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A former State Department employee speaks out against Biden's support for Israel

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The war in Gaza has generated dissent at the State Department. There have been protest letters, cables. And now, for the second time since the start of the conflict, a very public resignation over continued U.S. arms sales to Israel. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: An Arabic speaker with a Ph.D. in Middle East politics, Annelle Sheline was on a fellowship at the State Department working on democracy issues and writing about Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. She says the Biden administration's support for Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza made that work far more difficult.

ANNELLE SHELINE: The civil society organizations and individuals trying to advocate for human rights didn't want to have anything to do with the U.S. government anymore, which is understandable. And then beyond that, it had just also become difficult to raise the issue of human rights with these governments at all. Just, you know, the immediate comeback was, well, how can you lecture us about human rights given what you're supporting in Gaza?

KELEMEN: Sheline raised her concerns inside the department, joining Feds United for Peace, a group of government employees from various agencies pushing for a cease-fire in Gaza.

SHELINE: I was not naive enough to think that someone - that one person could, you know, shift U.S. foreign policy. But by being on the inside, I hoped to contribute to the efforts of many people who were sending dissent cables.

KELEMEN: She co-authored one dissent cable, signed two others and took part in the State Department's listening sessions.

SHELINE: Which I really appreciated, that they offered employees the opportunity to express what they're feeling. And for the most part, people were largely expressing their concerns about, you know, many aspects of this policy. Not everyone. Some people were expressing support for what the U.S. government was doing. But in my experience in those forums, it was mostly opposition to the policy.

KELEMEN: State Department spokesman Matthew Miller says there is a wide variety of opinions in the building and the Secretary of State takes all this feedback into account.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MATTHEW MILLER: With respect to the delivery of humanitarian assistance, we have heard good ideas from people inside the building who have come and offered constructive feedback, and we have implemented those.

KELEMEN: But Sheline and others who have signed open letters want to see the U.S. cut off military aid to Israel. Miller calls that a fundamental disagreement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MILLER: So when you see people who offer interviews that say, we want the United States to stop supporting Israel's right to defend itself, that's not something the secretary agrees with. It's not something the president agrees with. And ultimately, they are the ones who have the responsibility of making those decisions.

KELEMEN: Annelle Sheline is only the second State Department official to resign in such a public way over the war in Gaza. She was not in a high-level position, so she planned to leave quietly.

SHELINE: But people said, you know, please speak for us. You know, I would resign if I could, but I can't.

KELEMEN: She thinks the politics in the U.S. are changing on Gaza and the administration knows it.

SHELINE: The level of destruction and devastation, these horrifying videos of children and the starvation, I think people are really, really affected by that.

KELEMEN: While Sheline was at State for just a year, she says many of her colleagues share these emotions and feel disillusioned with the Biden administration.

SHELINE: They came out of the Trump years, they survived. And they were - really, really believed that things - excuse me, that this administration had said about reestablishing America's moral leadership, re-empowering American diplomacy. And I think so many people are just - they just feel betrayed.

KELEMEN: She handed in her badge last Friday, fulfilling one year that was required under her fellowship.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF CURTIS HARDING SONG, "WEDNESDAY MORNING ATONEMENT") 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.

James Hider
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.