Photo Credit: State Department photo by Freddie Everett
Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel briefs reporters, September 6, 2022

State Dept. Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel on Thursday refused to take a stand regarding the insane South African charges at the International Court of Justice in the Hague that Israel is committing genocide in the Gaza Strip. Instead of declaring outright that America’s strongest ally in the Middle East is a moral and law-abiding democracy, and the IDF goes out of its way to avoid harming civilians, in Gaza and everywhere else, Patel demurred.

On Tuesday, the State Dept. issued a statement saying, “Allegations that Israel is committing genocide are unfounded. In fact, it is those who are violently attacking Israel who continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews,” and, “Israel is operating in an exceptionally challenging environment in Gaza, an urban battlespace where Hamas intentionally embeds itself with and hides behind civilians.”


So, it was surprising to those of us who read and analyze the State Dept. press conferences (so you won’t have to) to realize that the Department’s spokesperson had such a hard time keeping up with the above clear statement.

AFP State Dept. correspondent Shaun Tandon asked if the US is watching the proceedings in the Hague, and if there was a chance that it could be persuaded by South Africa’s arguments.

Patel responded: “First, we are going to refrain from any speculation about the outcome. I also think that it is important that we not comment on specific points raised in the day’s hearing, as Israel will have an opportunity to respond directly to those allegations tomorrow.”

Now, that’s a fine how-do-you-do from Israel’s greatest friend in the world. Patel then let out the obligatory note of support for Israel: “I will say again from here, the allegations that Israel is committing genocide are unfounded.” But what he had to say about the country that presented the allegations was a lukewarm, “Genocide is one of the most heinous acts any entity or individual can commit, and such an allegation should only be made with the greatest of care.”


AFP State Dept. correspondent Shaun Tandon. / Twitter screenshot

Tandon pushed on: “The Israeli foreign ministry described South Africa as being the legal arm of Hamas. Do you agree with statements like that? Do you agree about the South African motivations in this?”

Patel was uncomfortable with that one, mustn’t insult the folks in Cape Town: “Certainly that’s not a characterization that I would make from up here when it comes to our South African partners, but again, we continue to feel very strongly that the allegations that Israel is committing genocide are unfounded.”

Tandon attacked: “How confident are you about this statement, saying that the allegations are unfounded? And if the US is so confident that it is unfounded, why not just let the court investigate them?”

At which point Patel mock-apologized for not being a lawyer, and said he wants “to refrain from speaking to and addressing specific points that are raised as tomorrow Israel will be addressing some of these points that are raised as well, and I will leave it at that.”

Shaun Tandon is a smart fellow. In addition to being AFP’s man at Foggy Bottom, he is also President of the Correspondents Association. Unlike Patel who didn’t go to law school, Tandon can think on his feet, and at that point, Tandon swung the trap shut: “You said that there are steps Israel can take to minimize civilian harm, and the Secretary this week said the civilian toll in Gaza is far too high. If there are steps that Israel can take to minimize civilian harm and they choose not to take them, does it imply an intentional killing of civilians?”

Patel couldn’t get himself free, although, clearly, he was considering chewing off his leg: “What I will say is that we have not parsed words about the fact that far too many civilians have been impacted by the current conflict in Gaza and that in every trip to the region, Secretary Blinken has carried the same message that additional steps need to be taken to further minimize the impact on civilians. And this most recent trip is no different. That’s something we raised directly with the Israelis, and we’ll continue to do so.”

Predictably, this is when Tandon delivered his punchline. It was a thing of beauty: “Just one more on that. Since the US is the biggest supplier of military aid to Israel, is there any concern that you might be involved in any possible war crimes by Israel?”

Patel repeated his response, and, frankly, sounded pathetic: “Look, we have made clear to any country in which we have this kind of security relationship that international human rights must be respected and followed, and this is no – international human law – I’m sorry – needs to be followed, and this of course is no – this case is no different. And we’ve made that clear to the Israelis that, again, steps need to be taken as often and as frequently and as strongly as possible to minimize this conflict’s impact on civilians.”

He lost that exchange, not so much because his parents didn’t send him to law school, as he pointed out earlier, but because the State Dept. and the pro-Palestinian arm of the White House couldn’t keep their mouths shut about civilian casualties in Gaza. Having incinerated hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis over the past 20 years, the US is now determined to establish rules of engagement for the IDF that no one, most notably not the United States military, had ever adhered to.

On his deathbed, Hasmonean King Alexander Yanai warned his wife Queen Shlomzion, “Fear not the Pharisees nor the Sadducees, but the hypocrites.” He very likely had Joe Biden and Antony Blinken in mind.

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David writes news at