Biden is ‘increasingly Trumpian’ on Gaza and ‘dealing in alternative facts’, says State Dept official who resigned over war

Former official Annelle Sheline resigned from the State Department over the Biden administration’s unconditional support for Israel’s war in Gaza

Richard Hall
Senior US correspondent
Wednesday 10 April 2024 18:44 BST
Biden calls Netanyahu’s approach to Gaza war a ‘mistake’

President Joe Biden has become “increasingly Trumpian” in his rhetoric over Israel’s war in Gaza, dealing in “alternative facts” to justify US support for the longtime ally, according to a former State Department official who resigned over the war.

Annelle Sheline, who worked in the State Department for one year before leaving last month, said Mr Biden’s refusal to use his leverage to pressure Israel to prevent more bloodshed in Gaza was part of the reason she resigned.

“This policy decision is making him seem increasingly Trumpian — the disregard for reality, offering alternative facts,” she told The Independent.

“They’re just going to keep pretending that people can’t see with their own eyes what’s coming out of Gaza — what Israeli soldiers themselves are posting, the horrific crimes that they’re committing.”

Dr Sheline cited the Biden administration’s claims that it had not found any examples of Israel breaking international humanitarian law, and its refusal to accept the International Criminal Court’s findings that it was plausible that Israel is committing genocide as examples of the president’s “disregard for reality.”

“Part of why I voted for Joe Biden that he was he seemed like a decent guy. He wasn’t someone like Trump, who was just out for his own self-interest,” she said. “Now, after six months of essentially unconditional support, it’s becoming really hard to continue to see him as somebody who is compassionate.”

“He must know what’s happening to people in Gaza, and yet the policy doesn’t change,” she added.

Asked to respond to Ms Sheline’s comments, a White House spokesperson told The Independent that Mr Biden had “many times ... advocated for more aid to get in for civilians in Gaza” and stressed “the need for Israel to do more to ensure innocent civilians are protected.”

Mr Biden has nonetheless received sharp criticism for his multiple public missteps throughout the conflict, including spreading incorrect facts and questionable judgement.

Dr Annelle Sheline resigned from the State Department last month over the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza.
Dr Annelle Sheline resigned from the State Department last month over the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza. (Provided )

In the early days of the war, the president questioned the rapidly increasing death toll among Palestinians, declaring he had “no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using” to count their dead. That led to pushback from the United Nations and multiple aid agencies, who said the numbers were reliable.

Mr Biden also told the world that he had seen pictures of “terrorists beheading children,” a claim that was later corrected by the White House.

The president later said it was “fact” that Hamas had “their headquarters, their military hidden under a hospital,” referring to Israeli claims that Hamas had built a vast network of tunnels under al-Shifa hospital, which it was then attacking — a claim that was belied by the evidence. 

Dr Sheline’s comments come amid reports of almost unprecedented opposition to US policy on Gaza and Israel within the State Department.

The Independent reported this week that eight dissent memos — a formal process by which staff can express concerns internally about a policy — were sent by staff in the first two months of the war, with a ninth dissent memo sent just last month.

That number is significantly more than the single dissent memo that was sent in the first three years of the Iraq War, widely considered to be one of America’s biggest foreign policy disasters.

Several former State Department officials interviewed by The Independent have spoken out against Mr Biden’s unconditional support for Israel, claiming that his politics was hampering investigations into whether Israel was breaking international humanitarian law.

The White House has repeatedly denied that Israel is committing war crimes. On Wednesday, just one day after the killing of seven international aid workers with the World Central Kitchen, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby tersely rejected the notion that the US should reconsider sending weapons to Israel.

Parachutes drop supplies into the northern Gaza Strip as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, April 9, 2024.
Parachutes drop supplies into the northern Gaza Strip as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (Associated Press)

“The State Department continues to review incidents as they arise,” he said, emphasising that “they haven’t found an incident yet that has pointed to a violation of international humanitarian law.”

Dr Sheline echoed other former State Department officials who said the Biden administration was ignoring existing laws regarding US weapons sales because of its commitment to providing support to Israel.

“This is another aspect that makes it difficult to distinguish him from Trump, in disregarding the law,” she said. “Biden is not necessarily doing this in his own self interest, but still, he’s disregarding the law.”

Israel has repeatedly said it has imposed no limits on aid entering Gaza and denied breaking international humanitarian law.

Dr Sheline described Mr Biden’s warning to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the US would reconsider its policy in Gaza if Israel did not increase the amount of aid going in as “too little, too late.”

“I find it very frustrating because there have been those who have said that the US didn’t have that much leverage, which I knew wasn’t true,” she said. “But just one phone call and suddenly Israel says they’re going to open the Erez crossing and they’re going to allow aid through.

“Some are saying there has been a shift in US policy, but that is not the case for people on the ground in Gaza. People are still being killed. Clearly, he needs to use a lot more of this leverage,” she added.

Netanyahu and Biden have been long-term allies
Netanyahu and Biden have been long-term allies (AFP via Getty Images)

Israel launched its offensive in Gaza following a devastating surprise attack by Hamas on 7 October that killed 1,200 people. More than 200 people from Israel were taken hostage.

Since then, Israel’s war has killed more than 33,000 people, according to the Palestinian health ministry — some 13,000 of them children. The United Nations and multiple aid organisations working on the ground have warned that Gaza is on the brink of a major famine, and have blamed Israel for blocking the delivery of aid into the strip.

Israel provoked international outrage last week for an attack on an aid convoy that killed seven aid workers belonging to World Central Kitchen. That brought the number of aid workers killed by Israel’s offensive to more than 220, according to Oxfam.

The killing of the aid workers, including an American citizen, by three precision Israeli airstrikes, caused an uproar around the world and brought a renewed spotlight on Mr Biden’s insistence on continuing arms deliveries.

On the same day of the deadly strike, the Biden administration approved the transfer of thousands more bombs to Israel, and is currently weighing an $18bn sale that includes fighter jets and other equipment.

Despite the internal opposition in the State Department, there have only been two public resignations linked to the war. Dr Sheline left her post at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor’s Office of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department in March and spoke out publicly against the war after being encouraged to do so by her colleagues. She described the level of opposition in the State Department as “unprecedented.”

Ms Sheline said her infant daughter was one of the main reasons she resigned. She remembered learning about the Rwandan genocide at school, and wondering what her daughter would later learn about this war.

“As she learns about this in school, I can only imagine how, looking back at this policy, we’ll just see how unconscionable it was,” she said. “And how did people allow this to continue for months and months, even when we were all watching it on our phones?”

“I just wanted to be able to tell her that I did not stay silent.”

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