A revolt is brewing within the Biden administration over how the White House is handling the Israel-Gaza war, as the civilian death toll and mass Palestinian displacement soars, and as Biden's top officials continue to say "no conditions" have been placed on how Israel uses US-supplied weapons. Pressure from the press pool is also piling on, with near daily spats and antagonistic back-and-forth exchanges on display in the State Department and White House briefing rooms.
This week there have emerged reports of scathing 'dissent memos' criticizing White House Israel policy being circulated, collecting many hundreds of signatures chiefly from among State Department and USAID staff. A primary theme of the pushback and pressure is that President Biden must change course on the Gaza crisis.
First, on Monday Politico obtained and published portions of a memo issued by State Department personnel giving a blistering critique which according to the publication argued that "among other things, the U.S. should be willing to publicly criticize the Israelis."
It was issued after the Biden's Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, repeatedly made clear that the US does not back a ceasefire, but is only sheepishly calling for brief humanitarian 'pauses'. Politico points out the memo represents a "growing loss of confidence" among Biden's corps of diplomats:
The message suggests a growing loss of confidence among U.S. diplomats in President Joe Biden’s approach to the Middle East crisis. It reflects the sentiments of many U.S. diplomats, especially at mid-level and lower ranks, according to conversations with several department staffers as well as other reports. If such internal disagreements intensify, it could make it harder for the Biden administration to craft policy toward the region.
The memo has two key requests: that the U.S. support a ceasefire, and that it balance its private and public messaging toward Israel, including airing criticisms of Israeli military tactics and treatment of Palestinians that the U.S. generally prefers to keep private.
The memo, marked "sensitive but unclassified' was sure to leak, and that was likely the point. It bluntly underscores that Biden's policy is hurting America's standing in the world as much of global opinion has been appalled at the Gaza death toll which this week surpassed 10,500.
The memo sates that the gap between Biden officials' private and public messaging "contributes to regional public perceptions that the United States is a biased and dishonest actor, which at best does not advance, and at worst harms, U.S. interests worldwide."
"We must publicly criticize Israel’s violations of international norms such as failure to limit offensive operations to legitimate military targets," the dissent memo continues. "When Israel supports settler violence and illegal land seizures or employs excessive use of force against Palestinians, we must communicate publicly that this goes against our American values so that Israel does not act with impunity."
When the administration has lost CNN...
Israeli settler violence in the occupied West Bank is getting worse by the day. The UN says the number of attacks has risen sharply since 7th October. Many Palestinian villagers are now fleeing their homes for good as a result of threats against their land, and their lives… pic.twitter.com/VmKNlLZl3b— Nada Bashir (@nadaabashir) November 5, 2023
Next, hundreds of staffers at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have issued a letter calling for an "immediate ceasefire" while also criticizing the White House's failure to hold Israel accountable in any way for "numerous violations of international law" and the huge numbers of Gaza civilian casualties, especially among women and children.
The USAID staffers are also outraged that the US last month vetoed a UN Security Council resolution which sought a pause in fighting in order to allow humanitarian aid to get through to the Gaza Strip. The USAID dissent memo, which also went public by the middle of this week, includes the following:
"We believe that further catastrophic loss of human life can only be avoided if the United States Government calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the release of Israeli hostages, and the restoration of water, food, fuel, and electricity to the people of Gaza by the State of Israel," it reads.
"In the longer term, we call on the United States Government to join the international community and human rights organizations in holding all parties, including the State of Israel, to international law, which includes ending Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and settlements on occupied land."
Publicly, President Biden is coming under most pressure from a tiny handful of outspoken Progressive Democrats in Congress (the Squad), but the more significant pushback appears to be coming from within his own administration. Increasingly, bold public statements from Israeli leaders themselves have introduced huge, obvious contradictions between the White House's rhetoric and that of Netanyahu's government, which is much more open about its intent in Gaza...
WATCH: State Dept claims they aren't pressuring Abbas against invoking the Genocide Convention at the World Court to stop Israel's assault.— Sam Husseini (@samhusseini) November 7, 2023
I put them on notice regarding their own complicity under the Convention.
(h/t @decensorednews) pic.twitter.com/nDGwDoPOEq
On Thursday, CNN issued a new investigative report quoting senior White House staffers as saying they increasingly "cannot stomach" defending Biden's policy anymore. The report also describes "great moral anxiety" - in the words of one unnamed senior admin official, who is quoted in the following:
Angst, unease and outrage are spreading through corners of the Biden administration as Israeli forces show no signs of letting up their relentless attacks inside Gaza and the civilian death toll in the besieged enclave – already in the thousands – continues to climb.
One month into the Israel-Hamas war, some senior officials privately say there are aspects of Israel’s military operations they simply cannot stomach defending; calls for the US to back a ceasefire are growing among government employees; and others are distraught by the incessant images of Palestinian civilians being killed by Israeli airstrikes, multiple sources told CNN.
“It has created great moral anxiety,” said one senior administration official. “But no one can say it because we all work at the pleasure of the president and he’s all in.”
More high level resignations could come as a result, which will certainly only increase the pressure on Biden's team while headed into an election year, already has his poll numbers are at record lows.
CNN notes that a full-on revolt is underway in the State Department: "Some of the fiercest backlash has come from inside the State Department, including an official who publicly resigned from the agency last month over the Biden’s administration’s approach to the conflict," the report says. "Elsewhere in the administration, officials are quietly fuming as the civilian death toll mounts."
The Democratic base too, could increasingly shift to become more sympathetic to the unrelenting denunciations issued by the Squad. Progressives and protesters are calling Biden "genocide Joe" - as CNN describes further:
Reminders of emotions running high have not been hard to come by. The president was confronted by a protester calling for a ceasefire at a private fundraiser last week; pro-Palestinian protests have been a daily occurrence near the White House compound; and this week, one of the entrances near the West Wing was covered in bright-red handprints – meant to mimic blood – and words like “genocide Joe.”
Protesters at yesterday's DC March presented a 100-foot-long paper with the names of Palestinian children killed by Israel since October 7th. pic.twitter.com/4qmiedGws2— In Context (@incontextmedia) November 6, 2023
The internal administration dissent is becoming so visible that White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby was forced to address it in a press briefing on Tuesday. He sought, and failed, to calm anxiety by saying, "the president understands that there’s strong emotions and feelings here, all around, all across the board – and here inside the administration and the federal government, that’s certainly the case as well."
These tensions are likely only to grow given there are no signs Israel's military is ready to exercise any restraint, given Israeli leadership likely perceives that Washington has given it a 'blank check' (akin to Ukraine). Already Israel receives at least $3.8 billion in military aid annually, and Biden is now seeking some $14 billion more in assistance this year.