WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Thursday Times) — A leaked memo from the United States Department of State reveals a pointed critique from State Department staff of the Biden administration’s response to Israel’s war on Gaza, showcasing criticism of Israel directly causing the extensive loss of Palestinian lives, including a large number of civilians and children, due to actions carried out by the IDF, characterising it as “unacceptable.” It contends that the American stance of tolerating such extensive civilian casualties undermines the commitment to a global order based on rules and principles that the U.S. has traditionally advocated for. The document calls for holding both Israel and Hamas accountable for their actions in the conflict.
A potential erosion of confidence in U.S. diplomatic strategy under President Joe Biden’s leadership can be felt throughout the contents of the memo, The Thursday Times has learnt. The document reflects the stance of numerous diplomats, particularly those at mid-level and junior positions, based on discussions with various department employees and supplementary reports. The internal discord, should it escalate, may complicate the administration’s policymaking for the Middle East.
The memo outlines two principal recommendations: for the U.S. to endorse a ceasefire and to equilibrate its private and public communications regarding Israel. It advocates for the U.S. to openly express criticism of Israeli military tactics and their treatment of Palestinians, practices the U.S. typically addresses behind closed doors.
According to the memo, the discrepancy in America’s diplomatic discourse contributes to the perception in the Middle East that the U.S. is partial and insincere, which potentially undermines or even damages U.S. interests globally.
The memo urges that the U.S. should openly reprimand Israel for violations of international standards, such as the failure to limit combat operations to legitimate military objectives. It contends that public censure is necessary when Israel condones settler violence, illegal territorial acquisition, or utilises excessive force against Palestinians, to ensure Israel does not act without accountability.
Marked as “sensitive but unclassified,” the exact number of signatories to the memo, or whether it has been submitted through the department’s Dissent Channel—a confidential avenue for voicing policy disagreements—is unknown.
These arguments provide insight into the perspectives of numerous State Department officials, who have long grappled with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The department, adhering to its policy, did not comment directly on the memo but pointed to previous statements by spokesperson Matthew Miller, who has acknowledged that Secretary of State Antony Blinken values and carefully considers such dissenting views.
Miller, in a press briefing, articulated the department’s openness to different opinions and encouragement of staff to voice their perspectives.
Currently, multiple dissent memos regarding the conflict are circulating within the State Department for signature collection. While the content of these memos, which may be classified or not, seldom becomes public, the Dissent Channel is an established system that permits staff to express policy discontent without retribution.
The memo in question was penned by two midlevel employees with Middle Eastern experience, disclosed an anonymous department source familiar with the document.
The memo recognises Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas, who were responsible for the deaths of approximately 1,400 Israelis in a devastating attack on October 7. However, it labels the subsequent Palestinian death toll, encompassing thousands, predominantly civilians and children, as a result of Israeli actions, as “unacceptable.” The document argues that the U.S.’s tolerance of the high civilian casualties casts doubt on the international rules-based order that the U.S. champions, insisting on accountability for both Israel and Hamas.
Despite the memo’s urgent tone, it is uncertain whether its appeals will resonate with President Biden or his senior advisors soon.
The Biden administration, including the President and Secretary Blinken, has so far declined to call for a ceasefire, supporting Israel’s objective to neutralise Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Israeli authorities maintain that, given Hamas’ integration among civilians, collateral damage is difficult to avoid, though they assert efforts to minimise civilian casualties.
Recently, the Biden administration’s public statements have placed greater emphasis on the protection of civilians and adherence to international law, yet have largely refrained from directly criticising Israeli actions in public forums.
Blinken has engaged in listening sessions with staff members dissatisfied with the U.S. policy direction in recent weeks, emphasising the value of acknowledging and considering internal departmental disagreements in a communication to staff.