Biden administration staff sign open letter demanding ceasefire in Israel-Hamas war

More than 400 employees of President Joe Biden’s administration have signed an open letter demanding he pursue a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war that has killed thousands of civilians thus far.

“We represent a coalition of Biden-Harris Administration political appointees and civil servants, positioned across the domestic and foreign policy spheres, working in federal agencies, departments, independent agencies, and the White House,” the letter, released Tuesday, begins.

“We call on President Biden to urgently demand a ceasefire; and to call for de-escalation of the current conflict by securing the immediate release of the Israeli hostages and arbitrarily detained Palestinians; the restoration of water, fuel, electricity and other basic services; and the passage of adequate humanitarian aid to the Gaza strip,” it continued.

The letter says the signatories represent various backgrounds and faiths and work in more than 30 departments and agencies.

The White House did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment.

Two administration staff members who led outreach efforts for the letter told NBC News that since the letter was first circulated about two weeks ago, it has gained the signatures of senior as well as low-level administration employees working across the federal government and in multiple countries. They include staff in the departments of Commerce, Defense, Interior, Homeland Security and the Executive Office of the President, among other agencies.

The staff members, who are political appointees, asked to remain anonymous out of concern about retaliation for speaking out against the administration’s position. They said those who signed the letter also remained anonymous out of concern for their job security and personal safety.

The letter is the latest addition to growing calls on the Biden administration to demand a ceasefire and reassess its handling of Israel’s war with Hamas.

Every day, you’re going in to work for this administration, then you’re going to look at your phone, you’re going to see the suffering that you kind of feel like you’re causing … a lot of people are no longer comfortable being silent, no longer comfortable being complacent in a way.”

Administration staff member

Since the war began after Hamas’ brutal attack on Israel on Oct. 7, several efforts have launched from within the government to push for the de-escalation of the conflict, including letters from hundreds of Biden’s former 2020 campaign staff and Muslim and Jewish congressional employees. The congressional staff urged Congress to support a ceasefire in light of “antisemitism, anti-Muslim, and anti-Palestinian sentiment on the rise nationwide.”  

“It’s unfortunate that we’re at this point,” one of the Biden administration staff members told NBC News. “Having hundreds and thousands of people come together within this administration and within Congress and say we are calling for a ceasefire, something that’s so basic to just end human suffering.”

The two are among what they said are many signatories with family and friends in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel.

“Our loved ones are in imminent danger and every single day, waking up and not knowing what’s going to happen is absolute hell,” one staffer told NBC News. The dissonance “of going to work every day and feeling like you are a part of something that is actively harming people you love was expressed by so many people involved in this.”

The staffers told NBC that based on what they’ve experienced personally and heard from colleagues in the White House and across several government agencies, they believe there is a lack of direction of how staffers are supposed to talk about Israel’s war with Hamas.

“Some agencies have had specific meetings about this … and in some places it has been completely taboo to even talk about this,” one said. “I’ve heard it expressed among staffers of all levels that they feel a lack of guidance for how to talk about this, how to manage people suffering because of this.”

“A lot of people feel quite alone and frustrated,” the staffer added.

Both described a disconnect between what is coming out of the senior levels of the administration and what they and their colleagues are feeling. 

“A lot of us are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president, a lot of us came from his campaign,” one staffer said. “So there’s this uneasy feeling of not agreeing with what we’re working on.”

More than 50 employees of the Democratic National Committee, which handles much of Biden’s campaign fundraising efforts, anonymously signed an open letter this month urging their leadership to demand that Biden seek a ceasefire as the war between Israel and Hamas rages on.

Amid internal and external criticism over Biden’s response to the war, the administration has ramped up outreach to Arab, Palestinian, and Muslim Americans in hopes of explaining its approach to the conflict, as some aides worried Biden hadn’t shown enough empathy for Palestinian civilians and a Muslim community facing anger at home. 

“Efforts to rebuild communities before calling for a ceasefire are going to fall on deaf ears because until that’s being called, nothing will be seen as genuine. There’s no way to escape this conversation,” one of the administration staffers who led their letter’s outreach efforts told NBC. “Every day, you’re going in to work for this administration, then you’re going to look at your phone, you’re going to see the suffering that you kind of feel like you’re causing … a lot of people are no longer comfortable being silent, no longer comfortable being complacent in a way.”

One Biden administration staffer told NBC News that they and some administration colleagues they’ve spoken with have considered resigning because of the administration’s handling of the war up to this point. A veteran State Department official, Josh Paul, resigned last month, citing what he called the U.S.’s “blind support” for Israel in its war with Hamas war and its continued “provision of lethal arms to Israel.”

“These are people who really want to serve the public, including people who want to serve the president,” the staffer said. “But it’s going to push people to a breaking point if this continues.” 

“There’s been a lot of damage done within the public service community, and I’m not sure how we are going to repair that,” the second staffer said. “The U.S. government has an immense amount of power to change the status quo on the ground and the refusal to acknowledge that feels like a betrayal.”

Both told NBC News they would be watching on Wednesday to see whether Biden acknowledges the “March for Israel,” a pro-Israel rally expected to draw tens of thousands of people to Washington, D.C. 

On Nov. 4, thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters marched from Washington, D.C.’s Freedom Plaza to the White House calling for a ceasefire and end to the siege on Gaza. Biden was at his Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, home the weekend of the march.

“There is growing dissent across his administration, from people close to him,” one of the administration staffers said. “This is his own alum from the campaign, from within his own administration … a complete disregard for that would send a really clear and unwelcoming message.”

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