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19 Oct, 2023 00:22

Muslim staff afraid to discuss Israel at White House – media

Several officials reportedly deplore the “culture of silence” regarding Gaza and the Palestinians
Muslim staff afraid to discuss Israel at White House – media

Several staff members of the administration of US President Joe Biden, in particular those with Muslim backgrounds, are worried about retaliation if they question Israel’s conduct in Gaza, HuffPost reported on Wednesday.

The outlet cited several staffers “across multiple agencies, most of whom work on national security issues,” but did not identify any of them by name.

The days since the Hamas attack on October 7 have been “the first time in the administration that there was a real culture of silence,” one official said. “It feels like post-9/11 where you feel like your thoughts are being policed, and you’re really afraid of being seen as anti-American or an anti-Semite.”

Another, identified only as a career civil servant, said they were worried about the consequences of criticizing the president on social media.

“I feel like there’s no place for me in America anymore, and I’m on thin ice with my clearance because of my heritage and because I care about my people dying,” the civil servant said.

Biden and the rest of the US leadership, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, has pledged support for Israel in its ongoing war with Hamas.

“We must be crystal clear: We stand with Israel.  And we will make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of its citizens, defend itself, and respond to this attack,” Biden said last week, later echoing the sentiment during a visit to Israel on Wednesday. 

A person working in the administration told HuffPost that the “inner, inner circle” deciding US policy is “not at all diverse,” which defeats the point of having a variety of opinions at the table.

“Does that completely explain the monstrous disregard for innocent Palestinian lives? No, but it’s hard to think these things are entirely disconnected,” that person said.

The same person added that the Biden administration’s policy decisions “show stunning disregard for innocent Palestinians – and that same dehumanization is also reflected in how staff are being treated.” There was “so much care for some lives” abroad, and for “certain” staff, but not others.

Another official described “a chilling effect” among the staff, noting that it took them several days to muster the courage to argue it would be bad for the US “if we are seen as responsible for killing Palestinian children” and get into another Middle East war.

“There was awkward silence like a pin could drop, and I’m like, ‘Are they going to report me to the House Un-American Activities Committee’?” the official added.

A career bureaucrat with more than a decade’s experience in foreign policy described a culture of “self-censorship” among the younger staff in particular, who appear to be “shocked” by the difference between the Gaza response and the campaign rhetoric about human rights, or Ukraine. 

White House personnel director Gautam Raghavan held a call with “current and former high-level Muslim appointees” on Sunday, according to one person who took part. The two main themes were reportedly “the risk of increased Islamophobia nationwide and a sense that Muslim staff in the administration were in danger.”

In an email to HuffPost, Raghavan denied the claim that he had called the Israel-Palestine policy process “broken,” insisting that he “only talked about how we could support and affirm our team members.”

Robyn Patterson, a White House spokesperson, told HuffPost that Biden has “assembled the most diverse presidential administration in history and is proud of the open, collaborative role his appointees play in advising on policy and strategy – including Muslim and Arab American team members.” She was the only other official quoted by name in the story. 

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