Biden and US officials face growing calls for Gaza ceasefire from administration staff

Workers across federal agencies, in the White House and in Congress call on the president to act

Alex Woodward
Tuesday 14 November 2023 22:36 GMT
The Independent questions White House on Gaza evacuations

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Hundreds of government workers, members of President Joe Biden’s campaign and Democratic Party employees have pressed the administration to support a ceasefire in Gaza following the deaths of thousands of civilians under Israel’s ongoing bombardments.

More than 11,000 Palestinians, including 4,500 children, have been killed during Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in the wake of the 7 October attacks, according to Gaza’s health ministry. The US Department of State believes the death toll could be “even higher”.

The president has faced growing calls to support a ceasefire from more than 400 employees working within his administration as well as more than 500 people who helped him win the presidency in his 2020 campaign, joining a growing number of calls for a ceasefire from across the administration and in Congress directed at their powerful bosses.

One letter from more than 400 administration employees, including political appointees and White House staff, spans several cabinet-level agencies and the president’s office.

The letter, according to NBC News, calls on the president to “urgently demand a ceasefire” and “call for de-escalation of the current conflict by securing the immediate release of the Israeli hostages and arbitrarily detained Palestinians” as well as “the restoration of water, fuel, electricity and other basic services” and “the passage of adequate humanitarian aid to the Gaza strip.”

An open letter from more than 500 people from across the US who worked on Mr Biden’s 2020 campaign, including Democratic National Committee staff members, told the president that he wields “significant influence in this perilous moment” to support a ceasefire agreement.

“As you have said, silence in the face of human rights violations is tantamount to complicity,” they wrote. “With every passing day, we will continue to see more bloodshed, more war crimes, and more death. All people of conscience must call loudly and vociferously for a ceasefire now. As a person of conscience with enormous influence, you have a special responsibility to lead this call.”

The Independent has requested comment from the White House.

Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, left, watches Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson address a March for Israel rally where he said calls for a ceasefire in Gaza are ‘outrageous’
Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, left, watches Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson address a March for Israel rally where he said calls for a ceasefire in Gaza are ‘outrageous’ (EPA)

Another open letter from more than 1,000 officials with the US Agency for International Development, among the largest aid agencies in the world, authorised by Congress, have also signed an open letter urging Mr Biden’s support for a ceasefire.

Dozens of State Department employees signed internal memos to Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressing their sharp disagreement with the administration’s approach to Israel’s military campaign. Several internal cables have urged Mr Biden to call for a ceasefire, according to The New York Times.

One five-page memo signed by 100 State Department and USAID employees accuses Israel of committing “war crimes” in Gaza, while the Biden administartion’s support has made him “complicit in genocide”.

The State Department directed The Independent to comments from spokesperson Matthew Miller but added that the agency generally does not comment on internal communications.

“I’ll just reiterate that the Secretary wants to hear from those employees,” Mr Miller said on 13 November. “He wants to hear what their opinions are. I won’t comment on any dissent memos, but he has spoken in the past about how he welcomes the dissent channel, and thinks it’s a very valuable channel, and that he likes to get feedback through it. And he hopes that people will use it. “

A Palestinian man carries objects as he walks through debris on 14 November in the aftermath of an Israeli strike in Gaza
A Palestinian man carries objects as he walks through debris on 14 November in the aftermath of an Israeli strike in Gaza (REUTERS)

Hundreds of Democratic aides in Congress have also pressed their bosses to support a ceasefire and staged a walkout from the US Capitol last week.

“Most of our bosses on Capitol hill are not listening to the people they represent,” one staffer said from the Capitol steps in front of a banner reading “ceasefire now” last week. “We demand our leaders speak up, call for a ceasefire, a release of all hostages and an immediate de-escalation now.”

Roughly 66 per cent of voters want the US to call for a ceasefire and de-escalation of violence in Gaza – a figure that includes at least 80 per cent of Democratic voters, according to polling from progressive thinktank Data for Progress.

It’s unclear whether the administration or members of Congress will respond to those calls, which have reportedly caught Democratic officials off guard. “I’ve never seen such a disconnect between where voters and constituents are and where Congress is, and that’s saying something because there’s always a disconnect,” one aide told HuffPost.

The president and administration officials, as well as nearly every US Senator, appear unmoved. When asked what chances exist for a Gaza ceasefire, the president said “none. No possibility.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, moments before joining Democratic and Republican members of Congress at a March for Israel in Washington DC on Tuesday, told The Independent that the US should instead focus on efforts to “radically reduce” the presence of Hamas in Gaza, free hostages, and “minimize civilian casualties”.

Israeli soldiers pictured amid ongoing battles with Hamas
Israeli soldiers pictured amid ongoing battles with Hamas (AFP via Getty Images)

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, while speaking alongside Mr Schumer and Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries during the rally, called support for a ceasefire “outrageous”.

The White House has instead supported daily four-hour “pauses” in Israel’s bombardments in northern Gaza.

“When we talk ceasefire vs pause, there’s a difference. We don’t support a ceasefire. We think that benefits Hamas. We do support these humanitarian pauses that the Israeli military has put in place,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.

Mr Kirby, speaking to reporters during Israel’s siege of Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical complex in Gaza, added that “we don’t support attacks on hospitals.”

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