Tuesday, February 27, 2024

More than 100 former members of the Obama and Biden administrations have sent a letter to the White House praising President Biden’s “moral clarity, courageous leadership and staunch support of Israel,” in an effort to defend Mr. Biden’s policies amid roiling dissent within the administration.

The letter backs the president’s request for $14.3 billion in new security assistance for Israel and affirms his opposition to a cease-fire, challenging anonymous demands from hundreds of officials across the Biden administration that Israel halt its military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

It was signed by several prominent Democratic figures, including Ron Klain, Mr. Biden’s former chief of staff; Lawrence H. Summers, who directed the National Economic Council under President Barack Obama; Colin H. Kahl, who recently departed as under secretary of defense for policy; and Michèle A. Flournoy, who held that job in the Obama administration.

The list of officials also includes 19 former ambassadors, such as Joseph W. Westphal, who was the U.S. envoy to Saudi Arabia under Mr. Obama.

The total number of signatories, 137, is smaller than the more than 500 behind a letter sent to Mr. Biden on Monday demanding he support an immediate cease-fire to limit civilian casualties in Gaza. Israel’s government and Mr. Biden have rejected such a step as incompatible with Israel’s goal of destroying Hamas. The newer letter was delivered to Mr. Biden on Tuesday with 115 names, but its organizers continued to collect signatures until Friday.

Organizers of the letter supporting Mr. Biden argued their missive should carry more weight because it publicly discloses the names of all those who signed and the group includes many former senior officials with experience in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The earlier letter of dissent was delivered to Mr. Biden with a signature count but without names, although the signatories are known to that letter’s organizers. The same arrangement was used for a similar open letter to Samantha Power, the U.S. Agency for International Development administrator, which has attracted more than 1,000 anonymous signatures.

Halie Soifer, a former adviser to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration who helped organize the letter of support for Mr. Biden, said she believed that dissent within the administration had “been blown out of proportion” and that anonymous letters “call into question the message,” in part because it is impossible for White House officials and the public to judge the seniority and expertise of those who sign them.

But some critics of Israel’s military operation in Gaza say they feel unsafe revealing their identities. The message to Ms. Power explains that “we sign this letter anonymously out of concern for our personal safety and risk of potentially losing our jobs.”

Dozens of State Department officials have also sent at least three diplomatic cables to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken urging the United States to exert more pressure on Israel to limit civilian casualties and call for a cease-fire. Those internal cables are signed by name but have not been released to the public.

Hundreds of congressional staffers have also signed multiple open letters calling for the United States to restrain Israel, including by calling for a cease-fire. At a staff walkout outside the Capitol this month, dissenting aides wore masks to conceal their identities.

U.S. officials say that dissenters must understand that working in government often means carrying out policies with which a person disagrees — and that, if doing so becomes morally intolerable, the person should resign their position.

Only one Biden official is known to have resigned in protest over the war in Gaza: Josh Paul, who served as the director of congressional and public affairs for the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs for more than 11 years. In a letter explaining his departure, he criticized the administration’s “blind support for one side” in the conflict.

Ms. Soifer, now the chief executive of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said the letters and other demonstrations of dissent might create the impression that Mr. Biden’s policies are more unpopular than they really are.

She cited an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted early this month that found that half of Democrats approved of Mr. Biden’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ms. Soifer also noted that most Democrats in Congress were “completely aligned” with his policies.

At the same time, a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted this week found that 77 percent of Democrats believed Israel should call a cease-fire and seek to negotiate, in contrast to Mr. Biden’s view.

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