More than 130 former Barack Obama campaign staffers and political appointees — including Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., — are urging the ex-president to push for a ceasefire.
In a letter sent on Friday, the 133 alumni asked Obama to “leverage” his influence to push his former vice president and other elected officials toward supporting a ceasefire, brokering the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian civilians, and setting a path for collective peace.
The House ceasefire resolution — led by Reps. Tlaib; Cori Bush, D-Mo.; André Carson, D-Ind.; Summer Lee, D-Pa.; and Delia Ramirez, D-Ill. — has 18 members supporting it. At least 24 members of Congress, including Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., have come out in favor of a ceasefire.
The list of signatories on the Obama letter is not public, with some of the signers fearing professional retaliation for their stance. But they are hopeful Obama will be receptive; despite his checkered history in the Middle East, he has historically been more open than most other U.S. politicians to the Palestinian cause.
In an essay three weeks ago, Obama reiterated support for Israel to defend itself against Hamas but cautioned for how the country would pursue the goal, noting that already Israel’s bombing had killed and displaced thousands of Palestinians, including children, in Gaza. He stressed “acknowledging that Palestinians have also lived in disputed territories for generations; that many of them were not only displaced when Israel was formed but continue to be forcibly displaced by a settler movement that too often has received tacit or explicit support from the Israeli government; that Palestinian leaders who’ve been willing to make concessions for a two-state solution have too often had little to show for their efforts; and that it is possible for people of good will to champion Palestinian rights and oppose certain Israeli government policies in the West Bank and Gaza without being anti-semitic.”
And, at a staff reunion last week, Obama called to maintain “what on the surface may seem contradictory ideas,” saying, “What Hamas did was horrific, and there was no justification for it. And what is also true is that the occupation, and what’s happening to Palestinians, is unbearable.”
“You have to admit that all of us are complicit to some degree.”
Contrary to Obama’s more measured statements, on Tuesday, a letter signed by more than 115 former Joe Biden and Obama staffers — including former Biden chief of staff Ron Klain and former Treasury Secretary and Harvard University President Lawrence Summers — applauded Biden for his “staunch support of Israel” and the proposed $14.3 billion in military aid for Israel. Tuesday is the fourth consecutive day that the Gaza Ministry of Health has been unable to update its death toll, as lack of fuel and power has made tallying the dead and communications nearly impossible. The last time the ministry was able to update the death toll, on Friday, Israel had killed 11,078 people.
The signatories cited Obama’s own words throughout the letter, including at an event in Jerusalem over a decade ago where he said that “neither expulsion or occupation is the answer.” They asked the former president to encourage U.S. leaders to instead focus on goals including accomplishing a ceasefire, the release of hostages and imprisoned civilians, and the establishment of a path to collective peace and Palestinian self-determination.
Khalilah Harris, former deputy director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, told The Intercept that she signed on because “there cannot be silence in the pursuit of peace and justice,” adding that Obama, “whose commitment to those efforts is undeniable around the globe,” is a proper voice for the moment.
“I joined and devoted my youth to the Obama/Biden admin because of the courage it inspired in me. The root of all of President Obama’s speeches was courage and justice,” Valentina Pereda, the former deputy director of Hispanic media in the White House, said, describing how some colleagues have remained fearful or hesitant to voice their opinion. “It felt like the spirit of courage had been replaced by one of complacency and fear. I don’t want to live my life that way,” she added.
Citing former State Department official Josh Paul — who, though having helped facilitate weapons transfers for years, resigned out of moral disagreements with the Biden administration’s approach to Israel — the signers describe Israel’s retaliatory war against Hamas as “shortsighted and a detrimental miscalculation.” Paul, as they note, said the Biden administration’s “impulsive reaction built on confirmation bias [and] political convenience” is “decades of the same approach that have shown security for peace leads to neither security, nor to peace.”
“In a world that has dehumanized and securitized people who look like me, President Obama reminded us we belong, and we must demand justice and accountability,” said Rumana Ahmed, former senior adviser to the deputy national security adviser. “What we are witnessing has implications for Palestinians and also for the whole world.”
The Obama alumni letter joins a rising tide of voices opposing the United States’s unconditional support for Israel. Over a dozen former Sen. John Fetterman campaign staffers, 411 current congressional staffers, 400-plus current Biden administration employees, 500-plus former Biden campaign alumni, and 260 former Elizabeth Warren presidential campaign staffers issued statements demanding support for a ceasefire (and more have since signed on).
“We cannot be bystanders to a historic collapse of empathy,” the former Obama staff wrote. “We only live once on this earth. And what we do with that time and space is what we are accountable for. It is our legacy and our duty to generations that follow. And while history does not move in a straight line, we have the choice on where we stand.”