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State Department Has Seen Historic Amount of Internal Dissent Over Gaza

Even the Iraq War hadn’t prompted nearly this much internal dissent, former officials said.

Muslims gather to perform Eid al-Fitr prayer at al-Huda Mosque which was heavily damaged after Israeli attacks in Rafah, Gaza, on April 10, 2024.

The State Department is seeing a potentially historic amount of internal defection over the Biden administration’s policies on Gaza, with at least nine dissent memos and two high-profile resignations since October.

According to a report published this week by The Independent, over the course of just two months of Israel’s genocidal assault of Gaza, State Department staff sent at least eight dissent memos, with another confirmed by the publication sent last month.

Dissent memos are a way for State Department staff to express their dissatisfaction with an administration’s policy without fear of retaliation, and are taken seriously within the department, with memos being passed up to senior staff.

It’s rare for such memos to leak and for there to be such a high number of dissent memos over one topic, former staff have said, showing the wide gulf between President Joe Biden’s approach to the genocide and those within his administration. Further, because leaks are rare, it is possible that there have been far more dissent memos over Gaza that have not been uncovered by reporters.

Several sources cited by The Independent say that the nine dissent memos uncovered by the publication represent an unprecedented number in such a short period of time.

“To the best of my knowledge, it is the most on any issue in such a timespan,” said Josh Paul, a former top official overseeing weapons deals in the State Department who resigned in October after 11 years due to the administration’s support of Israel.

Another former top official, Charles Blaha, said that he hadn’t seen that much dissent in his three decades in the department. “I was in the state department for 32 years, including during the Iraq war, and I have never seen this much unhappiness,” Blaha said. “It is even worse than Iraq.”

The former head of the office that oversees the department’s dissent channel, Mitchell Reiss, said that he hadn’t seen a single dissent memo during the first three years of the Iraq War. But Reiss warned that, because the Independent hadn’t seen the content of the memos, they may not all be against Israel’s assault.

Dissent memos whose contents have been leaked, however, have shown that there is strong disagreement with Biden on his support of Israel. A five-page memo sent in November, reported on by Axios, said that Israel is committing “war crimes” and a “genocide” in Gaza and implored Biden to end his complicity and call for a ceasefire. This memo had 100 signatures by employees in the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Another November memo reported by Politico, with an unknown number of signatures, called for a ceasefire and more transparency from the administration around Israel’s brutality toward Palestinians.

Despite the large amount of dissent over Gaza from State Department staff — many of whom are able to access more information about Israel’s genocide than is known to the public — the White House has remained staunch in its support of Israel, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken has fallen in line in public, including with a friendly visit with Israeli officials last month.

Many former State Department officials and those familiar with the department’s structures say that Biden’s strong support for the genocide is, in fact, stifling the department’s ability to properly assess the assault and whether or not it is in line with U.S. and international law to continue sending military aid to Israel. Staff are largely powerless to change policy because of the administration’s stance, experts have said.

“Based on my conversations since October with people at the department, there is a real disconnect between the analysis and policy recommendations of state department personnel relating to Gaza and Israel-Palestine generally and decisions ultimately being made by the White House,” Brian Finucane, another former State Department employee, told The Independent. “The president is the ultimate decider on Gaza and he’s been largely immune to the facts of this disastrous conflict, at least with respect to actual U.S. policy as opposed to rhetoric.”

One official who resigned recently, foreign affairs officer Annelle Sheline, said that she did so because it became “impossible” to do any human rights advocacy due to Biden’s “steady stream of weapons to Israel.” She said she had tried to speak up through dissent memos, but they were ultimately ignored.

“It’s truly unconscionable that this administration portrays itself as so superior to the Trump administration, given his flagrant disregard for U.S. laws, but we have laws that are being broken,” Sheline said in an interview last month. “This administration is not following the law.”