In a leaked memo obtained by Politico, lower- and mid-level diplomats at the US State Department have called on the Biden administration to condemn Israel’s bombing of civilians and demand a ceasefire in Gaza. The memo highlights the growing division within the department regarding the US-Israel relationship.
The memo specifically calls on Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other senior diplomats to publicly demand that Israel agree to a ceasefire and to align their public and private statements on the conflict. It argues that privately criticizing Israel but not doing so in public is detrimental to US interests and contributes to the perception that the United States is a biased and dishonest actor.
The memo goes on to state that the US must publicly criticize Israel’s violations of international norms and communicate that actions such as supporting settler violence and illegal land seizures or employing excessive force against Palestinians go against American values. The memo emphasizes the need to hold Israel accountable and prevent it from acting with impunity.
The leaked memo is not the only expression of dissent within the State Department. Several similar memos have been circulated since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, and Blinken recently met with a group of dissenting staffers. Additionally, the State Department’s arms-transfer chief resigned from his position in protest, criticizing the rush to arm Israel as shortsighted, destructive, unjust, and contradictory to the values the US publicly espouses.
While Blinken has criticized incidents of violence against Palestinians by Jewish settlers, he has been more vague in his statements regarding the mounting civilian death toll in Gaza. He has stated that the US has engaged with Israel on steps to minimize civilian casualties but has not explicitly called for a ceasefire.
This reluctance to call for a ceasefire aligns with a State Department email sent at the beginning of the conflict, which urged diplomats and communications staffers to avoid phrases such as “restoring calm,” “end to violence/bloodshed,” or “de-escalation/ceasefire.” Instead, they were instructed to emphasize Israel’s right to self-defense.
Despite an overwhelming vote in favor of a ceasefire at the UN General Assembly, Blinken has rejected calls for a halt to the Israeli operation, citing concerns that it would give Hamas time to regroup and launch further attacks.
The leaked memo and the dissent within the State Department highlight the ongoing debate over US policy towards Israel and demonstrate the complexities and divisions within the Biden administration on this issue. As the conflict continues and the civilian death toll rises, pressure is mounting for the US to take a stronger stance in condemning Israel’s actions and advocating for a ceasefire.