State Dept. official Josh Paul resigns over U.S.-Israel arms transfers

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A State Department official who worked on arms transfers to foreign powers resigned Wednesday over the Biden administration’s handling of the conflict in Israel and Gaza, declaring he could not support further U.S. military assistance to Israel and calling the administration’s response “an impulsive reaction” based on “intellectual bankruptcy.”

The official, Josh Paul, was director of congressional and public affairs at the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, which handles arms transfers. His departure marks a rare measure of internal discomfort over the administration’s robust support for Israel, the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East. More broadly, it was an unusual public show of dissent within President Biden’s foreign policy apparatus, which has worked to prevent such expressions of frustration from spilling over into view.

Paul had spent more than 11 years in his role, which coordinates relations with Congress and public messaging for a key office that deals with military aid. He said that he could not countenance continuing in a job that he said was contributing to the deaths of Palestinian civilians.

“Let’s absolutely note the horror of what Hamas did, and the scale of it. And therefore I fear the scale of the potential Israeli response or ongoing Israeli response,” Paul said in an interview. “I recognize the Israeli government’s right to respond and to defend themselves. I guess I question how many Palestinian children have to die in that process.”

Paul said the robust U.S. military assistance for Israel was effectively giving the country a green light to do what it wants against Gaza, regardless of the civilian toll. The Israeli government has declared that it plans to destroy Hamas and has told the residents of Gaza City and northern Gaza to move southward, a request U.N. observers have declared will create a humanitarian disaster.

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The State Department declined to comment, citing policy on discussing personnel matters. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spent the last week hopscotching the Middle East in a bid to create regional support for Israel’s right to defend itself and avoid a regional war, but also to push Israel to respect humanitarian concerns in Gaza.

Biden, visiting Israel on Wednesday, declared that the United States is “going to stand with you.” But he urged Israelis to draw a distinction between Palestinians and Hamas, and to minimize civilian casualties.

“The vast majority of Palestinians are not Hamas,” he said. “Palestinian people are suffering greatly as well.”

Paul said that he had encountered other dilemmas while working on military assistance inside the State Department, but that he had always felt he could “bend things in the right direction.” Not so this time, which was the biggest reason he resigned, he said.

“There’s no questioning on this one. There’s no space for substantive dissent within the system on this one. And that’s what led me to my decision,” he said. He said there wasn’t a single precipitating moment that led to his resignation Wednesday, simply the feeling of being party to a slew of decisions that he disagreed with and felt powerless to influence.

Although State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs also has had a major role in arms transfers to Ukraine after Russia invaded last year, Paul’s academic background and career has long intertwined with Israel and the Palestinian territories. He wrote his master’s thesis about Israeli counterterrorism and civil rights, he said, and worked in Ramallah, in the West Bank, on security sector governance with the Palestinian Authority. And, in his resignation letter, he said he had “deep personal ties to both sides of the conflict.”

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Paul said he spent last week on a preplanned leave, giving him more space to watch what was happening from the outside and to contemplate his decision. Since he publicly announced his resignation in a two-page declaration posted on LinkedIn, he said he had received many expressions of support from State Department colleagues.

“What I’ve heard is, ‘Thank you,’ ‘We’re with you,’ all that sort of thing,” he said.

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