Hundreds of congressional aides call for ceasefire in Gaza

Anonymous letter shows degree of dissent in a largely pro-Israel US Congress

Protesters march past the Capitol building in Washington as part of a demonstration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Reuters
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More than 400 people who work for members of the US Congress have signed an anonymous letter calling for Washington to demand an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza war.

The letter has 411 signatories, which it says are “Jewish and Muslim staffers and allied staff” on Capitol Hill, who have chosen to remain anonymous “out of concern for our personal safety, risk of violence and the impact on our professional credibility”.

One signatory told The National that a Muslim colleague had decided to start the letter.

“I grew up in a Jewish family carrying the story of my grandparents, Holocaust survivors who escaped genocide only because of the solidarity of complete strangers in foreign lands,” the employee said.

“The horrifying genocide in Palestine helped me say yes to my courageous Muslim colleague who felt a profound call to speak out when too many of our bosses have yet to call for peace.”

Strong support for Israel is an unusually bipartisan issue across Congress, which has pledged to increase US funding to the country following the October 7 attack by Hamas and Israel's retaliatory strikes on Gaza.

A bipartisan group of about 400 members of Congress, led by the senior Republican and Democrat on the House foreign affairs committee, have introduced a resolution backing with Israel “as it defends itself against the barbaric war launched by Hamas and other terrorists and condemning Hamas’s brutal war against Israel”.

Democrat Chuck Schumer, majority leader in the Senate, has pledged to put a US-Israeli aid package together quickly.

The anonymous letter said there was an absence of concern for Palestinians among Washington's decision-makers.

“We have appreciated seeing nearly every member of Congress express quick and unequivocal solidarity with the Israeli people, but we are profoundly disturbed that such shows of humanity have barely been extended to the Palestinian people,” it said.

Another signatory told The National that “the conversations on Capitol Hill are completely divorced from the conversations people are having among their friends, family and coworkers.”

“We fund Israel’s military to the tune of $3 billion every year with no strings attached. And we in the US Congress have the power to stop this if we care about Palestinian lives.”

It is the latest indication of small but growing dissent behind the scenes in a Congress that has publicly emphasised its support for Israel.

This week, Josh Paul, a US State Department official who worked on arms transfers to foreign nations, resigned over the Biden administration’s handling of Israel’s war on Gaza, calling the White House’s response “an impulsive reaction” based on “intellectual bankruptcy”.

“I cannot work in support of a set of major policy decisions, including rushing more arms to one side of the conflict, that I believe to be short-sighted, destructive, unjust and contradictory to the very values that we publicly espouse,” Mr Paul wrote in his resignation letter, posted on LinkedIn.

Democratic House member Ilhan Omar posted a message on social media in support of the staffers' letter, saying “only solidarity and love will stop this war and stop more civilians from losing their lives”.

Ms Omar is among a small group of progressive Democrats in Washington who have broken from party lines to call for a ceasefire in the Israeli siege on Gaza.

Cori Bush and other progressive members of Congress, including Andre Carson and Rashida Tlaib, introduced a resolution urging the Biden administration to call for “an immediate ceasefire in Israel and occupied Palestine, to send humanitarian aid and assistance to Gaza, and to save as many lives as possible”.

That bill stands in contradiction to the broadly supported resolution standing with Israel, and is not expected to gain enough backing to pass.

Democratic leadership has outright opposed Ms Bush's resolution and demands for a ceasefire in Gaza. Mr Schumer this week denounced the calls for a truce.

“If you allow Hamas to continue to exist as is, the same thing will happen again, and we have to do everything to prevent that from happening,” he said on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, US police arrested dozens of Jewish-led pro-ceasefire demonstrators after they entered congressional office buildings.

Jewish-led protesters rally near US Capitol to demand a ceasefire in Gaza

Jewish-led protesters rally near US Capitol to demand a ceasefire in Gaza
Updated: October 21, 2023, 4:27 AM