Numerous employees of the State Department have expressed their serious disapproval of the Biden administration’s handling of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. According to anonymous U.S. officials, these concerns have been articulated through internal memos sent to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. The surge in internal dissent within the Biden administration reflects the ongoing Middle East crisis.
Utilizing a dissent channel that was established during the Vietnam War, at least three cables have been sent to President Biden via the State Department, urging him to call for a cease-fire in Gaza. These sensitive diplomatic cables, which have yet to be released to the public, were sent during the first week of the war and more recently. Two anonymous officials have confirmed the existence of these cables.
Following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, Israeli forces have been engaged in an aggressive campaign in Gaza for over a month. The death toll in Gaza has surpassed 11,000, as reported by the health ministry.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has opposed a cease-fire, arguing that it would only benefit Hamas. The Biden administration has offered support to this stance, instead advocating for “humanitarian pauses” from Israel, albeit with mixed results.
Axios, who first reported the most recent memo, revealed that it proposed Israel’s exchange of Palestinian prisoners for the more than 200 hostages abducted by Hamas in October. Additionally, at least one of these memos called on the administration to present a genuine long-term peace plan that would establish a Palestinian state, rather than merely paying lip service to the notion, as critics argue President Biden and Secretary Blinken have done.
Secretary Blinken has personally met with the signatories of at least one of the cables sent during the first week. Furthermore, one of his senior aides has met with the signers of another cable sent during that same period. Mr. Blinken has also conducted a listening session with employees of the Near East Affairs bureau, some of whom believe that U.S. policy has shown too much tolerance for the civilian casualties caused by Israel’s military in densely-populated Gaza.
In response to the internal dissent, Secretary Blinken sent a message to department employees, which was obtained by The New York Times. Expressing understanding of the personal toll the crisis has taken on many, he acknowledged that there are differing views within the department and that some may believe improvements are possible. He highlighted the State Department’s efforts to organize forums and encourage candid discussions to gather feedback and ideas that inform policy and messages.
While the State Department embraces different perspectives and welcomes fresh ideas, it is important for employees across the government to accept and implement policies set by senior officials, according to U.S. officials. This increasing dissent within the Biden administration comes as over a thousand employees of the U.S. Agency for International Development recently signed a letter demanding a cease-fire.
The dissent channel at the State Department has been in existence since 1971, providing a platform for officials to express criticisms and disagreements regarding various issues, such as the Vietnam War. Under State Department guidelines, dissenters are protected from retaliation.
In recent years, the channel has been used by employees to warn against the withdrawal from Afghanistan, advocate for airstrikes in Syria, and condemn the temporary ban on citizens from Muslim-majority countries entering the United States under the Trump administration.