Biden administration employees fear losing jobs for questioning Israeli military actions
President Joe Biden is embraced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon his arrival in Tel Aviv Wednesday. While Biden was in Israel expressing unlimited support for his ally, back home in Washington, some staffers from within his administration began to speak out against the war and the disregard shown for Palestinian civilians. | Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON—As President Joe Biden embraced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a big hug in Tel Aviv Wednesday, back home in Washington growing numbers of officials within his own administration were starting to speak out—privately—against what one staffer called the U.S.’ “monstrous disregard for innocent Palestinian lives.”

In the wake of the deadly al-Alhi hospital blast in Gaza, Biden was quick to back the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) claim that it was not responsible for the horrific destruction, saying to Netanyahu, “Based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you.”

Top Netanyahu aide Hananya Naftali had initially made a post on Twitter (now X) after the blast claiming credit for and celebrating the hospital bombing—before later deleting it and blaming Palestinians instead. The IDF has released what it calls audio and video “evidence” that the explosion was the result of a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket. Given the debunking of past Israeli denials of atrocities committed by its forces, much of the world remains skeptical of the Israeli narrative, and regardless, there is ample evidence of other widespread war crimes carried out by the IDF during the current Gaza assault.

The initial reports that IDF had bombed the hospital and killed as many as 500 people instantly ignited a wave of international outrage. Biden’s planned summit meetings with Jordanian, Egyptian, and Palestinian officials to prevent Israel’s war against Gaza from spiraling further were all scuttled. None of the Arab leaders would meet with the U.S. president following the blast.

Protests erupted across the Middle East and around the world on late Tuesday into early Wednesday, all condemning ongoing Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians—including in areas in southern Gaza that Israel had said were “safe zones.”

Wounded Palestinians sit at the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City after being transported from the al-Ahli Hospital following the explosion there on Tuesday. | Abed Khaled / AP

Biden’s unequivocal support for Netanyahu’s government at this moment of mourning further squashed any hopes U.S. officials might have had that his visit to the region would reduce condemnation of Israel and lower tensions.

But criticisms of the Biden administration’s lockstep loyalty to Israel are not limited to Arab leaders or demonstrators on the streets. Levels of dissent are also growing within the U.S. government.

Staffers from multiple agencies—many of whom work on matters related to foreign policy and national security—have begun speaking to the press about how they fear retaliation at work if they dare to question Israel’s conduct in the war or the U.S.’ unconditional support for the IDF’s violations of human rights.

Correspondent Akbar Shahid Ahmed, the HuffPost reporter who broke the story about U.S. diplomats being forbidden from publicly uttering words like “ceasefire,” published an article early Wednesday featuring interviews with several government workers who said they “feel stifled” when it comes to discussing the need for Israeli restraint or providing humanitarian protections for Palestinians.

The current Israeli war against Gaza represents “the first time in the [Biden] administration that there was a real culture of silence,” one official claimed. “It feels like post-9/11 where you feel like your thoughts are being policed, and you’re really afraid of being seen as anti-American or an anti-Semite.”

Employees from Muslim and Arab backgrounds expressed the most intense fear. The situation has reached such a point that White House personnel office head Gautam Raghavan apparently had to organize a meeting this past weekend with nearly a dozen current and former top-level Muslim presidential appointees to hear their concerns.

Many at the meeting reportedly said they feared for their safety if they voiced their opinions about Israel’s war among their colleagues.

One career civil servant told Ahmed, “I’m trying to educate people about Palestine…but I’m worried I’ll lose my security clearance for criticizing the president or blaming the U.S. for civilian massacres.” The person said they are torn by the tension between the moral impulse to challenge human rights abuses and keeping their job.

“I feel there’s no place for me in America anymore, and I’m on thin ice because of my heritage and because I care about my people dying.”

Some inside the administration are reportedly “quietly sharing dark predictions” about the toll Israel’s military campaign will take, but they feel unable to influence the situation and are pessimistic about the president’s commitment to restraining Israel.

Another person said that although the White House regularly pushes the narrative that the Biden administration is one of the most diverse ever and seeks the views of traditionally marginalized populations, it is not taking advantage of many of the personnel it has recruited from such groups.

Instead, the same old U.S. foreign policy establishment appears to be in command.

“One reason to want a diverse staff is to have a variety of inputs into your decision-making, not just to check a box on a little quota sheet—you want to benefit from the more informed decision-making that happens from a broader set of experiences having a seat at the table,” a Biden administration official said, anonymously.

But “the inner, inner circle on these issues is not at all diverse. Does that completely explain the monstrous disregard for innocent Palestinian lives? No, but it’s hard to think these things are entirely disconnected.”

The official line out of the White House is that a “thorough internal and external outreach strategy to Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian American communities” is underway and that “listening sessions” are being planned. The demoralization among administration staff members about the U.S.’ blank check for Israeli aggression, however, suggests the window dressing of consultation and outreach could be too little, too late.

One official said there has been a “chilling effect” on discussion and that they feared America is being “dragged back into another Middle East war.”

The first few days of the Israeli offensive were “extremely hard,” said another employee. The order from the Oval Office was to show unbounded solidarity with Israel—even as it was cutting off water, electricity, and food supplies for Gaza.

“It took me till Wednesday or Thursday to have the courage to say, ‘I don’t think it would be good for America if we are seen as responsible for killing Palestinian children,’” the employee said.

After they expressed sympathy for Palestinian children, “there was awkward silence like a pin could drop,” the employee said, “and I’m like, ‘Are they going to report me to the House Un-American Activities Committee?’”

Claims by White House spokespersons that the administration supports civilians on “both sides” of the battle in Gaza also have not struck many employees as genuine. Several government workers said there was little interest shown initially for any messaging that was concerned with anything other than Israel’s losses.

White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients sent an internal memo expressing solidarity with Jewish staff and emphasizing U.S.-Israeli ties but made no mention of how the IDF’s campaign was impacting Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

Another staffer pointed out that the State Department hosted an internal counseling program for employees affected by the war, but it only referenced Israel and not occupied Palestine.

“There is a sense that the administration’s policy decisions show stunning disregard for innocent Palestinians—and that same dehumanization is also reflected in how staff are being treated,” one employee said, calling the current period “disillusioning.”

It was said that only after the Islamophobic murder of a 6-year-old boy in Illinois did Zients send out a message to staff acknowledging “how difficult it has been for our Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim American colleagues—in addition to our Jewish colleagues.”

Palestinians evacuate a survivor pulled from the rubble after a house was bombed by Israel in Khan Younis in Gaza on Tuesday. | Mohammed Dahman / AP

In recent days, Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have increasingly mentioned their supposed humanitarian concerns when it comes to the residents of Gaza, but people inside the government say there’s not enough action to back the words. They pointed to the situation at the Rafah Crossing out of Gaza into Egypt as an example.

The U.S. Embassy in Israel had told American citizens trapped in Gaza to go there and they would be allowed to leave, but then Israel bombed the crossing.

“You basically asked a bunch of Americans―most of whom have very young children―to risk their lives to go to a border crossing that they then couldn’t cross. That’s an embarrassment to us,” one frustrated official said. “As American citizens, they went and they trusted their government, and they’re waiting in the hot sun all day for the border to not open.”

But many fear expressing such sentiments to their superiors or co-workers will jeopardize their employment. One person, who has spent more than ten years working on foreign policy, said there is a culture of “self-censorship.”

That is especially true among younger employees, the person said, who are “shocked” by how the U.S. response to Israeli war crimes differs so much from the president’s 2020 campaign rhetoric around human rights and his emphasis on protecting civilians in the Ukraine war.

As the Palestinian death count climbs, one person in the administration told Ahmed that a sense of panic is setting in. “How are we allowing this to happen?” they asked. “The pride I felt serving in President Biden’s administration has given way to deep shame. May God forgive us.”

Following the horrors of the al-Ahli Hospital explosion, the White House has again upped its expressions of concern for innocent Gazans, though it continues to saturate such expressions with over-the-top endorsements of the Israeli government’s view of the war. In Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Biden announced $100 million in humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza.

In the coming days, however, he is expected to push Congress to approve a major new foreign policy funding package that will reportedly include as much as $10 billion in assistance for Israel―100 times more than the aid amount just offered to Palestinian civilians. After some spending on U.S. border security, the rest of the money is slated to go to Ukraine.

As of Wednesday, at least 3,200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and 11,000 wounded. More than 1,200 others are missing and thought to be buried beneath the rubble of bombed-out apartments, shelters, and hospitals.

In Israel, more than 1,400 have been killed, most in the initial Hamas attacks of Oct. 7. As many as 200 are thought to still be held captive in Gaza.

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C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.