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Israel's Gaza operations may have led to some internal rifts at the State Department


Israel says its troops have entered Gaza's biggest hospital complex. Israeli forces say they're looking for Hamas fighters in a complex where thousands of patients, doctors and civilians are trapped.


Israel today also says it's allowing fuel into Gaza now that the United Nations says its fuel stocks there have run out. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has prompted widespread protests around the world, and that includes some objections within the U.S. State Department. Diplomats have what is called a dissent channel, allowing them to privately raise concerns about U.S. policy.

MARTÍNEZ: And lately that's been leaking out into the open, now with some objections about the U.S. support for Israel. And it's not clear how many have spoken up, but it's gotten the attention of the secretary of state. NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen joins us now to discuss it. So, Michele, what do we know about what kinds of objections have been raised?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well, we don't know much about the actual dissent cables or a letter at the U.S. Agency for International Development that has its own system for employees to register opposition to policies. Officials at both of those agencies like to keep these channels private to allow employees to come forward without the fear of retribution. We also don't really know the numbers of people who have signed on, but even if a couple of hundred, as has been reported, that's still a small percentage of those agencies. And there's been only one resignation that we know of so far at the State Department.

But the general thrust I'm hearing is that the dissenters want the U.S. to press Israel to agree to a cease-fire. The Biden administration argues that a cease-fire would allow Hamas to regroup and instead has been encouraging temporary humanitarian pauses.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so we don't know a lot about what or who is in these dissents, so what have U.S. officials been saying about them?

KELEMEN: Well, they say they're listening, meeting with staff both at headquarters and in the region. That's true at the U.S. Agency for International Development, and that's true for Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Here's what his spokesman, Matthew Miller, had to say.


MATTHEW MILLER: He encourages people to provide feedback. He encourages people to speak up if they disagree. It doesn't mean that we're going to change our policy based on the disagreements. He is going to take their recommendations and make, ultimately, what he thinks is the best judgment and make his recommendations to the president about what we ought to do.

KELEMEN: And President Biden, as we know, says that Israel has the right to defend itself after the October 7 attack. He has been encouraging Israel to do more to protect civilians, especially around those hospitals. So his policy and his rhetoric have evolved over the course of the conflict, but not as much as some diplomats and aid staff would like.

MARTÍNEZ: Is this internal dissent channel a new thing?

KELEMEN: No, the channel isn't new. It dates back to the Vietnam War.


KELEMEN: And diplomats have used it for, among other things, to call for changes in policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and to raise objections to the Trump Muslim ban. But retired diplomat Pete Romero says there have been more leaks recently, and that's tough in what he calls a really toxic political environment.

PETE ROMERO: I don't know whether it's different or whether it might be the new normal, where people are expressing their dissent and it becomes public and it becomes part of the public debate.

KELEMEN: He has a podcast called the "American Diplomat," and the episodes coming out this week is on dissent. And he says young diplomats in particular are really trying to figure out how to express dissent while still being a team player.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Michele Kelemen. Michele, thanks.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEEB'S "FLUID DYNAMICS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.