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Israel-Palestine war: State Department officials prepare dissent cables in opposition to Gaza assault

US President Joe Biden brought in the most diverse administration in history but several officials feel they were just token appointees
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens to the statements of Qatar's prime minister and foreign minister in Doha, on 13 October 2023 (AFP)
By Azad Essa in New York City and Umar A Farooq in Washington

US State Department staff are preparing urgent dissent cables over Washington's support for Israel's relentless bombing campaign of Gaza, Middle East Eye can reveal.

Several sources told MEE that tensions are at fever-pitch within the department, as officials are growing increasingly frustrated with the Biden administration's open backing of what human rights activists are calling war crimes against Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip.

'There's a lot of people who disagree with the current policy that the top folks have set'

- US official

MEE understands that several diplomats are torn between staying in their jobs to try and influence policy or leave in protest over Biden's unconditional support for Israel's bombardment and looming ground invasion.

More than 6,000 Palestinians have been killed, including 2,000 children, since Israel began its aerial bombardment of Gaza, following an attack by Palestinian fighters from Gaza on 7 October.

Around 1,400 Israelis have been killed since the Hamas-led fighters broke through the barrier separating the besieged Gaza Strip from Israel.

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In one draft dissent cable, seen by MEE, diplomats write that Hamas's attack on Israel cannot be used as a justification for Israel to carry out the indiscriminate killing of innocent people in Gaza.

The draft calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Israel, Gaza, and the occupied West Bank and implores Washington to promote truthful and balanced public messaging towards resolving the crisis that is slowly spiralling out of control.

"When Israeli officials no longer differentiate between Hamas and civilians of Gaza - when strikes target or threaten civilian institutions such as places of worship, schools, or medical facilities - Israel must work double to rejoin adherence to international norms we so proudly, and rightly preach to other nations," the cable says.

The dissent cable is a document submitted through an internal channel that allows diplomats to raise concerns or issues against damaging US foreign policy decisions and follows rumours that "a mutiny" is brewing inside the State Department over Biden's unflinching public support of Israel's actions in Gaza.

When reached for comment, a State Department spokesperson told MEE: "As a general practice, we do no comment on reports of internal Department communications."

"As a general matter, the dissent channel has been available to employees since the Vietnam War, and we are proud that the Department has an established procedure for employees to articulate policy disagreements directly to the attention of senior Department principals without fear of retribution."

'Last resort short of resigning'

A diplomat in the State Department told MEE that there was a sense that the normal methods of policymaking in the department had failed.

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"Despite the outcries from our own officials, reporting from the ground, international groups, and the American public, there has been no change in US foreign policy with Israel other than increasing support and funding to continue killing innocent Palestinian civilians," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"A dissent cable is one of our last resorts short of resigning to inform the Secretary of the gravity of this situation and let the State Department and White House leadership know that we vehemently demand an immediate ceasefire.

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"At the very least, it will officially put on record that there are and were attempts by State Department officials to stop the genocide so that future generations can make sure this is never repeated," the source added.

Last week, several officials told HuffPost that there was widespread frustration over US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's refusal to listen to critiques and concerns.

Another official in the Biden administration, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were several different cables being considered rather than one large uniform message of dissent.

"It does seem like there are multiple efforts, it's very kind of sporadic, all over the place. From what I can tell, there's not one single organising force going around," the official said.

"There's a lot of people who disagree with the current policy that the top folks have set."

Just token voices

Days after the attack on Israel, Blinken flew to offer his condolences to the people of Israel. During his visit, he equated Hamas with the Islamic State (IS) group, a move observers said was seen as a green light to Israel to retaliate by any means necessary.

On Monday, Blinken held a listening session with representatives of Palestinian and Arab-American groups, during which they discussed rising anger with Biden over his handling of the Israel-Gaza war, a source told The National.

A report by Politico published on Tuesday said that the administration also held a listening session with Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian staffers.

'I know people are looking for different jobs because they don't feel comfortable representing the administration currently'

- US official

One official told MEE that in recent days there has been more engagement between the top levels of the administration and other officials, including with the Muslim appointees, of which there are more than 100 in the current administration.

Biden previously touted his administration to be the most diverse in US history. But so far, the administration has done little to shift its full-fledged support for Israel's war efforts. It has called for a humanitarian pause to allow aid to enter Gaza but has said it won't support a ceasefire.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday that Washington would not support a ceasefire, and that "innocent civilians are going to be hurt going forward" in Gaza.

"What a lot of me and my colleagues are running up against is, you bring these people in to hear their diverse voices. And if you're not going to listen, they're just tokens," the official said.

The official added that resignations are on the minds of many staffers in the administration.

"I know people are looking for different jobs because they don't feel comfortable representing the administration currently," the official said.

Dissenting voices are the majority

The official also said one of the reasons for this is the fact that some individuals who disagree with the administration's policy and are trying to voice their opposition "are not being taken into account".

Only one official so far has resigned, citing he could not morally support Washington's unconditional backing of Israel's military actions.

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"Let me be clear: Hamas' attack on Israel was not just a monstrosity; it was a monstrosity of monstrosities," Josh Paul, who worked for more than a decade in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, wrote in a statement.

"But I believe to the core of my soul that the response Israel is taking, and with it the American support both for that response and for the status quo of the occupation, will only lead to more and deeper suffering for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people - and is not in the long term American interest."

The Biden administration's approach also doesn't appear to match the American public's view of the war. According to a recent poll by the progressive organisation, Data for Progress, 66 percent of all likely voters support a ceasefire and de-escalation of the conflict.

"I think that shows of dissent are important in these times, especially for those folks that are serving this administration," Ahmad Abuznaid, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told MEE.

"I think what sticks out to me though, is that this time it feels like the dissent is actually the majority and the president is operating on a position that a small minority of folks actually support," he added.

This article is partially available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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