Unrest Over US Stance in Israel-Hamas Conflict Spurs Rare Public Outcry from Federal Workers

by Madison Thomas
US-Israel-Hamas Conflict

A wave of open letters and public declarations from federal employees, ranging from the State Department to NASA, is urging President Joe Biden to seek an immediate cease-fire in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. In a remarkable departure from usual practice, congressional staff members are openly criticizing the perceived inaction of lawmakers, particularly highlighting the impact of the conflict on Palestinian civilians.

The escalating crisis in Gaza has led to an unprecedented level of internal pushback against the Biden administration and Congress for their support of Israel’s military actions. This dissent is manifesting in various forms, including public statements, media engagement, and vigils, all aimed at altering the United States’ approach and reducing the suffering of Palestinians.

A congressional staffer, addressing a crowd at a recent demonstration, criticized the detachment of lawmakers from public sentiment. Masked for health safety, these staffers also paid tribute to the conflict’s civilian casualties by laying flowers at Congress.

The growing voices of dissent among federal employees reflect broader societal changes in the U.S., including an increasingly diverse federal workforce with more Muslim and Arab representatives. Public opinion on the U.S.’s longstanding ally, Israel, is shifting, particularly in light of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right policies.

Recent distressing images from Gaza, showing wounded children and displaced families, have swayed American public opinion, including members of Biden’s own Democratic Party. A Big Big News and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll indicated that 40% of Americans believe Israel’s actions in Gaza are excessive. This sentiment has sparked protests and debates across the nation, including on college campuses.

So far, over 650 federal employees from more than 30 agencies, including the Executive Office of the President and the Department of Defense, have endorsed an open letter calling for a cease-fire. These employees represent a range of religious backgrounds.

An organizer of the multi-agency letter expressed disappointment in Biden’s stance on the conflict, feeling that federal staff’s concerns are being overlooked.

This letter not only criticizes Hamas’s October 7 incursion that resulted in around 1,200 Israeli deaths but also Israel’s military campaign, which, as per the Palestinian Health Ministry, has led to over 11,500 Palestinian deaths in Gaza. The letter demands a U.S.-led push for a cease-fire, the release of hostages held by Hamas, freedom for Palestinians allegedly unjustly detained by Israel, and broader support for Gaza’s civilians.

The anonymity of the protest organizers and participants underscores their fear of professional repercussions. This public dissent aims to balance raising concerns without jeopardizing careers.

While internal objections to government policies are not new, the public nature of these protests is. Some officials and staffers view this as a potential threat to governmental function and agency cohesion.

The State Department, traditionally, has allowed structured dissent to policy, a practice dating back to 1970. Over the years, the dissent channel has been used for various policy critiques. However, these dissent cables are classified and not publicly accessible.

Thomas Shannon, a retired senior State Department official, notes the importance of disciplined policy execution, despite personal disagreements.

Josh Paul, a State Department official, resigned in protest against the administration’s arms supply to Israel. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, acknowledging the internal dissent, assured staffers that their input shapes policy and messaging.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller welcomed the dissent, emphasizing the value of diverse opinions in policy-making.

In contrast to internal dissent channels, the publicly released multiagency open letter and another by over 1,000 USAID employees call for an immediate cease-fire. However, some USAID staffers expressed concern over the omission of Hamas’s civilian attacks in Israel and the unconventional public approach to these issues.

A USAID staff member found more comfort in an internal memorial organized for all civilian casualties, which brought together colleagues of various beliefs.

Frustration with the administration’s response to Muslim and Arab appointees’ concerns led to the public dissent, with staffers believing that silence or resignation would not bring change.

Report contributors include Big Big News writer Jamey Keaten from Geneva and AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about US-Israel-Hamas Conflict

What is the nature of the public protests by federal employees regarding the Israel-Hamas war?

Federal government workers, including those from the State Department and NASA, are openly protesting the US policy in the Israel-Hamas conflict. They are urging President Joe Biden to seek a cease-fire and address the impact of the conflict on Palestinian civilians. This includes circulating open letters, speaking out publicly, and holding vigils.

How are congressional staffers reacting to the US policy in the Israel-Hamas war?

Congressional staffers are voicing their dissent by speaking publicly, particularly in front of the Capitol, to condemn the silence of lawmakers on the toll of the conflict on Palestinian civilians. They are actively participating in protests and expressing their concerns about the US’s stance in the conflict.

What impact has the Israel-Hamas conflict had on public opinion in the US?

The conflict has significantly affected public opinion in the US, with images of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza swaying the views of many, including those in President Biden’s Democratic Party. A recent poll suggested that 40% of Americans believe Israel’s response in Gaza has been excessive. This shift in opinion is also evident in nationwide protests and debates, especially on college campuses.

What actions have federal employees taken to express their dissent?

Federal employees have endorsed open letters, spoken to reporters, and organized vigils to express their dissent and urge a shift in US policy. Over 650 staffers from various federal agencies have signed a letter calling for a cease-fire and better support for Gaza’s civilians.

What does the open letter endorsed by federal employees demand?

The open letter, endorsed by federal employees, condemns the violence from both sides, including Hamas’s incursion and Israel’s military campaign. It calls for the US to push for a cease-fire, the release of hostages held by Hamas, the freedom of Palestinians allegedly unjustly detained by Israel, and more robust action to support Gaza’s civilians.

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Mike Johnson November 19, 2023 - 11:27 pm

wow, didn’t realize how much this issue’s affecting people right inside the gov, it’s kinda surprising to see NASA and State Dept employees getting so vocal about this…

Johnathan S November 19, 2023 - 11:32 pm

It’s good to see employees standing up for what they believe in, but I’m worried this might cause more division than unity, especially in such a complex issue as the Israel-Hamas conflict

Sarah K. November 20, 2023 - 12:24 am

this is important stuff but the article feels a bit one-sided? like, what about the other perspective? not all black and white in these situations

Emily R November 20, 2023 - 4:06 am

Public opinion shifting is huge, that poll is really telling, 40% is a lot of people thinking Israel’s gone too far, things are changing, huh?

Dave B November 20, 2023 - 4:15 pm

Honestly, these protests could shake things up, but will it really change policy? Sometimes feels like these things get lost in the noise, hope it’s different this time.


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