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State Department diplomat resigns in protest of U.S. policy in Gaza


Let's turn now to a protest against U.S. policy in Gaza. I'm not talking about the protests unfolding on college campuses across the country. This one is unfolding within the State Department itself. An Arabic-speaking public affairs official has just resigned, the third public resignation over the Biden administration's approach to the war in Gaza. Well, her name is Hala Rharrit. She's been with the State Department for 18 years, most recently as deputy director of the Dubai Media Hub. Hala Rharrit, welcome.

HALA RHARRIT: Thank you so much, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Tell me when you started thinking about this, thinking about resigning.

RHARRIT: Well, honestly, it was quite a long process. As you mentioned, 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 allowing and enabling the mass killing of civilians. We could no longer talk about press freedom when we remained silent on the killing of over a hundred 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 just - it was not possible anymore.

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 this 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, 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 our 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: If I may, 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. Or resign - 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. But out of a department of thousands, how widespread do you believe anger to be within the State Department?

RHARRIT: Well, look. 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 to Secretary Blinken's ear, what would you tell them?

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. Arms and bombs are not going to achieve that, only diplomacy will.

KELLY: Hala Rharrit, thank you.

RHARRIT: Thank you so much for your time.

KELLY: She's served the United States for 18 years in the State Department. She has just resigned in protest. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Megan Lim
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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.
Mary Louise Kelly
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.