State department official’s resignation highlights rifts over US Gaza policy

In World

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A human rights official has resigned from the US state department over Gaza saying the Biden administration is flouting US law by continuing to arm Israel, and is hushing up evidence that the US had seen on Israeli human rights abuses.

Annelle Sheline, said she had hoped to have an influence on policy by staying at her post in the Near Eastern section of the bureau of democracy, human rights and labor, taking part in discussions, signing dissent cables and raising her concerns with her supervisor. But she had lost confidence she could do anything that would affect the flow of US arms to Israel.

“The fundamental reason was – I no longer wanted to be affiliated with this administration,” Sheline told the Guardian. “I have a young daughter. She’s not yet two, but if some day in the future, she is learning about this and knows that I was at the state department and she asked me [about it] – I want to be able to tell her that I did what I could.”

Sheline is only the second state department official to resign over US policy on the Gaza war (another official left the education department over the issue), but she said that many of her colleagues had told her they would resign if they could afford to lose their job, and had urged her to speak out about her reasons for quitting, rather than to leave quietly.

Annelle Sheline. Photograph: Annelle Sheline

The 38-year-old, who studied the foreign policy of Arab governments for her doctorate, said the state department was aware of plenty of evidence that Israel was violating international law in its conduct of the Gaza war, and that the Biden administration was violating US law by continuing to supply weapons.

She pointed in particular to the Leahy laws, which forbid assistance to foreign military units implicated in atrocities, and section 620 (I) of the Foreign Assistance Act, which states that no assistance should be given to any government which “prohibits or otherwise restricts, directly or indirectly, the transport or delivery of United States humanitarian assistance”.

On Monday, the state department said it had received assurances from Israel officials and “not found them to be in violation of international humanitarian law”. But Sheline said: “The law is clear here and we do have evidence. But the specifics are just not being followed.”

The state department has said it is reviewing evidence of civilian harm under a mechanism established by the Biden administration last year, weeks before the Gaza war broke out, but Sheline said the results of those investigations would only be made public when the White House wanted them to be.

“There are a lot of people working on this at State but at the end of the day, the public policy does have to be something that the White House signs off on,” Sheline said. “Until the White House is ready to take a different line, some of the other things happening in State are just not going to come out.”

She said she believed administration policy was being driven by domestic political considerations, but argued that domestic politics were shifting on the issue, pointing to the significant “uncommitted” protest vote in the Democratic presidential primary election, and suggested that the Biden administration had misjudged the mood.

“I do think the president’s view of Israel is deeply influenced by a generational divide,” she said. “I think it’s taken this administration a long time to realise that the previous political calculus on this, in terms of big donors, in terms of the Israel lobby, … is seeing a shift.”

On Wednesday, Gallup published a new poll showing a significant drop in American public support for Israel’s conduct of the war, from 50% in November to 36% now, with 55% disapproving of Israel’s actions.

Sheline credited this shift for helping lead to the US abstention on a UN security council resolution on Monday, allowing it to pass after the US vetoed three earlier draft texts over the nearly six months since the war started.

“I am glad to see that slight shift, but it hasn’t really made any difference to the people in Gaza yet,” Sheline said. “So it’s really too little, too late.

“Not only are these policies devastating the people of Gaza, but I think they’re also devastating the US image in the world,” she argued. “This administration came in promising to rebuild American diplomacy and America’s moral leadership after the Trump administration, but so many of these issues that the administration said were so important – including human rights – seem to be less important to this administration than the US-Israel relationship.”

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