. "Shame on you!"

Palestinian-American activist Moataz Salim later stood up to demand: "Stop killing my people in Gaza!"

"You're responsible for this genocide. You've killed over 100 members of my family. Enough is enough! How many children have to die? How many children have to die for you to be satisfied?"

After Capitol police dragged him from the room, Salim said in a video address, "It's insane that over six months later, they're still talking about what to do in order to stop the conflict in the region."

"It's very clear we need a permanent ceasefire, an end to the occupation, and a free Palestine so people can live in dignity and so that people can just live."

Cover photo: Chip Somodevilla / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

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