Former U.S. State Department Officials Speak of Disappointment With Government

Two former U.S. State Department officials who resigned in protest against the policy of the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden toward Israel’s military operation in the Palestinian territory of Gaza recently spoke about their decisions in interviews with The Yomiuri Shimbun. They described their sense of powerlessness in failing to stop the killing of civilians through their efforts from within the U.S. government and their disappointment in the U.S. administration’s refusal to change its pro-Israel position.

The following material is excerpted from the interviews.

Hala Rharrit

Former Arabic-language spokesperson for the U.S. State Department

The Yomiuri Shimbun: Can you explain why you resigned from your position?

Rharrit: As an Arabic-language spokesperson, I was monitoring pan-Arab media, and I could see the rise of anti-Americanism even more so than I have ever seen in my career … even the people that love and admired America … started to lose complete faith and respect in the United States.

After Oct. 7, that became very precarious and volatile, because the situation became so emotional, with all of the images coming out of Gaza.

Our talking points were, from my perspective, counterproductive because they were so focused on Israel having a right to defend itself.

My job was supposed to be to go on Arab media and deliver those talking points. And I did not do that. And I told the State Department I will not do that. Not because I don’t personally agree with the policy. It has nothing to do with my personal beliefs. It’s what’s happening when those statements are being read out on Arab media and on Arab social media.

It obviously put me in a very difficult situation professionally … it was honestly an intensely frustrating experience for me as a diplomat for 18 years. I’ve never felt in my entire career that I can’t, you know, have a conversation and try to make the situation better.

We’ve had so many difficult policies, especially in this part of the world, but as a State Department, we were always able to discuss what’s working, what’s not working, how can we be more strategic … but the conversation for this particular policy was so muted, and people were so scared to talk, that it also just became impossible to continue under those circumstances.

There are a lot of people within the department that are very frustrated.

Many of them reached out to me and said: “Oh my goodness, we’ve been feeling the exact same way. We’re so frustrated. We wish we could resign but we can’t.”

Yomiuri: How do you evaluate the Biden administration’s Gaza policies?

Rharrit: This policy that the president has been pursuing in Gaza has been a militaristic one. And it has been driven strictly by the idea that you must defeat an enemy through strictly militaristic means, at all costs, at all costs.

Not only is it devastating the civilian population of Gaza but it is also not succeeding in helping Israelis becoming any safer.

I’m at least trying to help Washington understand how much this messaging and this policy is being rejected, to the point that we’re seeing massive anti-Americanism. And we also had data and we had polls, we had some internal data and some internal polls showing American favorability before Oct. 7, and then during the conflict, and then as the days proceeded, it just plummeted.

I documented this at the department in daily reports where you know, America was being called a child killer. We were being called the devil; there were all these memes going around.

But nothing was changing.

I felt like I could no longer be part of the system that refuses to shift even after all of this destruction. So then I decided to submit my resignation.

More bombing is not going to get us there. Diplomacy will.

Josh Paul

Former director of the U.S. State Department’s Political-Military Affairs Bureau

Yomiuri: Why did you resign from your previous position?

Paul: I was responsible for security systems and arms transfers. It was part of my day-to-day job to be one of the people approving major arms transfers to countries around the world, including Japan. But also of course, in this context, Israel. I resigned in mid-October because … I was being asked to approve major arms transfers that I felt were leading to immense human suffering, to significant civilian casualties. By the time I resigned, there had been over 3,700 people killed in Gaza, mostly by U.S. weapons … I felt that this is not something I could be a part of.

We were receiving multiple requests from the government of Israel to expedite arms transfers and we were receiving direction from senior levels of the U.S. government both in the State Department and the White House, to move forward on those requests as quickly as possible.

The Biden administration issued in February of 2023 something called the conventional arms transfer policy … It says the transfer of arms shall not be authorized when it is more likely than not that those arms will be used to commit certain types of human rights violations including violations of international law and harm to children. But the State Department was not applying its own policy. It was not withholding any of these arms.

Yomiuri: Did you try to change that response within the government?

Paul: Soon after Oct. 7, I wrote an email to senior officials … to say that I think we need to pause and think about what we are doing because it clearly was not working … I’m aware of about two dozen [people who resigned from government posts] in the last month.

What we have seen, I think, is a systematic set of violations of international law, a systematic disregard for civilian lives in Gaza … And so the time for change, I would say to President Biden, is now … I voted for President Biden four years ago. I think it is up to him if he wants my vote this time around what he does in the next six months.

— The interviews were conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers Keita Ikeda and Riley Martinez.