Palestinian-American Biden appointee resigns as administration faces growing dissent over Gaza

A senior Education Department official says he ‘cannot stay silent as this administration turns a blind eye’

Alex Woodward
Wednesday 03 January 2024 23:29 GMT
Kirby calls South Africa’s genocide accusations against Israel ‘meritless’

A senior member of the US Department of Education appointed by President Joe Biden has resigned from the administration for its support of Israel’s “continuous assault and ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians in Gaza.

“It should go without saying that all violence against innocent people is horrific. I mourn each and every loss, Israeli and Palestinian. But I cannot represent an administration that does not value all human life equally,” Tariq Habash wrote in a resignation letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Wednesday.

Mr Habash, the only Palestinian-American political appointee at the agency, served as special assistant to the Education Department’s Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development. He is the second Biden administration official to resign over US support for Israel’s retaliatory bombardments and ongoing siege in the wake of Hamas attacks on October 7.

His resignation follows a series of dissent memos from administration officials, political appointees, White House and Biden campaign staff, and congressional staff demanding US support for a ceasefire in the crisis, as the death toll grows to more than 21,000, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

“I cannot stay silent as this administration turns a blind eye to the atrocities committed against innocent Palestinian lives, in what leading human rights experts have called a genocidal campaign by the Israeli government,” Mr Habash wrote in a letter shared with The Independent.

He said he refuses to be “quietly complicit” while the Biden administration “fails to leverage its influence as Israel’s strongest ally” to stop Israel’s retaliatory bombardments and a siege that has cut Palestinians in Gaza from food, water, electricity, fuel and medical supplies.

“We wish him the best in his future endeavors,” a Department spokesperson told The Independent.

Last month, more than 800 Biden administration staff members renewed calls for the president’s urgent support for a ceasefire, the release of all hostages, and the immediate de-escalation of violence in Gaza.

A letter addressed to Mr Biden was supported by staff across 30 departments and agencies.

Dozens of employees at the US Department of State have also signed internal memos to Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticising the administration’s approach to Israel’s military campaign.

Josh Paul, whose viral resignation letter from the State Department in October warned against “blind support” for Israel’s military campaign, joined Biden administration staff outside the White House last month to read a statement on behalf of the Administration Staffers for Ceasefire coalition.

The statement urged the US to “move with urgency to save as many lives as possible”.

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, has urged Mr Biden’s support for a ceasefire.

Hundreds of Democratic aides in Congress have also pressed their bosses to support a ceasefire. More than 60 members of Congress, including at least three senators, have joined those calls.

Former State Department official Josh Paul, who resigned over US support for Israel’s ongoing attacks in Gaza, spoke during a demonstration in December alongside Biden administration staff calling for a ceasefire. (AFP via Getty Images)

“As a Palestinian-American man descending from generations of Palestinian-Christians, I experience each day the dehumanization and erasure of my identity by my peers, by the media, and by my own government,” Mr Habash wrote.

He continued: “My family lived through the Nakba in 1948, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were violently and forcibly expelled from their homes. My grandparents, aunts, and uncles walked over 35 miles, from Yaffa to Lydda to eventually Ramallah, just to survive. For 75 years, my relatives have never been allowed to return to their familial homes. Millions of Palestinians have faced decades of occupation, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid, and the Biden administration’s passive acceptance of this status quo is wholly out of line with democratic values.”

He condemned what he described as “unconditional military funding to a government that is uninterested in protecting innocent lives” following the deaths of thousands of children, as well as journalists, health workers and United Nations employees

“These deaths are unjust – they violate our moral obligation as stewards of our country’s tax dollars, they violate our obligation to abide by international humanitarian law, and they violate every level of human decency,” Mr Habash added.

He also urged the Education Department to play an “active role” in supporting Jewish, Muslim and Arab students and staff on college campuses, including protections for First Amendment activities “expressing solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza who have suffered tremendously in recent weeks and for years before the current ongoing violence.”

“Let me be clear: antisemitism, anti-Palestinian sentiment, and Islamophobia are all abhorrent,” he added. “But simply put, criticism of the Israeli government, and its violations of international humanitarian law, is not antisemitic. Claims that conflate criticism of Israel’s government with antisemitism only seek to silence dissent against a foreign government.”

Palestinians in Gaza on 3 January walk past a building destroyed in an Israeli airstrike. (AP)

South Africa has accused Israel of genocide in its formal complaint to the United Nations International Court of Justice.

Last week’s complaint at the World Court at The Hague alleges that the “acts and omissions by Israel” in Gaza “are genocidal in character” and have been committed with “the requisite specific intent” to “destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and [ethnic] group”

On Wednesday, US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby called the allegations “meritless” and “counterproductive and completely without any basis in fact whatsoever”.

On 22 December, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution pressing for the safe passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza after several days of US-led negotiations over language in the final draft.

The council stopped short of a resolution calling for an immediate cessation of violence and instead approved a watered-down measure that called for “creating the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities”.

The US and Russia ultimately abstained from voting for it.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in