The following letter was sent to Senator Warren in response to her recent statement alleging that there are grounds for finding Israel culpable of genocide. The statement was without merit. Below please find AJC’s letter explaining why.


Dear Senator Warren,

On behalf of AJC New England, the Boston-based regional office of the global advocacy organization of the Jewish people, we write to express our deep disappointment and concern about your recent comment regarding Israel’s defensive war in Gaza – which aims to rescue the many hostages currently held by Hamas, the terrorist organization responsible for the single most deadly attack against Jews since the Holocaust, and to offer our assistance to you moving forward.

We know and have appreciated that you have been a supporter of Israel’s right to defend its people against Hamas’ relentless efforts to destroy the world’s only Jewish state. We were, however, deeply troubled to learn of your remarks at a public event on Friday, April 5. In a widely distributed video, you stated that there is “ample evidence” that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. We note the clarification subsequently made by your spokesperson that you were commenting “on the ongoing legal process at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), not sharing [your] views on whether genocide is occurring in Gaza.” Nonetheless, we believe that your statement was inaccurate and hurtful and did not reflect what is happening in Gaza or the likely outcome of South Africa’s claim against Israel at the ICJ, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken called “meritless.” 

While we are confident that it was not your intent, your statement has provided cover to extreme voices, who have been maliciously accusing Israel of genocide long before a single Israeli soldier entered Gaza. It is also true that the Jewish people know what genocide is. The Nazis’ systematic extermination of Jews was one of the events that led Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent, to coin the term in 1944. It is, therefore, especially painful when the term is employed in ways that are certain to encourage outrage, but do not nearly apply to the reality being described. 

It is with this in mind, that we consider it essential to clarify why genocide claims against Israel are baseless and why we are confident that South Africa’s claim at the ICJ, which is in a preliminary stage, will ultimately fail. 

      1. Israel’s aims in Gaza are legitimate and its actions are motivated by an intent to protect its people and destroy Hamas.

For the term ‘genocide’ to be appropriately used with reference to Gaza, Israel would need to be engaged in a deliberate effort to destroy the Palestinian people in Gaza as such, in whole or in part. Nothing could be further from the truth. Israel is exercising its inherent right of self-defense, enshrined in the UN Charter, in response to Hamas’ attacks on October 7 and from the thousands of Hamas missiles that have been fired on Israeli towns and cities since then, and is entitled to continue exercising this right until it eliminates the ongoing threat posed by Hamas.

Israel’s fight has never been with the people of Gaza. It is with Hamas terrorists, who committed the terrible attacks of October 7, continue to hold more than 130 hostages, and deliberately put Gazans in harm’s way by using them as human shields and utilizing civilian infrastructure for military operations. 

The loss of life that has resulted in Gaza is a tragedy by any measure. However, it is clear that Israel is not targeting civilians, but rather has undertaken extensive efforts to spare civilians from harm while it pursues its legitimate goals. Israel’s extensive efforts to warn and move civilians away from areas of intense hostilities, to identify and deliberate target only Hamas terrorists, and to ensure increasing amounts of humanitarian aid are able to enter Gaza are testaments to its desire to limit the harm Palestinian civilians are suffering. It does this even as Hamas persists in firing rockets at Israel from civilian neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip, and from inside, next to, and underneath nominally civilian areas in Gaza like residential buildings, schools, mosques, and hospitals, transforming what were once protected civilian sites into legitimate military targets. 

We, like you, are deeply saddened by images and accounts of innocents who are suffering in Gaza. However, it is wrong to assume that this suffering is the intent, rather than a terrible consequence, of a legitimate war, without clear evidence of this fact. Clear evidence is extraordinarily scarce in Gaza, an environment over which Hamas still exercises near-total control, and which it seeks to manipulate precisely in order to generate outrage at Israel, as its attempt to blame Israel for the al-Ahli Arab hospital bombing made all too clear. In the absence of reliable information about the full circumstances in which specific attacks or suffering occurred, it is wrong to assume that Israel’s actions were carried out with malign - let alone genocidal - intent. Doing so further inflames an already volatile situation and will not lessen the suffering in Gaza today. 

      2. South Africa’s ICJ claim ultimately will be rejected.

South Africa’s baseless claim at the ICJ will not result in Israel being found to be engaged in genocide in Gaza, and this is not the primary goal of its effort. What South Africa is attempting to do is to use the Court’s authority to issue “provisional measures” - which are akin to preliminary injunctions - as a tool to compel Israel to cease its defensive campaign in Gaza.

To date, the Court has issued provisional measures concerning Israel on two occasions in 2024. It bears noting that they do not include the one measure that South Africa most wanted to see issued: an order for Israel to cease its defensive military operation in Gaza altogether. South Africa has asked the Court three times to order Israel to cease its campaign so far, and the Court has declined to do so each time. We infer from its inaction - and its call for Hamas to release the hostages, even though Hamas is not a party to the case - that the Court agrees that requiring Israel to cease its operation in Gaza would be inappropriate precisely because Israel’s military campaign is legitimate.

Crucially, the provisional measures that the ICJ has ordered - such as one instructing Israel to ensure the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid in Gaza - do not reflect any determination by the Court that Israel’s actions in Gaza are motivated by genocidal intent. Nor could the Court make such a finding in the context of the horrific October 7 attacks and Hamas’s ongoing threats and violations against Israelis, including those it is holding hostage. 

While Israel has vigorously disputed South Africa’s attempt to use the Genocide Convention as an ‘aggressor’s charter’ to prevent Israel from defending its citizens against Hamas’ brutality and continued terror, it has also engaged with the Court and taken every opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to abiding by its international legal obligations and its conviction that the Genocide Convention reflects Israel’s core values even as it fights an enemy that has vowed to continue seeking its annihilation. 

Much of the unprecedented demonization and vilification of Israel that we are witnessing today is being driven by actors who are deeply biased or seeking to advance troubling political goals. We are confident that this was not your purpose, but your statement did lend credence to South Africa’s wanton accusations against Israel. For the people of a nation born in the shadow of the Holocaust and for Jews around the world, this has been a cause of pain and anger. Rather than helping to clarify a difficult conversation, it has fueled polarization and diminished prospects for constructive engagement at a time when it is desperately needed. 

Your voice is a powerful one, not just in Massachusetts, but around the globe. We know that you seek to apply it in constructive ways, but for the reasons offered, believe that what you represented was both inaccurate and served to further inflame a tragic situation. 

Thank you for considering our observations. It is our hope that moving forward there will be opportunity to work together to judiciously assess these complex and difficult issues. 


Robert Leikind
AJC New England
Regional Director

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