Veteran State Department official Josh Paul resigned from the agency on Tuesday over President Joe Biden’s approach to Israel-Palestine, telling HuffPost he felt he had to do so because he knew he could not push for a more humane policy within the U.S. government.
“I have had my fair share of debates and discussions and efforts to shift policy on controversial arms sales,” said Paul, who spent more than 11 years at State’s bureau of political-military affairs, which handles weapons deals. He most recently served as the bureau’s director of congressional and public affairs.
“It was clear that there’s no arguing with this one. Given that I couldn’t shift anything, I resigned,” he told HuffPost on Wednesday evening in his first media interview since he revealed his decision, which he also described in a LinkedIn post.
The department received “a clear top-down guidance that we are moving forward with everything we can,” Paul said. Asked when he decided to quit, he told HuffPost: “I wouldn’t say there was a single decision point — it was watching things unfold over the last 10 days.”
In response to an Oct. 7 attack by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Israel has been waging an increasingly aggressive campaign in Gaza, where Hamas is based and more than 2 million people live in already impoverished conditions. Biden has repeatedly promised extensive support to Israel in its operation.
Multiple officials within the Biden administration who want the U.S. to encourage Israeli restraint and concern for civilians as the country seeks to exact vengeance against Hamas have told HuffPost they are experiencing a chilling effect.
Paul’s public announcement of his resignation sent shockwaves through the State Department on Wednesday. He said he was struck by how colleagues across the government and in Congress received his internal message: “I’ve been surprised by how many have said, ‘We absolutely understand where you’re coming from, we feel similarly and understand.’”
Paul told HuffPost he had been on leave last week, adding: “It was pretty fortunate because I think if I hadn’t been I would have been fired rather than have the time to think it over and resign.”
A State Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Paul’s decision.
“I wouldn’t say there was a single decision point — it was watching things unfold over the last 10 days.”
In his LinkedIn message, Paul noted that he felt he had been able to use his role to make “many differences ... on pending administration decisions to transfer lethal weapons to countries that abuse human rights, to sculpting policies and practices that advance human rights, to working tirelessly to advance those policies and decisions that are good and just.”
Various U.S. presidents considered and approved billions of dollars in arms sales to controversial nations during his tenure — for instance, to Saudi Arabia in its ongoing war in Yemen.
“When I came to this bureau ... I knew it was not without its moral complexity and moral compromises, and I made myself a promise that I would stay for as long as I felt … the harm I might do could be outweighed by the good I could do,” Paul wrote on LinkedIn. “In my 11 years I have made more moral compromises than I can recall, each heavily, but each with my promise to myself in mind, and intact. I am leaving today because I believe that in our current course with regards to the continued – indeed, expanded and expedited – provision of lethal arms to Israel – I have reached the end of that bargain.”
Paul described Hamas’ assault on Israel ― which killed more than 1,400 people ― as “a monstrosity of monstrosities.”
“But I believe to the core of my soul that the response Israel is taking, and with it the American support both for that response, and for the status quo of the occupation, will only lead to more and deeper suffering for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people,” he continued.
He concluded his note by wishing fellow government officials “continued success, strength and courage.”
“And I wish all of us ― peace,” Paul said.