J Street Supports Accountability for Israeli Government Actions in International Forums and in the US Congress, Rejects “Genocide” Charge

January 16, 2024

In the 100 days since Hamas’ horrific terror attack, J Street has supported Israel’s right to respond militarily to protect its citizens, free those taken hostage, and ensure that Hamas cannot again pose a threat. We continue to support, as well, American military assistance to Israel to keep Israelis safe and protect against attacks.

We have also been clear that the Israeli government must abide by international law in its conduct of the war and that Israel, the United States and the international community should urgently address the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. American support for Israel – and J Street’s support for that matter – should not constitute a blank check financially and Israel’s government should be held accountable in international fora, like any other country, if and when it does not act in accordance with international law.

Today, the United States Senate will consider a resolution introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders requesting that the State Department report on Israel’s human rights practices and their adherence to US and international law. J Street agrees with the resolution’s use of Section 502B(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act to require a report on Israel’s human rights practices and its adherence to US law. We believe there must always be monitoring and oversight to ensure that US assistance is used in compliance with the law, particularly standards that uphold our commitment to human rights, and allied countries like Israel are no exception to that requirement.

J Street has concerns with specific provisions that have prevented us from offering our full support for this particular resolution, and we have reviewed these concerns with Senator Sanders. We look forward to working with him and others in the near future to craft a resolution that we can support to ensure US oversight and enforcement of Israel’s compliance with US law in its current war in Gaza.

Oversight and accountability regarding US foreign assistance are critical Congressional tools, and J Street strongly supports other measures being proposed as part of a possible supplemental national security appropriation that would provide additional military assistance for Israel. One amendment, led by Senator Chris Van Hollen, would require that weapons received by any country under the pending supplemental be used in accordance with US law, international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict. Another amendment drafted by Senator Tim Kaine would remove a provision from the supplemental test that waives congressional review requirements for Foreign Military Financing to Israel, bringing the aid aligning US oversight mechanisms with those for other nations.

We also believe that Israel’s government should appropriately be held accountable in international fora for adherence to international law as it pursues its legitimate right of self-defense.

Last week, in arguments before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Republic of South Africa alleged that Israel’s military actions in the Gaza Strip threaten to violate the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

J Street rejects the allegation of genocide. Given the stringent standard for holding a country responsible for genocide, we do not expect such a finding against Israel in this case. Yet, we do believe the Israeli government is obligated to ensure its military actions are proportionate, that Gaza’s civilians are not being inappropriately targeted and that they have access to basic humanitarian necessities from food to water, medicine and fuel. These are not just legal obligations – they are moral ones and are in Israel’s own strategic interest.

Over these past months, we have strongly criticized specific actions that the Israeli government has taken including indiscriminate aerial bombing and continued obstruction of humanitarian assistance. We have urged a dramatic change in the war’s course to be more strategic, precise and targeted, and we continue to support further breaks in the fighting to enable hostage releases and improved flow of aid. We also have unequivocally denounced calls by some far-right Israeli officials for mass destruction of Gaza, transfer of Palestinian civilians, and re-establishment of Israeli settlements.

The Genocide Convention is an important component of the rules-based international order which arose in the aftermath of World War II, all the more important to the Jewish people because it emerges out of our own terrible historic suffering. International rules and structures, underpinned by institutions and frameworks like the ICJ and the Geneva Conventions, have led to an era of relative peace and prosperity and have provided a means of peaceful dispute resolution between states since 1946. We reject arguments that call into question the legitimacy of the Court, the Genocide Convention or South Africa’s right to bring this case. We continue to support efforts by the international community and international courts to appropriately investigate, prosecute and sanction Hamas for its clear violations of international law.

We also clearly reject the claim that the Israeli government is intentionally seeking the destruction of another people, and expect the ICJ to do the same. While a deliberately high bar was rightly set by the international community in defining the singular crime of genocide, there are many critical obligations of combatants under international law that the Court has jurisdiction to review, and which the US, our partners and multilateral institutions must take concrete action to uphold. We therefore expect that, should the Court order provisional measures to enforce those obligations in the coming weeks to protect the civilian population of Gaza, both Israel and the United States would respect those rulings.