Skip to Content

US diplomat who quit over Biden administration’s Gaza policy speaks out

<i>US State Department via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Hala Rharrit
US State Department via CNN Newsource
Hala Rharrit

By Jennifer Hansler, CNN

(CNN) — Hala Rharrit never expected that she would choose to leave her career as a US diplomat.

She had spent her “entire adult life” at the State Department having joined the foreign service in 2006, raising her hand for one of the toughest postings — Yemen — for her first assignment and going on to serve in places like Hong Kong, Qatar and South Africa. About a year and a half ago, after mostly behind-the-scenes roles, Rharrit became an Arab language spokesperson for the State Department.

“I had full intentions of continuing on in my career until I reached senior levels. I never had the intention of resigning,” she told CNN.

But the US government’s policy on the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza “unfortunately really, really changed that,” she said.

Rharrit is the first-known career US diplomat to resign over the administration’s position on the war, which has lasted more than six months and taken the lives of more than 34,000 people in the coastal enclave, according to Palestinian authorities. Two other State Department officials — Josh Paul and Annelle Sheline — have also resigned in protest of the US’ policy, which has sharply divided the domestic population inside the United States, as seen in the major campus protests, and has sparked outcry globally.

Rharrit told CNN that she and her colleagues were “horrified” by the Hamas terrorist attacks on October 7, which triggered the war in Gaza.

“Everyone was sort of bracing themselves, ‘Oh, my goodness, what’s going to happen next?’” Rharrit recounted. She said they “knew obviously there was going to be a forceful reaction, but I don’t think anyone predicted the outcome would be 34,000 killed, famine conditions.”

Rharrit told CNN there wasn’t one particular incident that prompted her to resign, but rather the cumulative build-up of events throughout the war — and the growing sense of that her warnings about “destabilizing” policy were going unheeded.

“I’m fundamentally concerned that we’re on the wrong side of history and we are hurting our interests,” she said, referring to the Biden administration’s strong backing for Israel in the war with Hamas.

Rharrit also pointed to a “double standard” in US policy around the effects of the war, including the humanitarian crisis and the deaths of Palestinian journalists in Gaza.

“As the United States we have to stand on our principles. We cannot make exceptions. Our allies and our adversaries are watching and it is hurting us as a nation,” Rharrit explained. “It was just one devastating frustration after another. I just kept on hoping until finally I was just like, I think I need to start planning. I don’t think things are going to get any better.”

As a spokesperson, Rharrit was tasked with presenting the US policy on the war to an Arabic-speaking audience, but from the outset, she said, the talking points were sharply distant from the images that audience was seeing on a daily basis, she explained.

Those talking points “focused towards a domestic US audience,” she said, and she warned the State Department that they would spark backlash and “be seen as dehumanizing to Palestinians.”

“That’s indeed what we saw. Through polls, we saw just growing anti-Americanism, our favorability plummet across the entire region, in countries where we had great relations,” Rharrit said.

Divided views within the department

Rharrit said some at the State Department encouraged her to continue to share her feedback and told her it was being relayed “to the highest levels of our policymakers.” However, she said others “silenced” and “sidelined” her.

“I was told ‘you’re refusing to do your job,’” she said.

Within the Department, although she said “a lot” of people did share her views, “it was very evident people were very uncomfortable talking about Gaza.”

“People were very uncomfortable providing critical feedback,” she said.

“The notion that we are complicit in the killings of those civilians is a very difficult and devastating thing for a diplomat to have to admit to themselves,” she explained. “And what do you do with that information if you’re not the one that can change the policy?”

And though the administration has said Israel needs to do more to protect civilians and let humanitarian aid through, the US has continued to supply weapons to Israel despite a growing backlash, even from top US officials, over the civilian toll of the war. There are divisions within the State Department about whether to certify as “credible and reliable” Israel’s assurances that it is using US weapons in compliance with international law.

Rharrit noted that “people are concerned about their careers too. So they’re — they want to affirm, ‘Okay, you know, I’m going to do my job, I’m going to execute, I’m going to deliver,’ and people are scared.”

Since the news of her resignation, “so many colleagues then came up to me and said, ‘Oh, my God, we’ve been feeling the exact same way as you. We just have not been able to say it.’”

The State Department would not comment specifically on Rharrit’s case, citing personnel matters. However, deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel noted there are channels where “our workforce can share their points of view when they disagree with a certain policy or a certain action that the US government is taking.”

“You’ve heard us talk about the dissent channel; that option, that channel continues to be in place,” he said at a press briefing last week. “The secretary reads every single one of those dissent channel cables and dissenting viewpoints from across the administration. We continue to welcome them, and we think that it helps lead to stronger, more robust policy making. And the secretary wants to hear differing points of views. He believes it makes him a better, stronger leader of this department, and a better and stronger policy maker.”

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KIFI Local News 8 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content