State Department official resigns over Biden’s approach to Gaza crisis: ‘Failure of American politics’

Josh Paul leaves the agency after more than a decade overseeing US arms transfers

Alex Woodward
Thursday 19 October 2023 20:06 BST
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Josh Paul worked with the US Department of State for more than a decade. On 18 October, his viral resignation letter warned that “blind support” for Israel’s military actions has informed “short-sighted, destructive, unjust and contradictory” decisions that conflict with “the very values we publicly espouse.”

His resignation follows President Joe Biden’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to affirm US support for Israel in the wake of Hamas attacks, a visit marked by widespread protests against the administration at home and abroad during a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Mr Paul, who worked under the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs for more than 11 years, most recently as a director of congressional and public affairs, told The Independent that such open-ended agreements fail to serve US interests and only breed more suffering.

“I think it is a deeply tragic moment, and not only in the present, but I think it also has almost certainly postponed the chances of a lasting, just solution to the conflict for at least a generation, another generation,” Mr Paul told The Independent on 19 October.

“I’m just struck by the sheer horror of the whole situation, and recognise that I think doing the same again and again doesn’t move the needle, and again just postpones the chances of peace,” he said. “I hope that people see that that is a position that is not taking sides. It is one that is ultimately, I think, in the real interests of all the people, including Israeli people, who I think more than anything else deserves peace.”

On 18 October, President Biden pledged to deliver $100m in humanitarian relief in Gaza. The following day, Israel’s defence minister promised a ground invasion of Gaza, instructing troops to prepare to see the occupied territory “from the inside.” More than 3,500 Palestinians have been killed since Israel’s strikes began in the wake of a Hamas assault that killed 1,400 Israelis, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Following his resignation, first reported by HuffPost, Mr Paul said he has been overwhelmed with messages of support and encouragement, including from his now-former colleagues from across the State Department and the US Department of Defense.

But concerns raised by his State Department colleagues as the US commits a flow of arms and ammunition to Israel amid its ongoing siege “have basically just been ignored, for the most part, with a couple of minor exceptions,” Mr Paul told The Independent.

He described the subversion of what typically was an interagency review process and debate about arms transfers into one directed from the top-down at senior levels.

“It’s very much ‘this is what we are doing, and this is not for questioning, and let’s go ahead and do it.’ Which is unusual, because it’s not like we don’t handle, unfortunately, controversial sensitive arms transfers all the time,” he added. “And there is almost always room for debate, and often very lengthy debate, but that has not been the case in this instance.”

Before and after his departure, his colleagues have felt “dirty” or “deeply uncomfortable” with the administration’s response, he said.

“My impression is that essentially, [Israel’s] government said, ‘OK, this is how we’re reacting,’ and the response from the US was, ‘What do you need?’ rather than ‘Are you sure?’ and ‘How is that going to help in the long term?’” he told The Independent.

The Independent has requested comment from the State Department.

Protesters attend a rally against Israeli military operations in Gaza in Washington, DC on 18 October.
Protesters attend a rally against Israeli military operations in Gaza in Washington, DC on 18 October. (AFP via Getty Images)

His resignation also arrives during a familiar social and political firestorm in which demands for peace, a ceasefire or at least the absence of war are treated as divisive, heretical or antisemitic.

“Support for Israel is bipartisan,” he said, “but I think it is a failure of American politics to recognise that sometimes by being a friend and completely blind to the circumstances, you can do more harm than good.”

In his letter, Mr Paul addressed the moral compromises required of the role, one in which he said he was able to make “many differences” on administration decisions and policy surrounding arm sales and with countries accused of human rights abuses.

“When I came to this bureau ... I knew it was not without its moral complexity and moral compromises, and I made myself a promise that I would stay for as long as I felt … the harm I might do could be outweighed by the good I could do,” he wrote. “In my 11 years I have made more moral compromises than I can recall, each heavily, but each with my promise to myself in mind, and intact. I am leaving today because I believe that in our current course with regards to the continued – indeed, expanded and expedited – provision of lethal arms to Israel – I have reached the end of that bargain.”

In his closing paragraphs, he wished for the “continued success, strength and courage” of his colleagues, and for “all of us, peace.”

“I can’t speak for my colleagues – everyone has to make a decision based on their own personal circumstances, and so I defer to them and have confidence in them to make that decision,” he told The Independent.

“What I would say is that, in my experience in government, there’s a saying of, ‘Is that really the hill you want to die on?’ And my experience with government is that if you’re prepared to die on a hill, or on many hills, you’d be surprised how few people actually try to push you off,” he said.

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