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US government employees plan walkout over Biden’s Gaza policies

Organizers of the effort told Al-Monitor they expect hundreds to join in their walkout after securing commitments from individuals at 22 federal agencies.
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 12: U.S. President Joe Biden walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House January 12, 2024 in Washington, DC. President Biden is traveling to Allentown, Pennsylvania today, where he will visit small businesses and discuss his economic agenda. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — US federal employees across nearly two dozen agencies plan to walk off the job Tuesday to protest the Biden administration’s handling of the Gaza war, according to organizers of the dissent effort who spoke to Al-Monitor. 

The group — calling itself Feds United for Peace — consists of dozens of government employees who will be observing a “Day of Mourning” to mark 100 days of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. The organizers, who are choosing to remain anonymous, say they expect “easily hundreds” of others to join in their walkout after securing commitments from individuals at 22 federal agencies. 

According to a list obtained by Al-Monitor, those include the Executive Office of the President, the National Security Agency, the Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs as well as US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Naval Research Laboratory. 

Others expected to join in the protest work for agencies including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Park Service, the Federal Aviation Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. 

The planned walkout reflects mounting anger among US officials over the Biden administration’s refusal to call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, where health officials in the Hamas-run territory say more than 23,000 people have died in three months, most of them civilians. The United Nations estimates that around 85% of the population — some 1.9 million Palestinians — have been displaced. 

One of the walkout organizers told Al-Monitor their initiative “grew out of a collective desire to do what we could to influence the Biden administration’s policy on this issue.” 

“What you're seeing with this effort is something very unusual, and that is for dissent to be manifested via a physical act,” they said.

Internal disagreements over the administration’s policy burst into public view as the US began surging weapons and ammunition to Israel for use in its battle against Hamas, whose militants killed 1,200 people and took some 240 others hostage on Oct. 7. 

A number of letters criticizing the administration’s policy have been drafted through the State Department’s private “dissent channel,” which was established during the Vietnam War. Anonymous staffers from President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign also penned an open letter warning that his policy on Gaza could cost him voters. 

Two US officials, including one working in the State Department bureau that oversees arms transfers, have publicly resigned in protest. Josh Paul, who served as the director of congressional and public affairs for the department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, cited the administration’s “blind support for one side” as being among his reasons for leaving.

One of the walkout organizers said that rather than quit, they felt “a moral obligation and a patriotic duty” to influence change from inside. They blamed the White House for policy decisions they lament, including the obstruction of cease-fire resolutions at the United Nations and weapons sales to Israel that have bypassed Congress. 

“I don't think that the block is inside the State Department. It is fair to say that it's definitely in the White House," they said.

Asked if they tried to address their concerns internally, they said, “Unequivocally, the answer is yes.”  

“It’s one thing to write letters from within, but when policy discussions and dissent cables yield no shift in policy — and in some views, a double down on that policy — then people feel they have no other option because they’re not being heard,” the organizer said. 

Biden administration officials have tried to address the internal frustrations. As first reported by Al-Monitor, Secretary of State Antony Blinken participated in “listening sessions” with Arab American, Muslim and Jewish staffers. 

Other senior State Department and White House officials have since held similar meetings with staff members, and Blinken has sent two department-wide emails to update concerned staffers after his trips to the Middle East. 

State employees have also held sessions — which one attendee described as being often "frank and emotional" — with an in-house mental health professional.

Following the publication of this article, US House Speaker Mike Johnson threatened on Sunday to take disciplinary action against any federal employee who participates in the effort. 

“Any government worker who walks off the job to protest US support for our ally Israel is ignoring their responsibility and abusing the trust of taxpayers,” Johnson, R-La., posted on X.

“They deserve to be fired,” he added. Johnson said he would work with House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., “to ensure that each federal agency initiates appropriate disciplinary proceedings against any person who walks out on their job.”

In response to Johnson, Feds United For Peace said the Tuesday initiative differs from a strike.

“This is not a strike. This is a day of mourning. The purpose is to provide space for ourselves to mourn and heal. We serve the American people every day and do so with conviction and pride,” the organizers told Al-Monitor in a statement.

They went on to say that “sometimes, our leaders take actions counter to our values, and the broader values of the American people. We have a right to freedom of expression too, and our views express only those in our personal capacities."

Editor’s note: Jan. 14, 2024. This story has been updated to include House Speaker Mike Johnson’s comments and the organizers’ response.