Josh Paul spent more than 11 years as the director of congressional and public affairs at the bureau that oversees arms transfers to foreign nations.
A State Department official in the bureau that oversees arms transfers resigned this week in protest of the Biden administration’s decision to continue sending weapons and ammunition to Israel as it lays siege to Gaza in its war with Hamas.
In his resignation letter, Josh Paul, who has been the director of congressional and public affairs for the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs for over 11 years, said the Biden administration’s “blind support for one side” was leading to policy decisions that were “shortsighted, destructive, unjust and contradictory to the very values we publicly espouse.”
“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 wrote, adding, “I fear we are repeating the same mistakes we have made these past decades, and I decline to be a part of it for longer.”
In an interview, Mr. Paul said that Israel’s cutting off of water, food, medical care and electricity to Gaza, a territory of two million people, should prompt protections in a number of longstanding federal laws intended to keep American weapons out of the hands of human rights violators. But those legal guardrails are failing, he said.
“The problem with all of those provisions is that it rests on the executive branch making a determination that human rights violations have occurred,” Mr. Paul said. “The decision to make a determination doesn’t rest with some nonpartisan academic entity, and there’s no incentive for the president to actually determine anything.
Mr. Biden has embraced Israel since Hamas killed more than 1,400 people and took nearly 200 hostages in an attack early this month, and his administration is preparing a request of $10 billion in mostly military aid, according to aides familiar with the plan. But in a visit to Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Mr. Biden also warned Israelis not to give in to “an all-consuming rage” that could drive the country too far in response, and his administration has pushed Israel to limit civilian deaths.
Israel has said that the scale and gruesomeness of Hamas’s attack justify its response and that it is acting in compliance with international law. The State Department’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday night.
Mr. Paul, whose resignation was reported earlier by The Huffington Post, said that he had seen the U.S. government approve numerous sales or shipments of matériel to other Middle Eastern countries, even when he believed federal law should have prevented them from going forward.
“On all of them there’s a moment where you can say, OK, well, you know, it’s out of my hands, but I know Congress is going to push back,” he said, by issuing a hold on the transfer or grilling officials in hearings at the Capitol. “But in this instance, there isn’t any significant pushback likely from Congress, there isn’t any other oversight mechanism, there isn’t any other forum for debate, and that’s part of what got into my decision making.”
Continuing to give Israel what he described as carte blanche to kill a generation of enemies, only to create a new one, does not ultimately serve the United States’ interests, Mr. Paul said.
“What it leads to is this desire to sort of impose security at any cost, including in cost to the Palestinian civilian population,” he said. “And that doesn’t ultimately lead to security.”
“This administration, I think, knows better and understands some of the complexity but brought very little of that nuance to the policy decisions that are being made.”
Since posting his resignation letter online Wednesday, Mr. Paul said he had received an outpouring of support from State Department colleagues and congressional staff members.
“A lot of people are wrestling with this being the current policy and are finding it to be deeply problematic,” he said. “I’ve really been quite moved by some of the folks who have reached out to say that they understand where I’m coming from. They respect my decision. It’s been very supportive.”