More than 800 authorities in the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union issued a General Refusal Letter Friday against their governments' support of Israel's war in Gaza.
Current and former officials say the letter is the first instance of Allied officials from across the Atlantic coming together to publicly criticize their governments about the war.
Officials say it's their duty as civil servants to help promote policy and serve their countries' interests, and they're speaking out because they believe their governments need to change the course of the war. The signatories say they raised concerns through internal channels but were ignored.
“Our governments' current policies weaken their moral standing and undermine their ability to stand up for freedom, justice and human rights worldwide,” the letter reads, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times on Thursday. “There is a credible risk that our governments' policies will contribute to serious violations of international humanitarian law, war crimes and ethnic cleansing or genocide,” it added.
Israeli officials said the Israeli military launched a bombing and ground campaign in Gaza after Hamas militants invaded Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people when they kidnapped about 240 people. More than 27,000 people have been killed and nearly 2 million displaced in Gaza since Israel's offensive began, according to Gaza's health ministry and United Nations officials.
The names of those who signed the document were not named because they feared retaliation, said one organizer, an official who served in the State Department for more than two decades. But about 800 existing officers have approved the letter, the official said, because it was quietly circulated among employees in several countries at the national level.
The effort reveals the extent to which pro-Israel policies among American, British and European leaders have fueled discontent among civil servants who implement their governments' foreign policies.
About 80 of the signatories were from U.S. agencies, with the largest group from the State Department, an organizer said. The governing authority most represented among the signatories is the collective EU institutions, followed by the Netherlands and the United States.
Officials at the national level of the eight other North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states, as well as Sweden and Switzerland, have endorsed the letter, another person familiar with the letter said. Most of those supporters work in the foreign ministries of those countries.
Political decision-making by Western governments and institutions regarding the war has created “unprecedented tensions with the expertise and duty that non-political civil servants bring,” Josh Paul said. He resigned in October over the Biden administration's support for Israel's military campaign. Mr. Paul said he knew the people who arranged the letter.
“One-sided support for Israel's atrocities in Gaza, and an indifference to Palestinian humanity is a moral failure and a policy failure, damaging to Western interests around the world,” he said.
US officials issued some similar letters and denials last fall. In November, more than 500 employees of about 40 US government agencies sent a letter to President Biden criticizing his policies on the war. Officials also did not disclose their names in the letter.
More than 1,000 employees of the United States Agency for International Development published an open letter along the same lines. And dozens of State Department officials said at least three internal protest cables to Secretary of State Anthony J. Sent to Blingen.
Across the Atlantic, disagreements among European officials have broken down in the months since Israel's military response to Gaza following the Oct. 7 attack.
In the European Union, which maintains a joint diplomatic corps known as the European External Action Service and agencies dealing with humanitarian aid and development, hundreds of officials have signed at least two separate letters of dissent to the group's leadership. Unlike the United States, the EU does not maintain “dispute channels” for officials to formally register their disagreement with policy.
The 27 EU countries and their constituent entities have taken different positions on the war, but the majority of governments have largely supported Israel.
Only a few EU countries – mainly Ireland, Spain and Belgium – have continued to call on their partners and the union to moderate support for Israel, press for a ceasefire and focus on the suffering of Gazans.
Berber van der Woude, a former Dutch diplomat, said he preferred to speak on behalf of active civil servants who signed the letter anonymously for fear of reprisals for dissent.
Ms van der Woude, a conflict and peacekeeping expert who worked for the Dutch Foreign Ministry, resigned in 2022 in protest at her government's policies, including its work in Ramallah in the West Bank. He has been a prominent voice in support of the Palestinians in the Netherlands.
Mrs. Van der Woude said that in situations like the Israel-Hamas conflict, even among civil servants who work behind the scenes and receive political direction from elected governments, it is justified if adopted policies are perceived as harmful. .
“Being a civil servant does not absolve you of your responsibility to think constantly,” he said. “When the organization makes wrong decisions or actions, we have a responsibility to stop it. It's not as simple as 'shut up and do what you're told'; we get paid to think.”