Over 800 officials in the US and Europe sign a letter of protest against Israeli policies

More than 800 officials in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union announced a public letter of disagreement on Friday against their governments’ support for Israel in its war in Gaza.

The letter is the first instance of officials in allied nations coming together across the Atlantic to openly criticize their governments over the war, current and former officials organizing or supporting the effort say.

Officials say it is their duty as civil servants to help improve policy and work in the interests of their nations, and to speak out because they believe their governments must change the course of the war. The signatories say they raised their concerns through internal channels but were ignored.

“The current policies of our governments weaken their moral standing and undermine their ability to stand up for freedom, justice and human rights globally,” the letter said, according to a copy obtained by The New York Times on Thursday. It added that “there is a convincing risk that the policies of our governments contribute to serious violations of international humanitarian law, war crimes, and even ethnic cleansing or genocide.”

Israel’s military launched a bombing and ground campaign in Gaza after Hamas fighters attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and abducting about 240, Israeli officials said. More than 27,000 people in Gaza have been killed and nearly 2 million displaced since the start of the Israeli offensive, according to Gaza’s health ministry and United Nations officials.

The document does not include the names of the signatories because they fear retaliation, said one organizer, an official who has worked at the State Department for more than two decades. But about 800 current officials approved the letter as it quietly circulated among national-level employees in multiple countries, the official said.

The effort reveals the extent to which the pro-Israel policies of American, British and European leaders have caused dissent among civil servants, including many who carry out their governments’ foreign policy.

About 80 signatories are from US agencies, and the largest group is from the State Department, said one organizer. The most represented authority among the signatories are the collective institutions of the European Union, followed by the Netherlands and the United States.

National-level officials from eight other NATO member states, as well as Sweden and Switzerland, approved the letter, said another person familiar with the letter. Most of these supporters work in the foreign ministries of those nations.

“The political decision-making of Western governments and institutions” on the war “created unprecedented tensions with the expertise and duties that apolitical civil servants carry,” said Josh Paul, who worked in the State Department’s bureau that oversees arms transfers but has since resigned. in October over the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s military campaign. Mr Paul said he knew the organizers of the letter.

“One-sided support for Israeli atrocities in Gaza and blindness to Palestinian humanity is both a moral failure and, because of the damage it does to Western interests around the world, a policy failure,” he said.

US officials released several similar letters and messages opposing the opinion last fall. In November, more than 500 employees of about 40 US government agencies sent a letter to President Biden criticizing his policy towards the war. Officials also did not reveal their names in that letter.

More than 1,000 employees at the US Agency for International Development published an open letter in the same vein. Dozens of State Department officials sent at least three internal cables of disagreement to Secretary of State Antonio J. Blinken.

Across the Atlantic, dissent among European officials has also erupted in the months since Israel’s military response in Gaza following the October 7 attack.

In the European Union, which maintains a joint diplomatic corps known as the European External Action Service as well as agencies dealing with humanitarian aid and development, hundreds of officials signed at least two separate letters of disagreement to the bloc’s leadership. Unlike the United States, the EU does not maintain “dissent channels” for officials to officially register their disagreement with policies.

The 27 EU countries and their joint institutions have taken different positions on the war, but most governments are largely pro-Israel.

Only a few EU countries – notably Ireland, Spain and Belgium – have have consistently called on their partners and the EU to moderate support for Israel, advocate for a ceasefire and focus on the suffering of the people of Gaza.

Berber van der Woude, a former Dutch diplomat, said she wanted to speak on behalf of active civil servants who signed the letter anonymously because they fear reprisals for dissent.

Ms van der Woude, a conflict and peacebuilding expert who served at the Dutch foreign ministry, including its mission in Ramallah, West Bank, resigned in 2022 in protest at her government’s policies. Since then, she has been a prominent pro-Palestinian voice in the Netherlands.

Ms van der Woude said dissent in situations like the Israel-Hamas conflict, even among civil servants who tend to work behind the scenes and take political direction from elected governments, is justified if the policies being adopted are seen as harmful.

“Being a civil servant doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to keep thinking,” she said. “When the system produces perverse decisions or actions, we have a responsibility to stop it. It’s not as simple as ‘shut up and do as you’re told’; we are also paid to think.”

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