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A U.S. diplomat tells NPR why she resigned in protest over the policy in Gaza

A Palestinian man walks on building rubble in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on April 22.
AFP via Getty Images
A Palestinian man walks on building rubble in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on April 22.

As protests against the U.S. policy in Gaza unfold on college campuses across the country, the State Department is facing its own protests too.

An Arabic-speaking public affairs official has just resigned over the Biden administration's approach to the war in Gaza, making her the third such public resignation.

Her name is Hala Rharrit and she's been with the State Department for 18 years, most recently as deputy director of the Dubai media hub.

Rharrit spoke with All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly on Monday about why the says the policy is hurting U.S. interests, how she experienced "a lot of silencing" when she spoke out, and what she wants to say to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


Interview highlights

Mary Louise Kelly: Tell me when you started thinking about resigning?

Hala Rharrit: Well, honestly, it was quite a long process. I've been a diplomat for 18 years, really my entire adult life. But the policy really became unacceptable. I was holding out, hoping to try to change things from the inside until I realized at one point that this policy was undermining U.S. interests, it was destabilizing the Middle East, and it was indeed a failed policy. And with that, I decided that I could no longer be part of the department and decided to submit my resignation.

Kelly: Was there a specific moment? I mean, what was your breaking point?

Rharrit: There was no real specific moment, it was just a build-up. We were undermining our entire credibility with this policy. The double standards that we were having, we could no longer talk about human rights when we were in allowing and enabling the mass killing of civilians. We could no longer talk about press freedom when we remain silent on the killing of over 100 journalists in Gaza. Everything that we had stood for was no longer relevant. I did experience a lot of silencing. I was ostracized. And it came to a point where I decided it was not possible anymore.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators march around the "Gaza Solidarity Encampment" in the West Lawn of Columbia University on April 29 in New York City.
Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators march around the "Gaza Solidarity Encampment" in the West Lawn of Columbia University on April 29 in New York City.

Kelly: You said you had been hoping to try to change things from inside. Did you write a dissent cable? Did you try to go through official channels to register your unhappiness with U.S. policy?

Rharrit: I absolutely went through official channels to express my dissent. I wrote daily reports back to the department initially after the conflict for months explaining and reporting and documenting how the U.S. was being seen on pan-Arab media, how our favorability was plummeting, how we were demonized as child killers. I did this formally. I did this informally. Again, I was stopped from doing this, but I kept on doing it. It became abundantly clear that no matter what I did, no matter what other diplomats did, the policy was the policy. And most specifically, our unconditional military aid made it impossible for us to have any credibility on even the good things that we were doing.

Kelly: I want to inject that State Department spokesman Vedant Patel — this is another State Department spokesperson — says that Secretary of State Blinken reads all dissent cables, that Blinken wants to hear differing points of view. When you say you were ostracized, can you be specific?

Rharrit: From the get go, I refused to do, as a spokesperson in the region, I refused to do interviews on Gaza. Not because I personally disagreed with the policy, but because I documented how this policy was undermining U.S. interests in the Arab world. How we were being called out for a double standard and how people across the region saw through our talking points and no longer believed us for lack of credibility. I was documenting how I was causing a backlash. In reaction to that, there was action taken against me, multiple actions taken against me.

Kelly: What kind of actions were taken against you?

Rharrit: I mean, I was accused of having misconduct, that it was a conduct issue, that I was refusing to do my job. I was told get back on air or curtail or resign – curtail means cut your assignment short. I mean, I was given an ultimatum.

Kelly: I mentioned you are the third public resignation from the State Department. You're the first diplomat, the first foreign service officer serving overseas, to resign. Out of the department of thousands, how widespread do you believe anger to be within the State Department?

Rharrit: I can only tell you about what I've experienced, right? But it's a very strange time in the State Department, I would say. Something that I've never experienced before in my 18 years of service, where people are just extremely uneasy about our policy and also extremely uneasy about the ability to speak about our policy internally. And I've never faced that before. We've always been able to talk about what's working, what's not working. We've been able to have very open and frank conversations. This has felt very, very different.

Kelly: So if you could lean down and speak directly into secretary Blinken's ear, what would you tell him?

Rharrit: Please stop the violence and unconditional military support. This is causing a generational cycle of violence, secretary Blinken. Just think about the 20,000 orphans in Gaza. How are they going to grow up wanting peace? How will they not each want to pick up a gun and avenge the killing of their parents? This vicious cycle is only enabling more insecurity, more hate, more destabilization. The answer is not more bombs. The answer is diplomacy. The answer is us leveraging our influence on Israel, working with our regional partners across the Arab world, to put pressure on Hamas to get to a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel, which is a two-state solution that the U.S. has long supported.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Megan Lim
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
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