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800 officials in the U.S. and Europe sign letter opposing approach to war in Gaza

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

U.S. government officials who oppose the Biden administration's policy in Gaza are now joining forces with colleagues in Europe. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on an open letter signed by more than 800 civil servants on both sides of the Atlantic.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Opponents of the U.S. approach have sent private letters, signed dissent cables and held vigils. Now they're taking it a step further with an open letter signed by civil servants in the U.S. and about a dozen countries in Europe. That's according to Josh Paul, the one State Department official who quit over U.S. policy on Gaza last year.

JOSH PAUL: And I think that sort of outreach across the ocean by civil servants who share a common set of values and a common set of concerns is truly unprecedented.

KELEMEN: The names weren't made public, but NPR has learned about 80 Americans signed it, and nearly half of them have served in government for over a decade. The letter says that Israel has shown no boundaries in its military operations in Gaza, calling the tens of thousands of civilian deaths preventable, and it says the ongoing military operations have not contributed to Israel's goal of freeing all the hostages held by Hamas since the October 7 attack.

The Biden administration says it's working on a new hostage deal and urging Israel to do more to protect civilians in Gaza, but Paul says U.S. policy is clearly not working, and those signing the letter say the U.S. should be withholding military aid and using all levers possible to press Israel to abide by international humanitarian law.

PAUL: Experts in, you know, their fields in civil service feel that they are being ignored or deliberately silenced by their own governments and feel they have an obligation, as civil servants, to the public and to the truth to do good to advance the interests of the nations that they serve.

KELEMEN: One of the signatories says the State Department treats the dissenters as if they just have emotional or personal problems with the war in Gaza. But this person, who has 25 years of experience in the federal government and who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, says the real concern is that the policy is hurting U.S. national security interests and weakening America's moral standing in the world.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading back to the Middle East this weekend. His spokesman, Matthew Miller, says the secretary has made a point of meeting with his critics.

MATTHEW MILLER: That doesn't mean, obviously, that we agree with every person that we meet with. It doesn't mean that we expect them to agree with everything that we say. Of course that's not true. But we find the give-and-take valuable. And yes, it very much does inform his thinking and informs the decisions that he makes.

KELEMEN: One official who attended a town hall with Blinken this week says they heard just more of the same talking points on Gaza. The secretary also met with Palestinian Americans, though the Institute for Middle East Understanding says more people turned down the invitation than showed up, calling it a box-checking exercise by an administration that could do more to end the, quote, "horror" in Gaza.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.