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.”
This week, a divide emerged between the US and Israel over the future of Gaza after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested in an interview Israel would have responsibility for security in Gaza for an “indefinite period.” On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated US opposition to any “reoccupation” of the Gaza Strip but did allow that “there may be a need for some transition period at the end of the conflict.”
Still, the pushback did not appear to portend a larger break between the two allies. Even as the administration grapples with growing anger within its ranks, eruptions of public outrage and protests and mounting condemnation among its global allies, it shows little sign of publicly distancing itself from Netanyahu or expressing any kind of denunciation of Israel’s offensive in Gaza.
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. Elsewhere in the administration, officials are quietly fuming as the civilian death toll mounts.
An open letter signed by hundreds of US Agency for International Development staffers is urging the administration to call for a ceasefire, something the administration has so far rejected.
“For USAID efforts to be effective and for lives to be saved, we need an immediate ceasefire and cessation of hostilities,” the letter states. “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.”
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.”